The Top 11: Seattle sports villains, #6-2

The recap of villains #11-7, which can be found here: 11, Jim McIlvaine; 10, Shaun Alexander; 9, David Stern; 8, Erik Bedard; 7, Jeff Smulyan.

6. Tyrone Willingham. There’s a theory in dating that says if you aren’t very good looking, then you better have a great personality to make up for it. Apparently Paint-Dry Ty felt he was either the exception to this rule growing up, or was one hell of a sexy guy. Either way, the soon-to-be former head coach of the Washington Huskies football team has had without a doubt one of the most scrutinized tenures of any coach or manager in Seattle sports history, thanks in large part to two factors: his complete lack of personality and his inability to win ballgames.

As history progresses, we will probably forget that back in 2004 the entire fan base was clamoring for Ty’s hiring. Ty was The One, he was Neo. After the tumultuous Keith Gilbertson Project, the UW brass were looking for a big name to fill the open head coaching position. Enter Willingham, who had just been fired by seemingly ungrateful Notre Dame. The University of Washington and Tyrone Willingham were a match made in heaven and the Dawgs hurried to scoop up the Irish’s sloppy seconds.

Ty’s hiring had immediate repercussions. The media was abuzz, the fan base was rabid again. Heck, I remember waiting in line for a basketball game outside Hec Ed Pavilion when who should emerge with free pizza in tow but none other than new Head Coach Tyrone Willingham, ready to dole out food to hungry college students in typical PR fashion. Of course that was January, and by the time August of 2005 rolled around and the Huskies took the field, everyone realized the team still wasn’t very good. 2006 then came and went with similar results. Finally, in 2007, once Ty’s recruits really got a chance to play, as the optimists liked to point out, we’d see the true impact of the Willingham era on Husky Nation. But 2007 was another dud, and finally in October, 2008 the university finally announced they had given up on the man who was supposed to be our savior, letting one of the most boring individuals in sports history fade quietly into the background of another lost season.

5. Ken Behring. In February of 1996, Ken Behring made the second-biggest mistake of his life. The biggest mistake of his life was not opting for neck fat removal surgery, but that’s another story for another day. The second-biggest mistake of Behring’s life was his decision to try and move the Seattle Seahawks franchise to Anaheim, California. Whoops.

In case you’re not from around here, professional sports owners like to treat Seattle the way juvenile delinquents treat convenience stores. We may not be the most attractive shop on the block, but we appear to be the easiest to loot.

Anyways, Behring, an owner of the franchise since 1988, cited “unsafe working conditions” as his reason for wanting to move the team. More specifically, he claimed the Kingdome was going to collapse in the event of an earthquake and hence his team could no longer play in Seattle. Rival executives thought Behring was nuts, and one went so far as to call him a “buffoon” in the national press. Team employees, including Behring’s own son, had no desire to leave Seattle, but Crazy Ken Behring isn’t a man who’s concerned about others.

Prior to the 1997 season, Behring forcefully relocated the team to Los Angeles, with the intention of having them play games in nearby Anaheim. His plan worked for about a few hours until the NFL stepped in and told Behring they would fine him $500,000 a day until the Hawks were returned to their rightful location. With the thought of his bank account in mind, Behring sheepishly moved the team back to Seattle, where the fan base awaited him like a 7-11 clerk with a sawed-off shotgun and three child support payments to worry about.

Luckily for Behring he escaped the city alive after agreeing to sell the team to local philanthropist and multi-billionaire Paul Allen. In his post-Seahawks life, Behring has dealt with several sexual harassment lawsuits, as well as coming under fire for the murder of an endangered form of sheep in Kazakhstan and the hunting death of an elephant in Mozambique, a banned practice in that nation for the past 18 years.

4. Rick Neuheisel. Despite 51 NCAA infractions in a four-year period at the University of Colorado, Rick Neuheisel was hired by Athletic Director Barbara Hedges to be the head football coach at the University of Washington. Like chunks in milk, Hedges should have seen the warning signs.

The saga that is Rick Neuheisel wouldn’t fully envelop until four years after he was hired. Initially, the young coach and his team showed a lot of promise, winning the 2001 Rose Bowl in Neuheisel’s second season against a Purdue team led by Drew Brees. But just two years later, Slick Rick found himself in trouble again, this time for participating in an illegal high-stakes NCAA basketball pool. After first lying about his involvement in the betting pool, Neuheisel eventually fessed up and was fired. He would later sue the NCAA and the University of Washington for wrongful termination, which resulted in a $4.5 million settlement in his favor.

