Offensive line coach is responsible for the success of the Seattle running game, while also smoothing off his own rough edges
PHOENIX — Two seasons ago, when Doug Baldwin was lost in his mind, he walked to his locker one day and found a book. The title: “The Knight in Rusty Armor.” It was a gift from Tom Cable.
The story is about a knight realizing the essence of knighthood while he’s trying to remove the armor stuck on him. Cable noticed Baldwin had been struggling, trying too hard, and even though Cable coaches the offensive line and Baldwin is a wide receiver, the coach had to help.
“That meant a lot to me,” Baldwin recalled this week. “It made me realize he pays attention. It made me realize he cares.”
This is the Tom Cable you don’t know, a Tom Cable who sounds nothing like the man once accused of breaking the jaw of an assistant coach in Oakland and physically abusing women in the past. For the past six years, Cable has lived with the stigma of an abuser. It ranges from seemingly innocuous jokes about his intense demeanor to a feeling he might never get another head coaching job because of his violent perception.
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Since 2011, Cable has been nothing short of a miracle worker as the Seahawks assistant head coach and offensive line guru. In a sense, he is the genius directing his linemen to pave the way for Marshawn Lynch, the “Mode” accompanying the “Beast,” a master of the zone-blocking scheme who has resuscitated Seattle’s running game.
When Cable arrived, the Seahawks hadn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher in five seasons. They were considered one of the softest teams in the NFL, so much so that former coach Jim Mora once lamented he didn’t have any “dirtbags” on the offensive line. Now, the Seahawks have a punishing reputation, and Lynch has rushed for at least 1,200 yards in all four of Cable’s seasons in Seattle.
Cable has managed the run game’s revival with surprising patience and a professorial approach to developing his linemen. He is as likely to hand out reading material as he is to deliver tough love. In the Seahawks’ locker room, the players see Cable as a round character. But on the outside, his rugged image persists.
His rusty armor remains stuck.
“The truth, I live it every day,” Cable said. “I think people have seen that. Every day, I show people who I am and what I’m about, and I feel good about that.”
Baldwin remembers the book as if he just finished it yesterday.
“The knight, he has all this armor,” Baldwin said. “He’s truly just trying to protect himself, and it’s kind of holding him back. He’s trying too hard. He’s not making himself vulnerable. And so, once he let go of that armor, once he took it off, he made himself vulnerable. And when he stopped worrying about all the outside distractions, the things he couldn’t control, he was successful. And I think that was what Tom was trying to tell me — just stop trying so hard.”
It’s not often a receiver and offensive line coach forge a great friendship, but Baldwin and Cable have. Baldwin considers Cable a mentor, or a big brother. Cable admires Baldwin’s drive, but he wants Baldwin to control that passion and funnel it properly.
“It’s not really a relationship that you understand in words,” Baldwin said. “He’s a special figure in my life. For him to go out of his way and pay this much attention to me, it says a lot about who he is as a coach and as a person. I’m a receiver, and he’s the run-game coordinator. Normally, that relationship would be just the O-line coach yelling at the receiver to block, and the receiver reluctantly doing the job and wishing the offense would pass more. But that’s not how we are.”
Cable isn’t just a feared and respected coach. Many Seahawks praise Cable for the effort he puts into building relationships. Center Max Unger often sits with Cable, picking his brain on the zone-blocking scheme, hoping to see the game just as his coach does.
“He takes a lot of pride in teaching,” Unger said.
Said left tackle Russell Okung: “I wouldn’t be here and be the player I am without him.”
When Cable was fired as the Raiders head coach in 2010, he quickly joined Carroll’s staff. In addition to Cable leading the offensive line, Carroll gave him the assistant head coach title, saying it was a “statement” to the team about the Seahawks’ commitment to running the football. Carroll and Cable didn’t really have a previous relationship, other than competing against each other. There was just mutual respect. Carroll, who isn’t afraid to give people second chances, didn’t hold the abuse allegations against Cable. Carroll hadn’t yet won big in Seattle, but he disregarded the potential backlash and made a pivotal hire.
For Cable, it was a homecoming. The 1982 Snohomish High School graduate was returning to the region where he learned this game, where people understood him best and where he could rebuild his reputation one relationship at a time.
A few years ago, Cable’s doctor told him that, if he didn’t get his weight under control and live a healthier lifestyle, he would “be in trouble.” Similar words had been spoken to his father, who died six years ago. So Cable, a large man who played college football at Idaho, had gastric bypass surgery.
He has lost 152 pounds over the past two years. He eats healthy now. He’s 50 years old, but he says he feels “like I’m 30 and ripping it.”
Cable charts his weight daily and grins with pride. The medical issues that once concerned his doctor — borderline diabetic, kidney and liver issues — have been resolved. And while he’s still intense, he doesn’t look as imposing.
He can only hope his physical transformation mirrors the way he’s perceived. Over time, some of those past allegations of violence haven’t held up.
Former Raiders assistant Randy Hanson alleged that Cable broke his jaw and teeth in a training camp fight in 2009, but an NFL investigation didn’t lead to any punishment. The Napa County District Attorney’s Office didn’t file criminal charges, either.
After Hanson’s story became big news, there were ensuing allegations that Cable had physically abused three women with whom he had relationships — two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend. One of the ex-wives later released a statement saying Cable was never violent. The alleged incident with the girlfriend never led to police action. But Cable admitted that, more than 20 years ago, during his first marriage, he slapped his wife, Sandy, with an open hand during a fight after Sandy learned he had committed adultery.
Is Cable a serial abuser? Or is he a flawed man who did a few regrettable things a long time ago?
Here’s what we know for certain: The Cable we see now, slim and calm and well-liked by his co-workers, has been a great asset for the Seahawks. He’s living up to the high standard of legends such as Dick Armstrong and Keith Gilbertson Sr., who coached him at Snohomish. He is recognized as a proud member of the coaching fraternity from Snohomish County, which includes Dennis Erickson and Keith Gilbertson Jr., who coached Cable at Idaho.
“I feel like I’ve known Tom forever,” Gilbertson Jr. said. “I knew him as a high school player, a college player and a young coach. I’ve seen him mature as a coach and a guy I’m very proud of. Tom is a brilliant coach. He has great depth about him.
“As long as he wants to coach, he’ll be able to coach. He’ll always find a job. Because he’s a heckuva football coach.”
Gilbertson said he hopes Cable will get another head coaching job. Cable interviewed with the New York Jets a few weeks ago, before they hired Todd Bowles. He was encouraged by the conversation. He left the meeting feeling that those past allegations wouldn’t hinder his chances to get a top job again. But he won’t just take any job.
“It has to be a good situation,” Cable said. “I’m not desperate for work. I’m coaching on the staff of the best team in football.”
The Seahawks wouldn’t be a victory away from back-to-back championships without Cable. Returning home has been good for him and good for the team he watched as a child.
“It feels good that a guy like Tom is representing all us coaches from Snohomish,” Gilbertson said. “He’s a good guy.
“Seriously, he’s a good guy.”