As noted by FanShot all-star two4larue, Isaac Ropp and Jason Scukanec of KFXX 1080AM interviewed the outgoing CEO of Vulcan, Inc. Tod Leiweke on their show Primetime yesterday afternoon. Here's a link to the audio so that you can listen to the roughly 15 minute interview.
Leiweke, wiki bio here, advised owner Paul Allen on matters concerning his three professional sports franchises: the Portland Trail Blazers, Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders. Shortly after the Blazers announced the hiring of General Manager Rich Cho, Leiweke resigned to become part owner of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning.
In this interview, Leiweke was asked about a number of touchy subjects, including the firing of Kevin Pritchard. "There were style issues," Leiweke said. "There were issues between him and the owner. Paul is very involved. At the end of the day, while the fans might not have insight into the specific, detailed conversations I think Kevin certainly understood that when you take a guy who's not been a General Manager and you kind of break him into the job, there are going to be bruises. I think Kevin ends up being a better man for the experience."
It should come as no surprise that Leiweke vouched for Allen as a "great" owner and painted him as a man who cares enough but doesn't cross the meddling line. "He's appropriately involved. He loves the Blazers. He goes to a ton of the games. It's a big deal. If I'm a fan and see Paul going to so many games, totally involved and rooting the team on, I'd take great comfort. This is not an absentee owner where this is some investment he's trying to get 10 percent annual returns. He's been the guy who has been willing to invest in the team."
Leiweke also called Blazers President Larry Miller "brilliant" and praised Chief Marketing Officer Sarah Mensah, Chief Financial Officer Gregg Olsen and General Counsel Mike Fennell by name. Talk around One Center Court has been that Miller will report directly to Allen for the foreseeable future. Leiweke wasn't sure whether Allen would hire someone to replace him but did say "I don't think Larry needs a boss. But time will tell."
In a humorous endnote, Leiweke randomly calls out current Minnesota Timberwolves General Manager David Kahn for his "dubious" plan to bring Major League Baseball to Portland.
There's a bunch more here so click through for the entire transcript.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
Questions are paraphrased and in bold. Answers are word-for-word and in blockquote.
What exactly was your role in the operations with the Blazers?
I got involved a little bit in the transition. There was a tough period of time where the [Rose Garden] building had gone into Chapter 11 and it was a little bit scary and it was after that. Quite honestly, earlier in my career I had worked for the Golden State Warriors and made a number of trips up to the Memorial Coliseum to see what I thought at that point in time was the pinnacle of a team and a town. I learned a lot. Got to know Jon Spoelstra.
When all of this happened and Mr. Allen was trying to get the business straightened out, I was certainly a guy who said to him, 'I think it can work here [in Portland].' I just kept saying that to him. Ultimately he came to that conclusion so I was then involved in trying to put together a plan that would take it from having 4,000 season tickets to where it is today.
I would say generally the plan we outlined has worked pretty well. I think Larry Miller has done a brilliant job.
How big of a mess was it here when you started?
Some of the challenges went back to a payroll that was just beyond almost comprehension. A team paying way into the [luxury] tax. The truth be known, Steve Patterson actually came in and dealt with a lot of really, really difficult issues. So to the extent that we've turned things around down there, he never really got his full due for taking on some really, really super difficult issues. And he did. And when he was taking on those issues came peril. I have a lot of regard for him. He took a lot of stuff on. Someday when I write my book, that's how I'll write it.
You said Larry Miller has done a great job. What is it about him that the fans need to know about?
I think he's first built a great culture in the front office. His door is always open. His reputation at Nike was the guy who quietly went about his business but fixed things. He's just got this great demeanor that's well-received in the front office. I think that front office now with Larry and Sarah Mensah and Gregg Olsen and Mike Fennell, there's some really capable people there. They're now pushing sellouts, the building is full again, the players like pulling on the jersey, there's a lot of good things going on there.
I think the transition with [former General Manager] Kevin [Pritchard] was a challenging one but I think Larry handled it well and I think at the end of the day [new General Manager] Rich [Cho] is going to do a terrific job.
Why was Kevin Pritchard fired?
There were style issues. There were issues between him and the owner. Paul is very involved. At the end of the day, while the fans might not have insight into the specific, detailed conversations I think Kevin certainly understood that when you take a guy who's not been a General Manager and you kind of break him into the job, there are going to be bruises. I think Kevin ends up being a better man for the experience. I think he lives to fight another day. I expect he'll end up leading another team at some point in time in his career. And, at the end of the day, Paul and Larry both feel really good about Rich.
Do you believe Kevin Pritchard deserved to be fired?
