RENTON – The headline in The Seattle Times on Jan. 10, 2010, just before he was hired as the Seahawks’ coach, read: “Pete Carroll? Is that it?”
He arrived in town riding a wave of skepticism, if not downright derision. The Seahawks at the time were a textbook case of dysfunction, having just awkwardly fired, after one season, the coach (Jim Mora) who had been hired a year ahead of time to replace Mike Holmgren. Those two seasons resulted in a combined 9-23 record and rampant tension and distrust in the organization – and now here came a rah-rah college coach perceived as one step ahead of impending sanctions at USC with a resume as a two-time failed NFL head man.
Addressing the negative reaction to Carroll’s hiring, then-Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke said, “When you lead with your chin, when you have two years like you have when people see some dysfunction, when you have a legend like Mike Holmgren leave, when your coach goes after one year, it doesn’t really set the table for a ticker-tape parade for the next guy coming in.”
Well, Pete Carroll eventually got his ticker-tape parade, following the Seahawks’ victory in Super Bowl XLVIII. And Seattle fans, after a full decade of Carroll’s relentless optimism and enthusiasm, should have the highest of appreciation for what he has accomplished.
Ten seasons … and counting. Eight playoff appearances. Two Super Bowls. One title. It’s the greatest sustained stretch in franchise history. And it could soar even higher if the Seahawks pull off an upset Sunday in a divisional-round playoff game at Green Bay.
Carroll’s first public words as Seahawks coach when he stepped to the podium at his introductory news conference set the tone (before an 11-minute, 42-second soliloquy that did some tone-setting as well): “I am so fired up to be here.”
Who would have ever guessed that the Seahawks’ golden ticket to harmony and success would come in the form of a then-58-year-old dreamer who had sat down, after being fired by the Patriots, and figured out, down to the tiniest detail, what kind of coach he wanted to be.
It worked at USC, and in answer to Carroll’s science experiment of whether it would work in the NFL, we can now say a resounding yes.
Savor it, folks. Take a good look at all the coaches flaming out around the league, and all the franchises that couldn’t sustain their flashes of big-time success. Carroll’s way has survived one iteration as he nurtured the once-in-a-generation collection of talent he assembled with his hand-picked general manager, John Schneider. And now he is trying to take a second wave of players – with a few key holdovers – back to the promised land.
Yes, Carroll drives the analytics people crazy with his play calls and fanatical adherence to a run-first philosophy. He drives everyone crazy at times with his clock management and challenge-flag strategy. He can be, by his own admission, hard to cope with.
“I used to make fun of being ADD,” Carroll said this week. “I used to say that being ADD is a really cool thing because I never got bored. I don’t have ADD, but I act like I do. … It’s the constant always battling, always competing, always looking for the competitive edge that you can find that just doesn’t go quiet or go dormant. That’s hard to live with, I think.”
But Carroll’s sheer exuberance tends to win people over. And it’s impossible to argue with success. Quarterback Russell Wilson has been with him longer than just about anyone – only linebacker K.J. Wright has a longer tenure – and learned long ago that Carroll’s persona is not a facade. It’s genuine, and that’s why at age 68 he continues to relate to players who are, in many cases, more than 40 years younger.
“I was thinking about it, probably last week actually,” Wilson said. “Thinking about how vibrant Coach Carroll is. I think it was Wednesday’s practice, just watching him run around. He’s always chewing his bubble gum and throwing the football around and running from sideline to sideline. He’s always passionate. He’s always energetic. He’s always consistent.
“That’s what makes Coach Carroll, Coach Carroll. That’s what makes him great. … I know ultimately, he loves his players and that’s why we relate to him.”
Oh, it can wear thin sometimes – just ask Richard Sherman or Michael Bennett. But Carroll truly has shown that his way can work in the NFL, and that you can succeed outside the typical box of an authoritarian coach with a “my way or the highway” mentality. You could even say it’s borderline revolutionary.
Maybe he can’t “Win Forever,” Carroll’s well-worn catch phrase. But he’s won for a decade, which is forever in NFL time. Except to Carroll, it feels like the snap of a finger.
“It seems like it just flashed by, really,’’ he said recently. “ … I thought you guys would have me for a couple years and then kick me out of here. I never dreamed that we would be here 10 years, because I’ve never been anywhere 10 years.
“The amazing thing to me is that we’ve been through a generation of players. Guys have come through the program, played their whole careers and they’re on to the rest of their life.”
Who knows when Carroll will move on to the rest of his life? Pushing 70, that day can’t be too far off, though he has shown no indication of stepping away. For now, Seahawks fans should just be happy that he’s still around and angling for another Super Bowl appearance.
Pete Carroll? Is that it?
It has been more than enough.