‘Fantastic collaboration’

  • By John Boyle Herald Writer
  • Sunday, September 11, 2011 12:01am
  • Sports

RENTON — Admit it, you rolled your eyes a little when you first heard the description of how the Seahawks wanted their new head coach and general manager to interact.

It was to be, according to then Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke, a “fantastic collaboration” between Pete Carroll and John Schneider. Unlike most NFL franchises, the GM is not the boss in Seattle. Carroll has the final say, and even helped in the hiring process that brought Schneider to Seattle. But this idea, pitched in January of 2010, that the two could walk hand-in-hand, so to speak, with no clear-cut boss-employee structure, seemed a little too idealistic to work in the cutthroat world of the NFL.

Yet 11/2 years after Schneider was hired, all signs point to Leiweke’s “fantastic collaboration” being a very real thing. And if the 2011 season, which kicks off in San Francisco today, turns out to be a success, Carroll believes his relationship with Schneider will be the biggest part of it.

“By far the best advantage I have is John,” Carroll said. “Making the transition, putting it all together, he’s been phenomenal. We get along great and have a ball doing what we’re doing.”

Of course, the real measure of success for the Carroll-Schneider relationship will be the team’s long-term success or failure. The relationship won’t truly be tested until the team goes through tough times and one or both sides of that partnership are on the hot seat.

So far, it’s been nothing but happy times for Carroll and Schneider. Teams simply can’t turn over a roster as quickly as the Seahawks have if there is any dysfunction in the front office.

The Seahawks made 284 transactions through the end of last season, and once the lockout was over, Carroll and Schneider got their wrecking ball back out and continued the massive overhaul of the roster.

Both admit they are surprised at just how quickly the roster was remade — just 10 players on the current 53-man roster were on the team inherited from Jim Mora. But they also are happy with the direction the team is headed.

“We set out like, hey, we’re going to be incredibly aggressive on every transaction and evaluating our team and knowing our team,” Schneider said. “Any way we can upgrade, whether it be small-scale or large-scale, we’re going to do that. We knew we were going to get a younger roster, there was no question about that, but I don’t think either of us thought it would happen as quickly as it did.”

When Carroll was hired, he could have been the coach and general manager, but that’s not what he wanted. He had the same vision as Leiweke, one of a coach and general manager who run the team together.

“It’s the only way I wanted to do it,” Carroll said. “This is the key relationship in the whole organization. The owner is as he is, and he’s got a lot of things that he’s doing, and he wants us to run this program for him. It’s up to us, which is what I hoped it would be. To me, any way you match this up other than to have those two guys work together, I don’t know how you function fully.”

And while some might think a general manager wouldn’t want to work for a team where he wasn’t the boss, Schneider, who was only 38 when Seattle hired him, likes this setup as much as Carroll does.

“It’s been phenomenal, particularly because we’re both aggressive personalities and because Pete has a very active mind,” Schneider said. “He’s very much an outside-the-box thinker. He doesn’t think there’s just one way to do it, and we both agree on that. … And he has an innate ability to instill confidence in people. So for somebody that’s a first-time general manager, to be able to work with somebody like that is phenomenal.”

Both Carroll and Schneider’s outside-the-box thinking is evident when you look at the Seahawks’ roster. Carroll learned a long time ago from Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant that just because a player doesn’t fit the NFL prototype for a certain position, that doesn’t mean he can’t be a good player. One of Carroll’s first — and so far best — moves he made was taking reserve tackle Red Bryant and turning him into an oversized, run-stuffing defensive end. Today, the Seahawks are likely to start 6-foot-4, 221-pound cornerback Brandon Browner, who has been stuck in the Canadian Football League for four seasons.

“In the NFL, some of the guys I worked with early on, they impressed upon me the importance of using talents of different players,” Carroll said. “They would choose guys no one else even wanted. … To me, it’s a certain wisdom about the game. If you put guys in positions to do things they’re really good at, they’re going to excel quicker, then you can add to their game.”

Schneider has similar views, which is why you saw Seattle draft someone like receiver Kris Durham, who was the first player taken in the draft that wasn’t invited to the combine. Or why the offensive linemen they chose, James Carpenter and John Moffitt, were considered reaches by some. Or why they drafted a 6-foot-3 cornerback, Richard Sherman, who spent most of his college career as a receiver.

“One of our axioms within our draft preparations is open-mindedness,” Schneider said. “You have to have a level of open-mindedness, you can’t just put them in a box. The easiest thing in scouting is to say that a guy can’t play. The easiest thing in coaching is to say that a guy can’t learn.

“Pete and I have very similar philosophies in that regard. We think outside the box in terms of how we evaluate, and on his end, he doesn’t believe in guys not being able to learn.”

Of course, as fantastic as this collaboration may be, Carroll and Schneider don’t see eye to eye on every decision. Schneider credits Carroll for teaching him patience and the value of taking time to talk about disagreements, and when all else fails, they have another way of dealing with conflict.

“We’re both pretty sarcastic with our sense of humor,” Schneider said. “We give each other a bunch of crap back and forth.”

And so far, whether it’s giving each other crap or talking out what few disagreements they have, Carroll and Schneider are making this unusual setup work better than any of the skeptics could have imagined.

“Because we’ve been able to communicate on such a level, we’ve been able to function really efficiently,” Carroll said. “We’ve been able to make a lot of moves, a lot of changes. Look what we’ve done.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog

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