By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — When Pete Carroll stood on this stage in January of 2010, it was at a press conference to introduce him as the Seattle Seahawks’ new head coach.
The goals in front of him at the time seemed daunting.
Not only was Carroll supposed to turn around a franchise that — thanks to an aging roster, years of poor drafting and a bit of front-office dysfunction — had lost 23 games in the previous two seasons, he also had to prove that a twice-fired NFL coach who revived his career in the college ranks could actually win at the game’s highest level.
On Friday, Carroll was back in the same auditorium at Seahawks headquarters for a press conference that was the result of him so emphatically answering every question about his ability to succeed in the NFL.
Four years and a few months after Carroll was introduced to Seattle as the man charged with fixing the Seahawks, the team announced a new three-year deal for Carroll, who now faces a new, equally-difficult task: sustaining this level of success.
Carroll was given a new three-year contract in part because owner Paul Allen wanted to reward the coach who led the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl title, but even more so, because nobody wants last season’s success to be a one-time occurrence.
“(Allen) sees a good thing and he wants to keep it going,” said Seahawks president and Vulcan Sports CEO Peter McLoughlin. “He knows we have a unique talent base with (general manager John Schneider) and Pete going forward, and now’s the time to make sure we can do it for several more years.”
Carroll’s new contract keeps him in Seattle through 2016, which is also when Schneider’s current deal is set to expire, and it’s fitting that the two are not only under contract for the same duration, but also that they sat side-by-side Friday. What once seemed like a too-good-to-be-true egoless partnership — a “fantastic collaboration” is how former Seahawks president Tod Leiweke described it — has become over a four-year span the foundation for a championship.
And with Carroll getting a much-deserved contract extension, it’s worth remembering just how impressive a turnaround he led.
As was the case at USC, Carroll didn’t inherit a team program on top, he took a team there after it had hit bottom. Carroll and Schneider so thoroughly rebuilt the Seahawks roster that by the time they got the team to the Super Bowl, just four players remained from the roster they inherited four years earlier. Under Seattle’s previous GM, Tim Ruskell, the Seahawks drafted just two Pro Bowl players, Lofa Tatupu and Max Unger, in five years. Carroll and Schneider found five in their first three drafts: Earl Thomas, Russell Okung, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson.
Schneider believes that Carroll “absolutely” deserves to be considered one of the best coaches in the game’s history as one of only three people to win an NCAA championship and a Super Bowl. Yet even Schneider initially wondered how this would all play out.
In one of their first meetings, Carroll, who frequently talks about “doing things better than they’ve ever been done before,” told Schneider: “Hey, I think our relationship is going to be the most special head coach-general manager relationship ever in the National Football League.”
Schneider, then a 38-year-old first-time GM, reacted how most people would to such a bold proclamation.
“At first I was kind of wondering what I got into,” Schneider quipped.
It turned out Schneider was getting into the very different, yet very successful world of Pete Carroll, which in many ways goes against the NFL norm, but which also has produced undeniable results.
Carroll is 62, but in no hurry to quit while he’s ahead. Thanks to his youthful energy — “zeal” is what his wife Glena calls it — there’s no reason to think he’ll be done coaching anytime soon, which is why the Seahawks wanted to make sure his future remains in Seattle.
And let’s not kid ourselves, if Carroll wanted to keep coaching, and Allen wanted to keep him in Seattle, it would be really hard to envision a scenario where the NFL’s richest owner was out-bid for Carroll’s services had his original five-year deal run its course. Even so, for a team currently focused on sustaining success by retaining a young nucleus of players led by Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson, locking up the man who led the charge was a statement-making move for the Seahawks.
“There’s no question this was a huge priority for us coming into the offseason,” Schneider said. “We knew it was around the corner. We’re trying to take care of our own people and keep our core of young players together, but where do you start? You start at the top.”
Carroll insists his focus would be the same heading into the 2014 season with or without a new contract, and it’s hard not to believe that given his hyper-competitive nature — really, could you ever picture Carroll mailing it in? But this deal is important nonetheless because it allows everyone to look ahead to a goal that is very different, yet in many ways tougher than what Carroll already has accomplished. NFL history is full of stories of teams that climbed from the bottom to become champions; what’s far rarer, especially in the salary-cap era, are teams that can stay on top.
“Fortunately, we’ve had a pretty good little run, and we’re in the middle of something special here,” Carroll said. “There’s no reason that either one of us think, ‘OK, we did this one time, and that was it, that was our shot.’ We think we’re right in the middle of a great opportunity here.
“We don’t want to just get a ring. There’s a lot more to be done. It was a wonderful accomplishment and all, but there’s so much more ahead of us. It takes more time. To do something really unique and special, it’s going to take some time and this is what this commitment does for us. John and I will be together for a long time and we’re thrilled about that.”
It was easy to doubt Carroll when he stood on this stage in 2010, preaching competition and his win-forever philosophies. Four years later, his contract extension felt like the biggest move the Seahawks have made this offseason.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.