While it seems like a simple misunderstanding fueled Neuheisel’s departure, a pattern of lies and deceit added baggage to a muddled situation. In addition to lying about the betting pool, Neuheisel also lied about a job interview with the San Francisco 49ers, stating on-air and in the press that he had not been interviewed for the Niners vacant head coaching postition when in fact he had. Furthermore, just like at Colorado, it was discovered after Neuheisel’s termination that a host of rules had been broken at UW during his tenure, and the university was subsequently punished for the actions of their former employee.

To this day, the UW football team has not been able to recover from the fallout surrounding the Rick Neuheisel era. Now searching for their fourth coach since the beginning of the decade, Husky fans still pin the majority of the blame on the man who led them to their last bowl victory.

3. Bobby Ayala. When Bobby Ayala passes on, I fully expect to see the word “suck” somewhere on his grave. There is no athlete more conjoined to a single word as Bobby Ayala is to the word “suck.” Maybe he just wasn’t cut out to be a baseball player, or maybe Seattleites just hate dudes with full goatees, but there is no athlete more reviled in this city’s history than Ayala.

It’s been a decade now since we last saw Bobby Ayala in a Seattle uniform, and to this day every crappy rube that happens upon a local baseball diamond still gets unfairly compared to the man who turned “relief pitcher” into an oxymoron. To make matters worse, Ayala was our closer for God’s sake, the man who was counted on to shut the door on opponents, to perform in the clutch, to be the focal point of each victory. Unfortunately for Bobby, he was none of these things and so much more.

In the beginning, it wasn’t all bad. Ayala was originally obtained from the Cincinnati organization in a trade that also brought catcher Dan Wilson to Seattle in exchange for pitcher Erik Hanson and second baseman Bret Boone. So I guess it kind of worked out. In Ayala’s first season with the club, 1994, he posted impressive numbers, going 4-3 with 18 saves and a 2.86 ERA. That would be the pinnacle of his career, however, as things slowly started to spiral out of control from there. Midway through the miracle ’95 season, Ayala relinquished his closer role to Norm Charlton, but would periodically regain, then lose, then regain the role in the following seasons. In 1998, Ayala’s erratic performances came to a head as he went 1-10 with an ERA over 7.00. Somehow, the M’s conned the Expos into giving up a minor leaguer for Ayala in the ’98-’99 offseason, and that was the end of an era in Seattle.

Ayala’s reputation around the city can perhaps best be conveyed by a line from the now-defunct late-night comedy sketch show “Almost Live.” In the weekly airing of the show, host John Keister featured a segment called “The Late Report,” in which he would routinely put a humorous spin on local newsworthy events. In 1998, on the heels of the Mariners free-agent signing of 16-year-old Korean phenom Cha Seung Baek, Keister dubbed Baek the eventual replacement for pitcher “I Suck Bad,” which corresponded with the visual display of a Bobby Ayala head shot.

2. Howard Schultz. The owner of Starbucks probably isn’t that bad of a guy. Unlike a lot of sports villains, he appears to have no cruel intentions in his back pocket. In fact, at one time he was a savior, purchasing the Seattle Sonics franchise in 2001 when the Acklerley family need a local buyer to sell to. No, Schultz isn’t a villain in the true sense of the word…he just happens to be an idiot instead. I think we can all agree on that. Howard Schultz is an idiot.

To be fair, we all waste money on bad investments. Some people buy home treadmills, others buy Pontiac Aztecs. Some people purchase as much Enron stock as they can get their hands on, while others still donate hundreds to the prince of Liberia via email. Howard Schultz just made his bad investment on a grander, more visible scale than we’re used to seeing. He bought a rebuilding basketball franchise that didn’t know when or how to rebuild and had another idiot, Wally Walker, in charge of leading the process. His team would make the playoffs just once, in 2005, and be plagued by an inability to uncover talent, be it through the draft, free agency, or trades.

Naturally, all this misfortune quickly put a clamp on Schultz’s profits. Soon, his investment was losing money. Backed into a financial corner, Schultz panicked and decided to sell the team. Rather than screen potential buyers, Schultz turned his lemon over to the first person who ponied up decent dough. The man who bought the team assured Schultz that despite being from Oklahoma and having no ties to the Seattle area, the Sonics would be safe and sound in Lower Queen Anne for years to come. For two years to come, that is.

Yes, we all know how the story plays out. Schultz made the boner move of selling the Sonics to Clay Bennett, who in fact had every intention of relocating Seattle’s only NBA team to his home state of Oklahoma. Whether Schultz knew this at the point of sale or was simply dumb enough to be suckered into Bennett’s Southern charm may never be known, but regardless of the circumstances, the team was as good as gone on the day Schultz handed the keys to the franchise to an outsider.

Only one man will ever be more villainized in this city than Howard Schultz, and I bet you can guess who it is.

*Our #1 villain will appear in tomorrow’s updates.

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