Pete Carroll's record of 88-54-1 is the best for any coach in Seahawks history. Why has the marriage between Carroll and Seattle worked so well? Here are five thoughts.
The hiring of Pete Carroll as Seahawks coach, officially announced Jan. 11, 2010, was hardly greeted with unanimous raves.
A famous headline on an ESPN.com story at the time read “Carroll, NFL still a lousy fit’’ detailing his failures with the Jets (fired after one season in 1994) and Patriots (fired after three seasons from 1997-99) with the story stating, “Give Pete Carroll about one year before he starts realizing the mistake he just made. By that time, he’ll be wondering why he resigned from USC to become head coach of the Seattle Seahawks.’’
In the interests of full disclosure, a column in The Seattle Times when the news was still just a rumor was no less harsh, stating, “Picking Pete Carroll would make bad situation worse,’’ noting the chaos that seemed to be enveloping the franchise at the time, with Jim Mora rather stunningly fired after just one season to make way for a coach many assumed was mostly just motivated to escape impending NCAA doom at USC.
But nine years later, and any doubting of the Carroll hire has long been proved wrong, as evidenced again by this week’s news that he has signed another contract extension keeping him with the Seahawks through 2021.
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The extension — on the heels of Carroll becoming the winningest coach in team history while guiding a remade Seattle team to a surprising playoff berth — not only further validates his standing as the best coach in Seahawks history but maybe the best of any professional team in Seattle sports history, now featuring both a major title (the Super Bowl win) and uncommon longevity (no coach of any other of Seattle’s major pro sports franchises has had a continuous coaching tenure as long as Carroll’s will be if he coaches through 2021).
Why has the Carroll-Seahawks marriage worked so well?
Here are five thoughts, in no particular order:
Partnership with John Schneider
One thing that drew Carroll to Seattle — he had had other offers during his USC tenure — was that he would have full control over football decisions. That included helping to hire the general manager, which turned out to be Schneider, brought into the fold to work with Carroll a week later.
The common way it’s put is that Schneider has final say over the 90-man training camp roster, Carroll final say over the 53-man regular season roster, though it’s usually far more collaborative than that.
And while there have been missteps along the way (the Percy Harvin trade?) it’s fair to say it’s the most successful coach/personnel executive partnership in Seattle sports history.
And a key to it all is that the marriage simply continues to last.
Such partnerships in major professional sports often explode quickly in ego, desire for credit and simply wanting to move on and prove you can be successful without the other guy (Jerry Jones/Jimmy Johnson?). But Carroll and Schneider seem happy to be bound together for at least another three seasons, a longevity that has given the Seahawks a consistency in approach that helped aid the quick “retooling.’’
OK, let’s not overthink this too much. There’s a reason quarterback is often considered the most important position in any major professional team sport. Who knows where the Carroll era goes — Seattle was 7-9 and 7-9 his first two seasons — if Seattle doesn’t draft Wilson in the third round in 2012.
But to Carroll’s credit, he was smart enough to immediately see what he had, naming Wilson the starter over highly priced free agent signee Matt Flynn before the 2012 season began, also willing to craft an offense that fit Wilson’s unique skills. And if there was criticism that Carroll was siding with Wilson instead of other influential vets in the “retooling” last offseason, it’s hard to fault that strategy now.
You can maybe sneak your way to a Super Bowl once with a non-elite QB. But you won’t do so consistently without one, and Carroll has never seemed to forget that fact.
Ability to admit he was wrong
Wilson’s rise in 2012 also pointed to another trait of Carroll’s, and Schneider’s, that has served each well — a willingness to move on quickly when something isn’t working.
Flynn signed a three-year, $26 million contract about a month before the Seahawks drafted Wilson. Some teams might not have wanted to make that signing look bad and would have A) not drafted another QB that year; or B) not started the rookie to bench a guy they paid millions for before he ever took a regular-season snap.
But the Seahawks did both, even if there was all kinds of public hand-wringing at the time.
The Seahawks also got rid of Harvin without much of a second thought once the team realized what a disaster that was becoming, and Carroll also was quick to shed free agents such as Cary Williams and J’Marcus Webb once it was evident they also weren’t working out.
Not that Carroll/Schneider don’t care about the perception of their moves. But they ultimately seem to care more about what happens between the lines on Sundays, which is also ultimately all fans can ask for.
Loyalty to winning over all else
This can maybe be seen as similar to the above category.
But not only in some player moves but also in those involving the coaching staff, Carroll hasn’t seemed to let loyalty get in the way of doing what he thinks is best for the franchise as a whole — wanting to “Win Forever” and all that.
Especially when it comes to coaching decisions that can be tough to do — many head coaches in all sports are reluctant to get rid of top lieutenants.
But Carroll quickly jettisoned offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates after his first season, and last year fired the top three assistants on his staff in OC Darrell Bevell, defensive coordinator Kris Richard and offensive line coach Tom Cable (and for those who argue he should have fired Cable sooner, Seattle’s 2015 season was one of the best offensively in team history and while everything slipped in 2016, much of that was deemed due to Wilson’s injuries that season, compelling Carroll to give Bevell/Cable another shot. When it continued not to work with a healthy Wilson in 2017, they were gone).
There are stories all over the place of head coaches who end up losing jobs because they are afraid of staff shake-ups — either due to the emotions involved, the perception it creates or not wanting to bring in new voices who might be more challenging or eventually even seen as threats.
Carroll, though, recently gave an interesting answer when asked what he considers as loyalty.
“Loyalty, to me, is people willing to tell you what you don’t maybe want to hear but you need to hear it anyways,’’ he said. “That’s the real sign of loyalty to me. And I know it’s hard. I understand why people can’t do that, but I need it. I need the information, I need to be checked and I’m kind of a loose cannon around here sometimes. I need all the help I can get.”
Ability to cobble together a secondary
Carroll’s primary background as an assistant was coaching secondaries — his first real NFL claim to fame was as the secondary coach with the Vikings from 1985-89 when Minnesota annually had one of the best defenses in the NFL.
He didn’t lose that ability when he became a head coach, first drafting and crafting the Legion of Boom secondary of Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman, and now this season, in the first year without at least one of those three being a primary starter, rebuilding another secondary that if not as dominant as that group has been good enough to keep Seattle competitive. Carroll has also shown more flexibility with that group this season — such as the strategy last week against the Chiefs to use a lot of six-defensive back alignments and play softer against the run.
Aside from Wilson, there has been no more defining position group than the secondary through the entirety of Carroll’s Seattle tenure, and he’s had a significant hand in that every step of the way.
And yes, we didn’t mention Carroll’s famed “players’ coach” stylings — the music at practice, the basketball hoop and impromptu shooting contests in the meeting room. All of that, too, contributes, all showing a commitment to a philosophy from which Carroll has never wavered.