The working relationship between Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer seemed to finally get going in 2018 following a meeting of the minds after a disastrous start to the season.
It ended with another meeting of the minds Monday.
The Seahawks’ (Carroll’s) decision to part ways with Schottenheimer following his third season as offensive coordinator Tuesday came after the two met to discuss the future of the Seahawks’ offense.
It was surprising considering they set a team record for points this season with 459, but also not surprising given the NFL’s cutthroat nature and the Seahawks’ win-now philosophy.
The conclusion following the meeting? Carroll and Schottenheimer had “philosophical differences” that apparently couldn’t be mended.
Maybe it was Carroll’s desire to run more, or at least pass more judiciously. Or maybe Schottenheimer didn’t like that Carroll — by his own admission — “got in the middle” of some key play calls, such as the ill-fated fourth-quarter fourth down against the Rams in a wild-card playoff game Saturday.
Or maybe the two simply disagreed about the best ways to pull the offense out of the funk that sunk the 2020 season after the blazing-hot “Let Russ Cook” beginning.
Tuesday’s news called to mind how Schottenheimer and Carroll had another critical meeting in September 2018 following a 24-17 Monday night loss in Chicago that dropped the Seahawks to 0-2.
Schottenheimer was Carroll’s hand-picked hire in 2018 to replace the fired Darrell Bevell. Carroll wanted to revive the running attack, which in 2017 was the worst of the Carroll era other than this first season. It was the year of the failed Eddie Lacy experiment. Chris Carson got injured after four games, and J.D. McKissic was the only player besides Russell Wilson to score a rushing touchdown, an increasingly amazing fact.
Schottenheimer, who had operated run-heavy offenses with the Jets and Rams, had a background to return the Seahawks to that philosophy and seemed on board with it.
But that night in Chicago, the Seahawks passed 36 times — one of which was a pick-six for the Bears — while running just 22 times. That included an odd third quarter in which they passed on all of their six plays, gaining just one yard.
Carroll admitted he was “impatient” with the Seahawks trailing 10-3 at halftime and said, “I got (Schottenheimer) to take a couple of shots and look at a couple of things, and it got him out of rhythm a little bit. … My fault. I got him trying a little bit too hard to take a couple of shots, and see if we could bounce something back and get back into the game quickly, and I shouldn’t have done that.”
The two met the next day at the team facility in Renton for an hour.
“He and I sat down and kind of had a little heart to heart,” Schottenheimer recalled during the 2018 season. “There were things that he and I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page about. It wasn’t just the running game, it was he and I continuing to build our relationship, and it was an awesome meeting. I know I came out of that meeting feeling really good just about the direction where we wanted to go.”
The direction became clear the next week against Dallas, as the Seahawks ran it 39 times (Carson had 32 carries, still a career high) and passed just 26 in a 24-13 win. That kick-started a 10-4 run that got them back into the playoffs.
The Seahawks had the highest run-to-pass percentage in the NFL that season, passing it just 47.56% after it had been over 59 in 2017.
That pass percentage crept up markedly the past two years, to 54.34% in 2019 and 59.59% in 2020, 14th in the league.
The Seahawks were at 62.45% after this season’s first half, which ended with the turnover-filled loss at Buffalo. After that Carroll — who, remember, has a long background as a defensive assistant before becoming a head coach — made it clear the turnovers had to stop (recall that “it’s all about the ball”).
Was Schottenheimer, after guiding Wilson to 28 touchdown passes in the first eight games of the season, simply not on board with going back to the past?
Or maybe it was the meddling. Of course, it’s the coach’s right to meddle as much as he wants, even though Carroll has often said that, having been a coordinator. he knows they work best when the head coach isn’t looking over their shoulders constantly.
The Chicago game in 2018, and the fourth-down play Saturday against the Rams in which Carroll admitted he got “in the middle” of the play call, which helped lead to it being called late and false-start penalty, were hardly the only times Carroll gave a piece of his mind to Schottenheimer.
During this season’s game against Minnesota — in Week 5, when Seattle was still in the blazing “Let Russ Cook” phase — Carroll said he told Schottenheimer after a couple of series in which the offense was stagnant to make sure “Russ is in the middle of everything. … We talked about, ‘We just need to go.’ “
The Seahawks did that night, rallying from a 13-0 halftime deficit to win 27-26.
Carroll has never been easy on offensive coordinators (which, again, is his right as the coach).
After USC completed an undefeated season in 2004 with a 55-19 win over Oklahoma, averaging 38.2 points for the season, offensive coordinator Norm Chow left for the NFL, apparently having been told he would be stripped of his play-calling duties with Carroll wanting to hand those over to the up-and-coming Lane Kiffin, a move that would give Steve Sarkisian, then back from a year with the Raiders, more power in his role as quarterbacks coach.
Some speculated that Carroll was jealous of Chow’s success, or that having won a national title, he could now remake the staff and do things totally his way.
“Pete loves to tinker,” Chow was quoted as saying years later in the book “Cardinal and Gold.” “And I guess it was not good enough what we had done.”
Neither, for Schottenheimer, was it good enough that the Seahawks scored a team-record 459 points this season, though admittedly doing so during a year in which the NFL set a record for total points, with the average team scoring 24.8 per game (the Seahawks averaged 28.6).
Now Carroll turns the page to a new offensive coordinator, his fourth entering his 12th season with the Seahawks. But what the new OC will almost certainly have to accept is that Carroll won’t be completely turning the offense over to him.
As with the sweeping coordinator changes following the 2017 season (when Bevell, Kris Richard and Tom Cable were sent packing), Carroll is making it clear once again who is really in charge.