SEATTLE -- Tod Leiweke resigned as CEO of Paul Allen's Vulcan Sports and Entertainment on Monday, leaving the arm that oversees ownership of the Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Sounders FC just days before the Seahawks begin training camp.
Leiweke is leaving the Pacific Northwest after seven years, jumping at the opportunity to become a part-owner and oversee the daily operations of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning. For the 50-year-old executive, the chance to return to hockey and have a stake in the franchise outweighed his current position overseeing three organizations under one umbrella.
"This was a hard decision. I was trying to tell my kids you get to a certain point in life where a dream comes true and that dream as a lifelong hockey fan was a chance to work with this great guy in Jeff Vinik, and Steve Yzerman and be a minority owner," Leiweke said at an afternoon news conference. "With that dream came some asterisks and the asterisk is I've given this place everything I've had and we've built something special here and walking away from that, those are the things that do keep you awake at night."
Leiweke plans to stay with Vulcan until his replacement is found, then take over running the day-to-day operations of the NHL franchise recently purchased by Vinik. He said the process of finding his replacement could take months and he will be actively involved in determining who takes over.
"I think this is going to be one of the highly coveted jobs in all of sports," Leiweke said. "This isn't a reclamation project, it isn't a turn-around project ... it's a chance to go find somebody who can take it and push it to a whole different level."
Leiweke came to the Seahawks in 2003 and helped steer the franchise during the best run in its history. Seattle won four straight NFC West titles and made the playoffs in each of the first five season with Leiweke overseeing the team. The high point came in 2005 when Seattle won its first conference championship and played in the first Super Bowl in franchise history.
Former Seattle coach Mike Holmgren called Leiweke the best hire the organization made during his 10 seasons as Seahawks coach.
"Tod has been a leader for our sports teams. He helped lead the Seahawks to the 2005 NFC Championship and our first Super Bowl," Allen said in a statement. "He also understands our priority on the fans, reinvigorating the 12th Man tradition and leading the team to a five-season string of sellout crowds."
Leiweke was named CEO of Vulcan Sports and Entertainment in 2007, overseeing operation of the Trail Blazers and leading the startup of the Sounders that culminated in their highly successful first year in 2009.
But it's been a difficult final year overseeing the three organizations. Seattle went 5-11 last season, then fired Jim Mora after just one year as head coach. Leiweke then was at the point of negotiations with Pete Carroll, who became the Seahawks' coach in January. It was his final major move as CEO of the Seahawks.
Leiweke was also wrapped up in drama a few hours south in Portland with the Trail Blazers. Kevin Pritchard was fired as general manager on the day of the NBA draft last month after falling out of favour with Allen. Pritchard had been widely lauded for transforming the "Jail Blazers" of just a few years back.
"Not to say the past year was easy, it was hard, but I wouldn't put it in the same category as some of the other things," Leiweke said.
Before joining the Seahawks, Leiweke worked for the Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks in the NHL. His brother, Tim Leiweke, is the president and CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Los Angeles Kings and Los Angeles Galaxy.
"I'm sorry to see him go, but I know hockey is his first love," Allen said.