Pete Carroll in late January: “We don’t want to be patient at all. We’re going after it right now. We’re going after our division right now.”
Pete Carroll next January? “Well, 6-10 wasn’t all that bad.”
Look past the bravado. Put down the “Win Forever” book. Ignore the “Always Compete” and “Earn Everything” mottos. Despite what Carroll says and believes, the Seahawks aren’t equipped to go after anything greater than mediocrity right now. So the drama of this season won’t involve chasing an unexpected playoff berth. Instead, you’ll be gazing at the team’s new rock-star coach, scrutinizing his every move, wondering what the future holds and waiting to see if Carroll can handle the turbulence of a rebuilding process.
Impatient Pete will be tested. For the first time since Carroll began his USC stint nine years ago, he doesn’t have a team he can prod and challenge all the way to excellence. He’s stuck in traffic. The Seahawks are unable to move fast, so they must relax and gradually approach the destination. Carroll must focus his greatest attributes – hard work, energy and enthusiasm – on the big picture and not on a short-sighted attempt to feed his impatience.
To be clear, his challenge isn’t to throw away this season. Of course, he should try to be victorious and instill a winning attitude in a team that has a 9-23 record the past two seasons. (And with all due respect, as outgoing CEO Tod Leiweke has noted in the past, four of those came against the St. Louis Rams.) But Carroll must do this with an emphasis on developing young players and using this season to ignite the future.
What he can’t do is stubbornly stick with veterans if they aren’t producing and take shortcuts to try to sneak in an extra victory or two. At best, the Seahawks are an 8-8 football team. Most likely, they’ll win five or six games. If another losing season includes the emergence of linebacker Aaron Curry or wide receiver Deon Butler or rookies Earl Thomas and Russell Okung, then that would be progress. If failure only gets them more Deion Branch, Kelly Jennings and Julius Jones, then it will be a wasted year.
It appears that Carroll understands this, but let’s see what happens if he struggles and feels the pressure to prove himself. After all, he carries the label of failed NFL coach to Seattle. He wants desperately to prove that his so-so 33-31 record during stints with the New York Jets and New England is a lie, and his dominant, two-title tenure at USC is the truth about his ability.
So far, the Seahawks have been consistent about going young. Led by Carroll and general manager John Schneider, they’ve dumped established players who don’t have a long-term future with the franchise. They’ve given opportunities to rookies and taken on reclamation projects such as wide receiver Mike Williams. They’ve risked looking foolish by signing the likes of backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst in an effort to make player acquisitions that show foresight.
But now comes the hard part. Many of those players will be overwhelmed this season, especially if some of the team’s injury-prone veterans, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and linebacker Lofa Tatupu among them, don’t stay healthy. What will Carroll do when that happens?
Furthermore, the Seahawks don’t appear to have the talent to play Carroll’s preferred style of football.
Carroll wants an offense founded on the running game. The Seahawks can’t run the ball.
Carroll wants tall, big-play receivers. Williams is the only one who fits that bill, and he hasn’t played an NFL game in three years.
Carroll wants, above all, a potent defense. With a 320-pound converted tackle at one end and a converted linebacker at the other, the defense won’t have the pass rush to be that good.
So, will Carroll adjust and tailor the defense to hide those flaws? Will the Seahawks go vanilla on defense? Or is it better to use this season to hammer home his defensive principles, at whatever cost?
No, this isn’t a “Win Forever” year. Carroll is back where he was in 2001 with the Trojans, only it will be much tougher to get professional football players to buy into his beliefs if enough success doesn’t come quickly. And only by the grace of a league built on parity do the Seahawks have a chance to be that competitive.
Realistically, the Seahawks will be scuffling in 2010. And you’ll learn much about Carroll by the way he handles this downer.
Impatient Pete is good for a sound bite. But it’s Persistent Pete who must skillfully lead this chapfallen franchise.