How Seahawks coach and Washington Huskies quarterback answer will determine how enjoyable this football season will be for Seattle fans.
Besides their purple-blooded bond, little connects Jim Mora and Jake Locker. One is a fiery, 47-year-old, defensive-minded NFL coach; the other is a soft-spoken, 21-year-old, athletic college quarterback. One is fit for Men’s Health Magazine; the other belongs in ESPN The Magazine.
However, after a disappointing, almost forlorn, past week in local football, Mora and Locker are united, at least in one sense. They’re high-profile sports figures with evolving personas who face a similar question: Be yourself or be different?
For Mora, it’s about expressing his passion, which led to a much-discussed emotional outburst in which he chided kicker Olindo Mare last Sunday. Tone it down or let it ride?
For Locker, it’s about his approach to playing quarterback with his unparalleled speed. Stay in the pocket or run more often?
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The success of the Seahawks and Huskies depends on how skillfully Mora and Locker handle the identity question. In both cases, the answers are complex, and ultimately, the correct approach might involve having multiple personalities.
Mora has the most polarizing challenge. He’s a good coach because he mixes solid X’s and O’s with a magnetic kind of intensity. During his first head-coaching gig in Atlanta, he drew criticism for not controlling his emotions enough. For the most part, his early days in Seattle have been marked by a Holmgren-like calm during interviews, but over the past week, he has shown more fire as he tries to guide the Seahawks through injury mayhem.
Leading up to the Chicago game, he struck every motivational chord perfectly. His team was ready to play last Sunday. The Seahawks led 13-0 early. Then things unraveled amid a slew of untimely mistakes, Mare missed 2 of 6 field-goal attempts, and the Seahawks lost a fourth-quarter lead in an emotionally-draining defeat.
Afterward, Mora erupted, directing his ire at Mare. Since then, he’s admitted to being too harsh, but a disappointed public has pounced on him for bullying a kicker. So his passion both helped his team and temporarily damaged his reputation, but if that’s the worst mistake he makes this season, the Seahawks will be just fine.
Mare has moved on, for the most part. On Monday, Mora opened a team meeting by showing clips of Mare tackling Bears kick returner Johnny Knox and making a 46-yard field goal in the fourth quarter after those two earlier misses. Mora’s message was clear: Despite what he said minutes after the game, the coach understands that Mare gave a positive contribution and didn’t blow the game. Crisis resolved, at least for now.
“I don’t feel any different about Jim from last week or yesterday,” Mare said. “He’s my coach, and I’m going to do better to make him happy. Let’s face the facts. When we play well, then everybody’s happy.”
Mora probably will go out of his way to be measured from now on, but there’s a place for his feistiness. As long as Mora’s coaching methods work, his players won’t have a problem with his approach. The Seahawks are 1-2, but their high-strung, determined coach just might be the right man to rescue them.
Then there’s Locker. He’s having a terrific season thus far with 1,002 passing yards in only four games. He’s surprised many with how quickly he has adjusted to coach Steve Sarkisian’s prostyle system. But after two seasons of watching Locker be an unstoppable runner, it’s alarming to see he has only rushed for 74 yards on 33 carries. He used to run for about 74 yards in a game.
At times, when the Huskies’ offense is struggling, as it did in a loss to Stanford last Saturday, it feels like Locker isn’t being allowed to do enough. Sarkisian makes a great counterargument, though.
“This thing, for his growth and his career, it’s on the right path,” Sark said. “I think we’ve got a system in place that has withstood the test of time. We have a great belief in our run game. Jake is going to get his opportunities to run the ball like he always has and will, but we are not going to hit the panic button and say, ‘Here Jake, here’s the ball.’ I think that’s a big mistake to make.”
So, Locker has become a passer who, as he masters the offense, will have a better idea of when to run. He’s still the same player, just more polished. And Mora? He’s still the same emotional coach, but he hopes to pick his spots better.
Two very different men. Two very similar tasks. Two personalities each.
How they handle their duality will greatly influence whether we get to enjoy this fall.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer