Workaholic Rhodes Forced To Slow It Down: Seattle Assistant Coach Recovering From Stroke

By Daniel Brown
Updated: November 18, 2005

SEATTLE — One of the most challenging parts of the Seattle Seahawks’ game plan each week is figuring out how to stop, or at least contain, defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes. Despite suffering a stroke Sept. 4 and a second episode that required hospitalization, Rhodes keeps trying to charge ahead.

So Coach Mike Holmgren draws up schemes, dreams up defenses and devises the occasional trick play — all designed to stop Rhodes from punching in too early or leaving too late.

This weekend, for example, the Seahawks will leave Rhodes behind when they head to San Francisco, even though the 49ers are the team that launched Rhodes’ career. He is one of only four men to serve on the coaching staff for all five of the 49ers’ Super Bowl titles (the others are George Seifert, Bob McKittrick and Bill McPherson). Rhodes was the defensive coordinator for the 49ers’ last title, in 1994.

Sunday, however, Rhodes will watch on TV. If he feels the need to communicate with his players, he will have to shout at the screen like everybody else.

“The most important thing for me right now is to realize that if I don’t have my health, I don’t have anything,” Rhodes, 55, said in a September news conference, his only public comments about his stroke.

He’s not always so accepting of his condition. Rhodes was supposed to cool it when he returned to work after the first stroke. But he pushed it beyond the limits the Seahawks set for him — “He cheated on me” is how Holmgren put it — and wound up back in the hospital with stroke-like symptoms.

These days, Holmgren has repeatedly threatened to walk Rhodes to his car at 4 p.m., just to make sure he leaves. Rhodes is involved with planning early in the week, but this will be the third consecutive game he will watch on TV rather than from the press box.

Last weekend, after the Seahawks (7-2) defeated the St. Louis Rams to take command of the NFC West, Holmgren called Rhodes.

“He said, `Mike, why don’t you let me come to the games?’ ” Holmgren recalled. “And I said, `Because you can’t come to the games right now.’ And he said, `It’s just as bad when I’m watching it at home. I have TiVo.’ ”

Rhodes is accustomed to reporting for work at 6 a.m. and leaving at midnight. His career has included more than a few 100-hour work weeks.

On Sept. 3, though, a day after the Seahawks lost to the Minnesota Vikings in an exhibition game, Rhodes felt lethargic. He woke up the next morning unable to see out of his left eye. His fingers were numb and his equilibrium shaky. Doctors later diagnosed it as a mild stroke.

Because an exhibition game proved stressful enough, the Seahawks will be extra cautious as they march to perhaps their best season since 1984, when they reached the AFC title game.

Holmgren is forcing Rhodes to skip the 49ers game but will allow him to return for the New York Giants game in Seattle a week from Sunday. (“Only if he’s good and doesn’t cheat on me again,” Holmgren said.)

With Rhodes out, the Seahawks have turned their defense over to John Marshall, another former 49ers coordinator. Marshall, the Seahawks’ linebackers coach, was part of two Super Bowl teams in San Francisco, from 1989 to ’98. His final two seasons were as defensive coordinator.

Though the Seahawks are thriving, Marshall seems almost embarrassed by his current role. Generally, he avoids the media, but held a brief session with Seattle beat writers Wednesday.

“It’s not that I’m not comfortable with it. It’s that it’s not right. This is Ray Rhodes’ scheme,” Marshall explained. “He still has his hand on it — tightly, I might add.”

The Seahawks hope to send another get-well card to their ailing defensive coordinator Sunday by beating the 49ers.

“The best thing we can do for Ray is go out and play good defense,” defensive end Grant Wistrom said after a recent Seahawks victory. “I’m sure the better we play, the better his health. We don’t want to put any stress on him.”