RENTON — Pete Carroll wouldn’t consider a four-year process a meteoric rise. The Seahawks coach isn’t patient enough to listen to a reporter’s entire question, much less appreciate that, as rebuilding projects go, he has nearly completed the job with stunning swiftness.
It’s easy to go from irrelevant to competitive in the NFL. But irrelevant to excellent? That’s a more arduous task than advertised.
When Carroll arrived, the Seahawks were a soft team desperate for an edge. They were both undersized and slow, an absurd predicament. They were old and overpriced. They had no plan to replace Matt Hasselbeck, who was breaking down. They needed a defense, an offensive line, wide receivers and running backs.
Their punter had potential. Nothing against Jon Ryan, but that’s like saying your elbow is your most attractive feature.
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Four years later, the Seahawks are the NFC’s No. 1 seed and a Super Bowl favorite.
Four years later, Carroll, the college coach with the goofy antics that couldn’t possibly work in the NFL, is in position to do what he always wanted: Eliminate the perception that he’s a mediocre pro head coach.
Don’t expect him to revel in incomplete success, however.
Don’t expect him to make a major undertaking seem like magic, either.
Unless he’s joking.
“Absolutely,” he quipped when asked if the rebuilding has gone as swiftly as he imagined. “No, really, I would always answer that question (and say) it’s always taking too long. We wanted to do things the first year in better fashion, play more competitively right off the bat. And so then we try to win it the next year. We were pushing it the whole time, and it seems like it took a long time.
“Now that it’s here, OK, it’s great and all that, and we’re playing pretty good ball, but no. I didn’t really have a timetable other than saying that we’re going to try and win every game right now, and unfortunately, we didn’t do that.”
Because Carroll’s system revolves around competition, he won’t reason that the consecutive 7-9 seasons to start his Seahawks tenure were just an inevitable part of the process. He wanted to win every game, even then. Now the Seahawks have ideal talent, but their 13-3 record is the result of a relentless attitude Carroll instilled even when the Seahawks were mediocre.
Carroll already has one of the greatest reinvention tales in recent sports history. If he can win a Super Bowl to go with his two college national titles, the youngest 62-year-old in history will have cemented an improbable legend.
No one would’ve envisioned this when the defensive mastermind was fired from his first two NFL jobs. The New York Jets canned him after one season. The New England Patriots dumped him after three. His NFL record was 33-31 in 1999, when he decided to take a one-year break from football and find himself.
Since then, he has spun gold: a 97-19 record at USC (I’m not playing the vacated wins game, OK?) and a 38-26 mark despite what he inherited with the Seahawks, which includes a .750 winning percentage over the past two seasons.
I, like many, thought the Carroll hire was nothing more than a Paul Allen man crush, a decision destined to be a disaster. Carroll was supposed to be exposed once he couldn’t recruit five-star athletes and overload his team with elite talent. He was supposed to be too rah-rah to command respect in an NFL locker room of grown men. And, finally, the Seahawks were giving him too much power, making him head coach and executive vice president, and he was bound to make a foolish decision.
But that’s not the real Pete Carroll. Those were just perceptions that fit nicely into some ill-thought Hollywood script. In reality, Carroll is far more versatile, savvy and substantive.
He was secure enough to support the hiring of general manager John Schneider, and then he was smart enough to create a true partnership with the ace talent evaluator. Not long ago, the Seahawks were an organization of factions and miscommunication between coach and GM. But Carroll and Schneider work well together and respect each other’s skills. The organization is thriving because it is getting the best of both men.
Carroll is a much stricter coach than perceived. He is a better tactician than perceived. And contrary to the rock-star persona he developed at USC, he’s a grinder. He just has more fun than most grinders.
His work has him on the cusp of making believers out of everyone. Three more victories, and Carroll will have indisputable evidence that his “Win Forever” philosophies apply to success at all levels. During his year away from football, that’s what he believes he found — a universal method of winning.
The notion once seemed silly. But Carroll has defied the cynics who greeted him when he arrived in Seattle. He’s proving that his coaching translates to all levels.
Don’t celebrate him yet, though. He wants more. Carroll always wants more, and he always wants it as soon as possible.
That urgency will serve the coach well as he attempts to cement his legacy.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JerryBrewer