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Haskell Finds Success After Serious Fall

February 4, 2006

DETROIT (AP) _ Gil Haskell never saw it coming. He never saw Dallas defensive back Darren Woodson about to inadvertently plow his helmet into the then-Green Bay receivers coach’s chest at the end of a sideline tackle during a 1996 playoff game at Texas Stadium.

Woodson was driving Robert Brooks out of bounds after a catch. Haskell couldn’t get out of the way.

Woodson’s blow catapulted Haskell off his feet. The back of his head struck the artificial turf, which Haskell said was ``like cement,″ especially that far off the field.

He was unconscious. He had fractured his skull and bruised his brain. He spent two weeks at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, initially in serious condition. His wife, Nancy, was at his hospital bedside _ including for the harrowing first 36 hours.

``I wake up day and half later and I look up and there’s nothing but flowers in my room,″ Haskell, the Seattle Seahawks’ offensive coordinator, said last week. ``And I think, ‘I’m in the funeral home. I’m in the box ... This is serious.’

``The next year, I went back and they had whole new field in there. I told (Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones, ’Hey, Haskell Field, huh?‴

Haskell may never have seen this coming, either:

A few nights ago, he was dining with his family at an Italian restaurant in suburban Dearborn. Sitting about 15 feet to the Haskells’ right: Jones and company.

Haskell and Jones are both in Michigan for Sunday’s Super Bowl. But instead of Jones’ Cowboys playing Pittsburgh at Ford Field, it is Haskell’s Seahawks.

Haskell has come off that cement turf and hospital bed in Dallas to become the planner of the league’s most prolific and balanced offense. He holds a play sheet full of runs for league MVP Shaun Alexander and passes for Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

``I feel like the luckiest guy in the world,″ he said.

Some victims with similar injuries as Haskell’s get painful reminders. Blurred vision. Nausea. Headaches.

But Haskell walked out of the hospital with no lingering effects.

``I’ve been extremely lucky that way,″ he said.

At first, he blamed himself for not bracing his fall with his arms. But later, after he saw video from the game, he realized Woodson’s blow had knocked him unconscious before he hit the ground.

Two years later, he left then-Packers coach Mike Holmgren to become Carolina’s offensive coordinator. Two seasons after that, he rejoined Holmgren in Seattle.

And now, the Super Bowl. Haskell has spent the week preceding football’s ultimate game happily hosting family and friends _ including the man who hired him to be his special teams coach at Southern California in the 1970s and the Los Angeles Rams in the 1980s, John Robinson.

The 62-year-old Haskell also has been eagerly chatting with and slapping backs of nearly everyone he sees. That’s partly because he wants a job.

A head coaching one.

``I’ve always wanted the opportunity,″ he said. ``I’d love the chance.″

He hasn’t had that since 1977, when he led St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco. His playing career ended before that at San Francisco State.

``For the life of me I don’t understand how teams go about it sometimes. Someone should hire Gil Haskell to be their head coach, for sure,″ Holmgren said before the playoffs. ``Now that would be a big loss to me personally. As I’ve told him, he’s no spring chicken. But he is as good with the team as any coach I’ve ever been around.″

Holmgren said Haskell is not a self-promoter. That may explain why Haskell said none of the eight teams that recently have filled head coaching vacancies called him.

Another possible explanation: Holmgren has called almost every Seahawks play of every game over the six seasons Haskell has been his coordinator.

Whatever, Holmgren said.

``He’s a very meticulous, high-work-ethic guy and I just don’t understand that one,″ the 14-year NFL head coach said. ``If a team wanted to hire somebody to build something and get them where they need to get to, he would be one I would recommend to anyone who asked me.″

The only NFL head job still open is in Oakland. Owner Al Davis is following his tendency to wait on hiring until after unknown and less-expensive candidates have little leverage elsewhere.

Haskell fits that description. But he said the Raiders haven’t called _ at least yet. League rules prohibit teams from interviewing coaches from Super Bowl teams until after the game.

But indications from Oakland are Haskell isn’t going to get a call.

``That’s where it stands now,″ he said, in a matter-of-fact tone.

Yet for Haskell, it sure beats where he was 10 years ago.

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