The Seahawks coach lets players “be who they are,” but it's possible that Pete Carroll's model of free expression comes with the occasional headache.

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Not only is Pete Carroll one of the most successful, most well-compensated coaches in the NFL, he was once voted the most popular. And one of the big reasons for that popularity is the encouragement he gives players to embrace their personalities and express themselves.

It has worked, as two Super Bowl appearances and four straight 10-win seasons can attest. But if you’re wondering why the other 31 coaches in the league don’t all subscribe to the Carroll model of free expression, Richard Sherman’s outburst Sunday might provide some clarity.

As you likely know by now, Sherman exploded after broken coverage allowed Falcons receiver Julio Jones to catch a 36-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. He slammed his helmet to the ground and proceeded to rip into defensive coordinator Kris Richard and safety Kelcie McCray.

He continued to stew for the rest of the game, and despite the Seahawks’ two-point victory, walked off the field as if they had lost. And while you can’t blame Sherman for feeling frustrated, you can blame him for his response.

After the game, Sherman refuted the idea that lingering emotion affected Seattle’s defensive performance in the second half, but Carroll wasn’t so sure. Asked if there was any carry-over from Sherman’s sideline rant, the coach responded, “I think there was some impact. Guys were upset.”

To put it more bluntly — Sherman’s eruption changed the tenor of the game and almost cost the Seahawks a win. Atlanta found the end zone on its next two drives and faced little resistance doing so.

Oh, and this wasn’t Sherman excelling while 10 of his teammates floundered. The three-time Pro Bowler seemed less engaged than usual, and really, was the beneficiary of luck.

Earl Thomas’ interception in the fourth quarter? That came when a pass went through Jones’ finger tips after he had broken free from Sherman. Atlanta’s final play from scrimmage? That was a no-call on what should have been a game-changing pass-interference flag on Sherman.

It’s still fair to wonder if the Seahawks (4-1) are among the best teams in the league, as they escaped with a win Sunday and beat substandard opponents in the previous weeks. But here’s a more timely question to ask: Would Sherman have gone berserk under any coach? Or was this a byproduct of the culture Carroll has created?

I don’t want this to come off as a condemnation of Carroll’s coaching philosophy, because that would be utterly stupid. Aside from Bill Belichick, no NFL coach has outdone Pete since the turn of the decade, and the victories are likely to roll in for the next few years.

I’m simply pointing out that it’s possible Carroll’s approach isn’t 100-percent benefit and zero-percent detriment. It’s possible that letting players “be who they are” comes with the occasional headache.

Last year, Marshawn Lynch’s play-by-my-own-rules attitude appeared counterproductive at times — particularly when he decided to scratch himself from the Minnesota playoff game at the last minute and not board the team bus. And what Sherman did Sunday was more than just an expression of frustration. It looked like an expression of insubordination, too.

It’s not unusual for players — especially those of Sherman’s stature — to disagree with their coaches. But how often do you see a player publicly rail a coach for an extended amount of time the way Sherman did to Richard?

And the postgame news conference wasn’t Sherman’s most graceful, either. In discussing the “miscommunication,” him saying “Kelcie (McCray) hasn’t been in the defense that long” was the equivalent to throwing McCray onto the entrance of a Greyhound station.

So again — was that just Sherman having a bad day, or did an organization that encourages players to spread their wings let one spread his a little too wide?

For what it’s worth, Carroll really doesn’t seem too worked up over what happened. Discussing Sherman’s emotions on his radio show Monday morning, Pete said “I really like living on the edge with these guys and being able to dwell there,… how far can we take it and still maintain poise to play the way we (needed).”

In other words, he’ll take the bad with the good with a guy like Sherman, because from his point of view, the good accounts for about 99 percent of the pie chart.

Still, his would have been a lot more interesting had the Seahawks lost, as days like that can often cause teams to regress. As it is, Seattle is leading the division by a game and a half and looks primed for a fifth straight playoff appearance.

But it’s still worth keeping an eye on how Carroll — usually a master at ego-management and damage control — handles this situation, because that Falcons game wasn’t a great look. The Seahawks Way has led to a lot of winning, but for onlookers Sunday, it caused a lot of wincing, too.