You know, it wasn't my call. I'm not a hypothetical guy. I'm a very supportive guy. I get along pretty doggone well with Kevin but, you know, there were issues and there were things that Kevin learned from. And I think for all those issues Kevin is a better man. I think Kevin's word on the outbound, where he acknowledged Paul as a great owner, acknowledged having made some mistakes, it wasn't any one colossal mistake perhaps. But he acknowledge it and it really was a fair characterization of what happened.
Who ultimately makes that decision to fire Kevin Pritchard?
Mr. Allen owns the team. But that guy does not operate in isolation. But I think you look at the team now -- let me tell you no man has ever loved a team more than Paul Allen has loved the Portland Trail Blazers. I think when you look at that team and that organization, the fans in Portland can get out of bed dreaming about championships. That's ultimately what an owner owes the fans more than anything: the potential to dream about winning a championship. Investing your emotions in a team and feeling good about that investment. So long as Paul is the owner of the Blazers there will always be, year in and year out, a chance for the Blazers to win a championship.
They tried it one way, he's now trying it another way. They have a great coach in Nate McMillan, they have some fine young players, I think they've made some nice additions this offseason which should push the team to another level.
How involved in the day-to-day operations is Paul Allen in his sports teams?
There's not a major decision that goes down where he doesn't get consulted. Which is only appropriate. I would say the word appropriate -- he's appropriately involved. He loves the Blazers. He goes to a ton of the games. It's a big deal. If I'm a fan and see Paul going to so many games, totally involved and rooting the team on, I'd take great comfort.
This is not an absentee owner where this is some investment he's trying to get 10 percent annual returns. He's been the guy who has been willing to invest in the team. One of the good things is the bottom line might be getting better. It's at least headed in that direction. But that's not Paul's orientation. Ultimately he wants to win a championship.
I think it's great because the fans in Portland are some of the best fans in all of sports. All the way back to the longest consecutive sellout string in the history of sports, I believe, happened with the Blazers.
How has Paul Allen's illness changed his involvement, or has it?
It really hasn't. It went through a really tough time. He kept showing up at Blazers games. I really thought that was such a courageous thing he did. Instead of doing what a lot of people might have done during that period of time, sort of being homebound, he chose to go out, he chose to go to games and he sat there every game. I actually have a ton of admiration. I think he's a really good owner and it's been my pleasure to serve him the last seven years for the three teams.
Is Paul Allen going to hire a replacement for you that will again oversee the Blazers or will Larry Miller now slide up and report to Paul Allen?
That's all to be determined. But I think Larry has totally come into his own. Larry is as good an executive as there is. The thing about Larry is that he truly loves this town. He's a guy who is so good at what he does he could have lived anywhere in the world but he chose to stay in Portland and he happens to have a deep passion for the game of basketball. He was the general manager of basketball at Nike. I remember when we were doing the search, his name just kept getting brought up. David Stern brought his name up. Larry is a guy with a really good reputation. I don't think Larry needs a boss but time will tell.
Why leave to take the job in Tampa?
Fact is, before I came here to the Seahawks, I was President of a National Hockey League team. I'm going back to a sport I love. I still play the game of hockey. When the season is going I watch games week in and week out. To be quite candid, when Jeff Vinik who owns the Lightning said to me that I want to make you a partner, that changed things. For a guy who has worked in the business my whole life, for the chance to own a piece of a team, to work with Steve Yzerman, to be a part of a rebuilding of a franchise and to have a guy like Jeff Vinik as majority owner who is already showing an incredible passion to get right. It just all added up to a truly incredible opportunity.
I'm going to miss what's going on here. I'm actually standing here on the field, the Seahawks are practicing, we're on Lake Washington, I feel great about Pete Carroll, I feel great about John Schneider, I feel great about the Blazers, the Sounders are phenomenal, so I look in the rearview mirror that says there's a lot good going on here but everyone dreams about someday owning a piece of something and that dream came true for me.
How close did Portland come to getting an NHL team?
I've never thought of Portland as a two winter-sport town. I was dubious when I heard David Kahn talking about Major League Baseball there. It's just not a huge market. I was somewhat protective of wanting to see the Blazers work. By the way, the Buckaroos -- Hockey was a big deal in the Northwest. The Vancouver Millionaires, the Seattle Totems, there's still a lot of passionate hockey fans. I always felt that job one was that the Blazers would be long-term successful and that's how it sure looks now.
Was Portland third on your list in terms of involvement behind the Seahawks and Sounders?
Yeah. They're such a capable team there. I don't know if you've heard Sarah Mensah's name much but she's totally awesome. She's the Chief Marketing Officer, Gregg Olsen is the CFO. Mike Fennell has served many administrations as the general counsel. J. Isaac. It's a really, really capable team. If I could pick that team up and move them all to Tampa, we'd have the franchise turned around in six months. You have my word I'm not going to take any of those guys, none of those guys are going to go with me. You know why? Because I truly have deep affection for the Blazers and I want to see it work there long-term.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter