In light of the coaching changes made by the Seahawks, a review of Pete Carroll’s remarks after the season foretold the imminent sweep of the scythe. While it’s easy to say in hindsight that what may end up as a removal of nearly all assistant coaches was necessary, it remains fairly remarkable that Carroll fired Darrell Bevell, Tom Cable and Kris Richard, his top three assistants who played critical roles in getting the Seahawks to two Super Bowls.
Tough stuff, after seven years at or near the pinnacle.
Addressing reporters two days after the season-ending, desultory 26-24 loss at home to injured Arizona led by (cough) backup quarterback Drew Stanton, Carroll said he and general manager John Schneider would “take a very aggressive approach at this point in our evaluations of what took place, and what we need to do.”
That, he has done with the coaching staff. Players next.
“There’s a lot of people and families involved, heartfelt friends and loved ones that we’re dealing with,” he said. “We take all that into account, to compete our butt off to figure out how to get better, and back on track, the way we want to be.”
Based on his further remarks, it sounded as if Carroll and the staff had a fundamental mis-read of the talent available, which was further exposed by injuries to key players on both sides of the ball.
Carroll seemed mortified at the subsequent failure to coach around the shortcomings in order to get better by December, Carroll’s month to shine — Seattle’s 21 wins in December was tied for the most in the NFL since 2012. Instead, the Seahawks grew worse, setting some club and NFL benchmarks for seasonal futility in the aspect where he takes the most pride — a physical run game.
The Seahawks had a single rushing touchdown by a running back. The modern NFL has never seen such futility.
“That’s terrible,” he said. “This year, it didn’t work out the way we had planned — we had extremely high hopes for this season. We weren’t able to adapt as well as we’d like to keep us on track for the playoffs.”
The failure to adapt to changed circumstances was not confined to just health and tactics in the run game, which lost left tackle George Fant and running back Chris Carson by the end of the season’s first quarter. Carroll talked about how his formerly youthful core of Super Bowl talents has undergone inevitable changes, and are now different people.
“Nobody comes back the same,” he said of the year-over-year roster. “They aren’t the same. Their lives are shifting so quickly. Times change so fast. Whether it’s guys going from their first year to their second year, or finding wives and having families, or facing new contracts and free agency, as well as natural maturing … all of those things make them come back different every year.
“We have to see who they are and re-evaluate, and not assume they are the same. They are not different bad. They are just different.”
That’s an apt observation, as well as a polite way of saying some players may have lost a bit of an edge from the more carefree, fun days of 2012-14. The decay often is a hard thing to know empirically, but so is whether a coach is still effective.
The inevitability of physical and psychological change, as well as players’ own heightened awareness of the game’s brutality, is why Carroll and an increasing number of his contemporaries put a premium on youth over experience.
The behavioral changes were obvious with the Legion of Boom. Over the past couple of years, strong safety Kam Chancellor held out, futilely seeking more money, cornerback Richard Sherman publicly confronted coaches on playcalling, and free safety Earl Thomas publicly courted Cowboys coach Jason Garrett (“come get me!”). Who knows what went on behind the scenes.
Many around the Seahawks coughed nervously over actions harmful to the team. But the awkwardness was largely the result of players recognizing they are closer to the end than the beginning. They sought to max out their opportunities in a league whose acronym to players has always meant Not For Long. As much as fans often are charmed by pro teams’ all-for-one mythology, me-first is always competing too.
“Challenges are always there for the coaches to find ways to communicate and be on the cutting edge of making sense for these guys,” Carroll said, “and motivating them and keeping them jacked. I don’t think it ever stops.”
That is perhaps a main reason for the return of Ken Norton Jr. to replace Richard as coordinator. He’s not likely to call a better game than Richard — if he were, why didn’t Carroll advance Norton when Dan Quinn left for Atlanta in 2015? — but his demeanor and three Super Bowl rings count for a lot in a sometimes-tense locker room loaded with successful alpha males.
The biggest handicap for Carroll in the remake of the Seahawks — “it’s personnel, the technical side of the game, the administrative part, everything from how we rehab to how we play-call,” he said — is that the transition to successor players has been weakened by a several years of poor drafts.
It’s particularly apparent on the offensive line, where the only Pro Bowl choices in Cable’s tenure were center Max Unger and left tackle Russell Okung, whom he inherited. Only one lineman among 15 Cable drafted in Seattle, center Justin Britt, has been close, named as an alternate a year ago — and it took three changes of position for him to find his groove. Newer draftees Germain Ifedi and Ethan Pocic have much work to do.
The draft is the province of Carroll and Schneider. But as of now they have traded away their second- and third-round picks in 2018. In free agency, the Seahawks could be more aggressive, but that depends how many big salaries they choose to cut.
Carroll took some offense to the notion that the front office, fearful of the close of the Super Bowl window, mortgaged some of the future by trading draft choices for emergency hires of defensive tackl Sheldon Richardson and left tackle Duane Brown to try to win big in 2017.
‘There’s not a year where it’s, ‘OK, let’s sit back and wait until next year,’” he said. “There’s not a week, there’s not a day, there’s not a moment that we think like that.”
If that’s true, then Carroll, by replacing most of his coaching staff ahead of purging some expensive veterans, has closed the old window. He seeks to open a fresh one in 2018 with new people in many places.
Since he has just two years left on his coaching contract, he has no choice but to go for it in 2018. How he gets there from where he is in mid-January is almost impossible to see. But if he pulls it off, he’ll become a different person too — a one-man Legion of Boom.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.