Renton - Looking for another challenge, Tod Leiweke found one in Tampa Bay.
And so the Seattle Seahawks CEO, responsible for reviving the 12th Man tradition in Seattle, is moving on to whiter pastures.
Leiweke, 50, told reporters on Monday that he will step down from his post to accept a job as CEO and minority owner with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
Leiweke plans to remain at his current position and help lead a search for his successor, a process he said could take months.
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“Paul Allen has given me seven of the best years of my life, and allowed me to lead,” Leiweke said about his time in Seattle. “So for that I will be eternally grateful. … I’m going to be here until we get it right.”
A return to the sport of his youth ultimately attracted Leiweke to the Tampa Bay job. Before he joined Seattle in 2003, Leiweke served as the CEO of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, helping to turn that expansion organization into one of the most fan-friendly franchises in the league. He played hockey while growing up in St. Louis and still played in a recreational league in Seattle.
Leiweke said the opportunity emerged during a conversation with Lightning owner Jeff Vinik during the Winter Olympics in February. A report surfaced in April that Leiweke had interest in the position, something he publicly denied. However, things heated up recently, with the enticement of minority ownership ultimately sealing the deal for Leiweke.
“An opportunity comes along for me to go back a sport that I play and that I love,” Leiweke said. “I was president of a team before I came here. And I get to order the food for the owner’s box and actually stay in there and eat it.”
During his tenure in Seattle, Leiweke helped re-establish local and national interest in Seahawks. Leiweke worked to create a better experience for fans at Qwest Field. The team has had five straight seasons of home sellouts. The organization also has become more involved in community service during Leiweke’s tenure. And he oversaw the successful debut of the Seattle Sounders in 2009.
Along with heading the Seahawks, Leiweke was promoted to the head of Vulcan Sports in 2007, overseeing Allen’s other sports ventures including the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and the Sounders. He said the Seahawks will do an audit of his position to see if it is working properly before beginning the search for candidates.
“I think that Paul Allen is a dream owner in ultimately he wants to do right by the fans, and ultimately he is a fan,” Leiweke said. “So I would say there’s a lot I’m proud of here. I’m proud of this building (the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, the team’s headquarters in Renton). I’m proud of the Sounders. … I’m very proud of the 12th Man, and I’m very proud that this organization is now bigger than any one person.
“And when I came I felt this enormous responsibility to get this turned around. And I look around today, and I see a really strong organization with values.”
Leiweke said the turmoil of the past year – with Jim L. Mora being fired as coach after the season and Pete Carroll being hired in the offseason – had nothing to do with his departure.
Leiweke fired team president Tim Ruskell as well as Mora. He hired Carroll and general manager John Schneider to fill the vacancies.
In Portland, he oversaw the firing of Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard and the hiring of former Seattle SuperSonics and Oklahoma City Thunder salary-cap specialist Rich Cho to fill that vacancy.
With new leadership in place, Leiweke said both the Seahawks and Blazers are stable.
Leiweke plans to travel to Tampa, Fla., for a few days before returning to Seattle to begin work on the search.
Leiweke did not rule out in-house candidates, so COO John Rizzardini and senior vice president/general counsel Lance Lopes remain possibilities.
Leiweke also said he will talk with Carroll and Schneider to get their input, and the team will listen to league commissioner Roger Goodell about the vacant position.
“If we’re good listeners and we build a good plan we’re going to land a phenomenal candidate,” he said. “And my tenure is not going to be judged by what happened these past seven years. It’s going to be judged by what happens the next seven years. So it’s really important to me that we get this right.”
Some of CEO Tod Leiweke’s accomplishments during a 7-year tenure with Seahawks.
• Chief of organization during most successful period, with five straight playoff seasons, four NFC West Division titles and a berth in the Super Bowl in 2006.
• Helped lead organization to a string 60 consecutive sellouts at Qwest Field.
• Helped energize the 12th Man tradition, bringing in fan favorites to enhance the stadium experience at Qwest Field.
• Helped elevate the Seattle Sounders to Major League Soccer in 2009
Eric D. Williams, staff writer