RENTON — Now that Paul Allen has done the deed critical for any successful pro sports owner — spend big money wisely, then head to the yacht — feel free, Seattle sports fans, to gaze upon a feature often invisible elsewhere in the convulsive landscape.
The Seahawks over the past six years have had great success in football and business. This summer they have no holdouts, hang-ups, harangues on internal hostilities. Yes, they have some injured in recovery, but this is football, not antimacassar tatting. And they are a lot healthier than they were at this time a year ago.
Allen this week extended the contracts of the franchise wizards, GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll, by five and three years, respectively. And as training camp opens Saturday, the Seahawks are a consensus top-four pick for Super Bowl LI.
When you look around the NFL, are you feeling lucky, Johnny S?
“Oh, all the time, all the time,” Schneider said Thursday during an informal group interview with local reporters. “It always fluctuates and changes with different ownership groups. But this is clearly a top-three/top-five team in terms of ownership in the league. Obviously we’re biased. So we would say it’s (No.) 1.
“Having a strong owner and a strong president is extremely important.”
When ownerships in San Francisco, Oakland, Cleveland, Dallas and Washington, among others, are taken into account, the situation in Seattle is sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. That doesn’t mean there won’t be the annual dramas about such things as DE Michael Bennett’s contract, or who the hell might play the same offensive-line position for two seasons in a row, or what part of his over-explored life Russell Wilson is sharing today on social media.
But those are the mundane daily controversies of sports, sound and fury signifying little. The biggest virtue that manifests at team headquarters is a quiet hum generated by so many people over a long period who seem to know exactly what they are supposed to do, then doing it better than most.
Allen is the richest owner in sports, one of the shrewdest and a devout shunner of the mainstream spotlight. Carroll is in the conversation as best coach, Schneider same among GMs. What the Seahawks have is what business professors draw up in Ph.D classes to explain premier organizational culture.
“When you have a head coach, and strong ownership, strong president (in Peter McLoughlin),” Schneider said, “the relationship between us is special. Having that core together to have that consistent, solid foundation … that continuity is huge.”
Schneider told a story about meeting a leadership coach years ago on a plane flight as he returned from a scouting trip.
“He gave great advice (about where) industry was going in terms of leadership; top-down leadership doesn’t exist,” Schneider said. “The pitfalls come when you do things for the wrong reasons, personal reasons. Of course you’re doing everything you possibly can to take care of your family.
“That being said, you’re looking out for the organization first and foremost. That means you’re communicating with people in an impeccable manner, making tough decisions and being a good listener. Being a good listener is 80 to 90 percent of my job.”
In their first meeting in 2010, Allen didn’t ask Schneider about zone/man defensive principles, or the trips-wide offensive set or whether he could steal away Aaron Rodgers from Green Bay, his previous employer. He wanted to know whether he could work well with a coach who had just hired him, a very non-NFL kind of thing.
“He wanted to make sure Pete and I were compatible,” Schneider said. “That I was going to be a forward thinker, able to think on your feet. It wasn’t like Pete and I knew each other especially well at the time.
“(The collaboration) was the attractive part of the position. We were going to strive for uniqueness and greatness. We’re going to work together and it’s not going to be about ego, about who gets credit for this or that.”
It starts with Allen, who has been a pro sports owner since 1988 with the Portland Trail Blazers. There is nothing he hasn’t seen. He has made his share of impulse decisions, believed he knew the games better than he did, and ran over some of his hires. He is a wiser man now.
Allen “is extremely intelligent … you can bounce ideas off of him,” Schneider said. “He asks you great, intense questions. Like I said: Impeccable communication.”
What happens when that impeccable communication ends in disagreement?
“We just put everything on the table and not let things just drift for a while — be able to address those things as quickly as you can, talk through it,” he said. “With Pete, it’s basically about just spending the extra time. Like, ‘OK, let’s just clear our heads, sit down and start watching the film again,’ or, ‘Let’s just start our conversation over again, keep an open mind and be respectful of each other.’”
Perhaps much of this seems like well-known modern business psychology. But remember, this is a franchise that went from 1984 to 2005 without a playoff win, longer than the Mariners’ much-lamented current streak. This is a franchise that was moved by its weapons-grade idiot owner for two weeks in 1996 without permission or rationale. This was a franchise on its third coach in three years when Carroll was hired.
One doesn’t have to look around the league for examples of dysfunction and dystopia.
The current Seahawks operation is better than it ever has been here, and the equal of the best in any sport.
Serenity is pro sports is a rare, splendid thing, never to be taken for granted. If you’re a good listener, like Schneider, you can hear the hum.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.