There are three reasons to believe Pete Carroll won’t make it in Seattle, and they go like this: Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino and Steve Spurrier.
All three parlayed collegiate coaching careers into lucrative NFL head-coaching jobs that were as brief as they were unsuccessful. Saban and Spurrier each lasted two seasons, while Petrino couldn’t make it through one. Their combined record was 30-47, with no playoff appearances. Their failures were proof that successful college head coaches don’t necessarily make successful NFL head coaches.
Only the Seattle Seahawks must have missed the memo. They hired Carroll away from Southern California because they believe he can straighten them out, and, frankly, so do I.
Yeah, Saban, Petrino and Spurrier belly-flopped in the bigs. Carroll won’t and I’ll tell you why: Because he has been here before and he has been successful here before.
He was a head coach with the Jets and he was a head coach with New England. And, unlike Saban, Petrino and Spurrier, he stuck around the Patriots long enough to produce a 27-21 record and two playoff appearances. Granted, he was canned after three seasons, but look what happened afterward: New England went 5-11 and floundered until Tom Brady stepped in the lineup.
Anyway, the point is that Carroll knows what he’s in for. More important, he should be a better head coach than he was in New England, not because the roster here is better because it’s not; but because Carroll knows what he wants and, unlike the experience in New England, he has the power to get it.
He had the power at USC, too, where, basically, he was head coach and general manager, and the Trojans went from years of mediocrity to one of the nation’s top-rated football teams. I’m not interested in debating the sanctions brought against the program because it’s not relevant here; what is relevant is what that experience did for Carroll as a head coach and why it could — no, should — make him the right fit for this job.
“The biggest difference is that he comes back into the league with a clear vision of how to attain success,” said Seattle safety Lawyer Milloy, who played for Carroll in New England. “He definitely has a blueprint. He saw that success, and he definitely knows what he’s looking for now.
“And that’s with himself, the organization, the coaches and, ultimately, the players. I think he understands it’s a process. This time around — because he has more say-so, or he has the keys — he can see the process take its course.”
The process already has reduced last year’s roster by nearly half. Players who don’t fit in are drummed out, and LenDale White, please step forward. The Seahawks acquired the former USC star to revive a rushing attack that slumped to 26th last season, only he never fell into line, failing to subscribe to Carroll’s rules and doing what he — not Carroll — thought was appropriate, apparently under the belief that his former head coach would protect him.
Only he didn’t. Carroll cut him after running out of patience in a move that couldn’t have helped but resonate with the rest of the team.
“If a player doesn’t fit the mold,” said Milloy, “he’s real quick to move on, and that just shows that [Carroll] has a clear vision of what he wants this team to be.”
That message was reinforced again this week when the Seahawks sent defensive end Lawrence Jackson to Detroit this week for a sixth-round draft choice, essentially giving away the team’s 2008 first-round pick. Jackson didn’t fit Carroll’s defense, but, more important, he wasn’t practicing. So Carroll decided he had had enough and dispatched the former USC star.
“There’s one message,” said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, “and it’s clear and consistent. You know who’s in charge, and you know what’s expected. There’s really no gray area at all.”
That doesn’t mean this is Stalag Belichick. Hardly. Carroll is energetic, engaging and enthusiastic. Plus, he smiles. A lot. Dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and khakis, he is a peripatetic figure at practice — jogging to a group of tight ends to throw spirals before moving over to an adjoining field to offer instructions to his defensive backs.
He is everywhere, whether it’s on or off the field. People who have been here for years say they never saw a head coach who is more involved in offensive and defensive meetings — and, just a hunch, that comes with the experience Carroll has that Saban, Petrino and Spurrier did not when they stepped into the pros.
“I spent a lot of time in the NFL and was a head coach in the league,” he said, “and that gave me an inside look into what I was getting into. A couple of those guys didn’t. To go away, have a chance to formulate a plan and put all this together … as well as being successful and developing a certain confidence about it. … I feel totally different this time.
“I thought I was ready the last time [in New England in 1997], but this is just different. Whether that translates, I don’t know. But I know how I feel about it. It’s not even close to what I was like before.
“I feel like the time at ‘SC allowed me to really fortify what’s important to the very core of what I can offer as a head coach, and I think that makes me approach this thing in a different way. Again, I don’t know what that’s going to translate to, but I know what it feels like.”
For Carroll to be successful, he must start with a couple of building blocks that characterized his top-ranked USC clubs: 1) A bona fide running game; and 2) Solid quarterback play. There is less worry about Hasselbeck, who is healthy and having his best training camp in years, than there is about a rushing attack that features the same two backs who shared carries a year ago — with neither producing more than 663 yards.
But give the guy time. This isn’t New England, where he won the division title in his first season. Those Patriots had been to the Super Bowl the previous season and featured star players like Drew Bledsoe, Curtis Martin, Ben Coates and Milloy. There is no comparison between that team and this one. Then again, there is no comparison between that Pete Carroll and this one, either.
“We were 27-21 in New England, and there are a lot of coaches in this league who will never have a winning record with a franchise,” Carroll said. “And I know that. But I really wanted to get good and see what would happen, and USC was exactly the opportunity.
“People were telling me there’s no way this school could ever win again and that times had changed. And I said, ‘OK, let’s see. I’m going to coach them really well, and then let’s see what happens. And, whatever that is, that’s the level we take them to.’
“Well, we took them to an unprecedented level. So why not here? I don’t see any reason why not.”
I do. The club won nine games the past two years under Mike Holmgren and Jim Mora. Its quarterback hasn’t made it through the past two seasons without bowing out with injuries. Its rushing attack is weak. There’s not a franchise wide receiver. The offensive line is in repair. There is no elite pass rusher. The pass defense ranked 30th, and veteran quarterbacks didn’t exploit the Seahawks’ weaknesses as much as they torched them. I think you get the idea. There are holes galore, with Carroll hired to fill them.
But he will. I believe it because I’ve seen what he does when he runs a club, and so have you. And make no mistake, he runs the Seattle Seahawks.
“This was a perfect opportunity,” he said. “It’s even better than taking on a team that’s been winning because you get to reconstruct everything. And that’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve come in to shift the culture.”
That takes time, and so will the reconstruction of this team. But keep this in mind: The Seahawks play in the NFC West, where anything is possible — especially now that Kurt Warner is retired. Arizona and San Francisco are the favorites to win the division, but all you must do here is play winning football and you’re in the playoffs.
I’m serious. Look at the past six seasons. Only one team from the NFC West had a winning record in each of those years, and that was the division champion. So the bar is not high, and Carroll may be just the guy to clear it.
“I’ve never gone for safe and secure,” said Carroll. “That’s not my way. USC was awesome, but this is a different challenge. It’s the most competitive environment I can get in, and whenever I had a choice I always took the harder one; the most challenging one.
“That’s just the way my nature is. So I couldn’t turn this one down. It had nothing to do with anything else. This was just a great opportunity, a great time and a great place. It’s so good I left USC. And it’s better than I thought it was.”