Leiweke leaving Seahawks to be CEO/part owner of NHL team

SEATTLE -- Tod Leiweke resigned as CEO of Vulcan Sports and Entertainment on Monday, leaving the organization that oversees Paul Allen's ownership of the Seattle Seahawks just four days before they begin training camp.

Leiweke is departing the Pacific Northwest after seven years, jumping at the opportunity to become the CEO and part-owner 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 the Seahawks, the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers and Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders with Allen's company.

"This was a hard decision," Leiweke said at an afternoon news conference. "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. 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. Leiweke 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 consecutive 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 the Seahawks won their first conference championship and played in the first Super Bowl in franchise history.

Former Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren called Leiweke the best hire made during his 10 seasons with the franchise.

"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 has been a difficult final year overseeing the three organizations. The Seahawks went 5-11 last season, then fired Jim Mora after just one year as coach. Leiweke then was at the point of negotiations with Pete Carroll, who became the Seahawks' coach in January. It was Leiweke's final major move as CEO.

Leiweke also was wrapped up in drama with the Trail Blazers. Kevin Pritchard was fired as general manager on the day of the NBA draft last month after falling out of favor 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 NHL's Los Angeles Kings and Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy.

"I'm sorry to see him go, but I know hockey is his first love," Allen said.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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