The Seattle Seahawks handled Mora’s firing with all the grace of jackhammer bludgeoning a sidewalk. But it is apparent that if they were going to strip down the team and begin again, they needed to find a coach who is confident in his own skin, a coach who oozes belief.
“The key for us is to get our message out there to the players,” Pete Carroll said. “To philosophically get them drawn in to the way we do things. As much as this is a personnel league, I think, without our approach and the mentality that it brings, I don’t think we’re going anywhere.”
Carroll looked over his right shoulder at the practice field where his new life begins in earnest at the first voluntary minicamp starting Tuesday.
“I’m excited to convey our message and see it come to life,” he said. “We’re going to light this thing up.”
If you thought that a couple of months of watching tape of his threadbare team or watching the workouts of some of his returning players would diminish Pete Carroll’s enthusiasm for his new job, well, you were wrong.
Carroll, a 58-year-old bundle of nervous energy who replaced Jim Mora as the Seahawks’ head coach, sat on a sofa in his L-shaped office overlooking Lake Washington on Friday morning and spoke with the same cocksure swagger of his January debut news conference.
This was my first sit-down interview with Carroll, and it reminded me a lot of my first one-on-one meetings with Chuck Knox and Mike Holmgren.
There was the same self-confidence, the same swagger, the same kind of “Trust me — I know what I’m doing” belief in his system.
Like Knox and Holmgren before him, Carroll is here to fix what’s wrong with the Seahawks. This is a franchise starting over with a coach who is starting over.
And after nine wildly successful seasons at USC, Carroll is coming back to the NFL, to the Seahawks, certain that his way can translate from Saturdays to Sundays.
“We have a way of doing things,” Carroll said. “It’s different and it works.”
Under former general manager Tim Ruskell, this franchise took a wrong turn. It will be Carroll’s job to bring it back from the land of the lost.
He will rebuild it by throwing open every job to competition. No position is safe.
“That’s just a mind-set that we’ve had for years,” he said. “We’re starting brand new and everybody’s a rookie, in a sense. As we go on, when we bring guys in, they go right to the front, right away. We’re going to force them in. Tell them, ‘Show us how you fit. How far can you take it? How much savvy do you have?’
“It’s something we did at SC for years. Freshmen were brought in to start. Guys we draft will be brought in to start. The thought is, ‘The opportunity is yours. Can you do it?’ And if the veteran guys can hold them off? Awesome. Every guy who comes into the program from now on is going to be in that same situation.”
To prove that point, the Seahawks controversially traded for — and handsomely paid — San Diego’s third-string quarterback, Charlie Whitehurst, to push Matt Hasselbeck, who has been the face of the organization practically since the day he arrived in 2001.
It was almost as if they were telling the team, if Matt Hasselbeck isn’t safe, nobody is.
“He (Whitehurst) is going to compete to see how far he can take it and how good is he,” Carroll said. “I’m very excited about him. I’m not going to pigeonhole him. We know that Matt’s our starter and we’re thrilled to have him. But I don’t know what’s going to happen. Matt, Charlie, none of us does.”
Through the course of a 45-minute interview, Carroll was engaging, if nonspecific. He often alluded to his time at USC. He talked at length about philosophy.
“I want to find out what guys can do that’s unique about them,” Carroll said, “Give me guys who have something unique and we’ll fit them in. I like guys that are different and have their own way, style, manner about them.”
Carroll, who previously had head-coaching stints with the Jets and Patriots, calls this philosophy of all-encompassing competition “the central theme of our program.” It is a college philosophy he believes can work in the pros.
Of course, at USC he had a stable full of everything: running backs, safeties, linemen, receivers. He stockpiled greatness, something that is almost impossible to do in the NFL.
“We need depth. We need competitive situations at all spots,” he said. “I don’t feel like it’s like that now. We’re very thin in the secondary. Very thin up front defensively. Very thin in the offensive line.
“There just aren’t a lot of quality competitive situations where guys are really battling and fighting and pushing for playing time. That’s not right. We need every position to be competitive. If we don’t have competition at every position, then we’re not right yet.”
His job is herculean. The Hawks have won just nine games in the past two seasons. Carroll admitted “it’s going to take some time,” but he cringed at the idea that his team might finish 4-12 this season.
“There’s not much patience in this office,” he said. “I’m not a very patient person, and we’re going to do everything we can to win the first game and go from there. I’m not looking down the road. I don’t think that way.”