Pete Carroll breezed into the auditorium wearing khaki pants, a blue-and-white checked shirt and a blue sport coat. Was it my imagination or is he just a shade paler than he was when he was prowling the sidelines at USC? Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s that he’s no longer wearing USC red.
Carroll was speaking to a Northwest group of sports editors on Monday in Seattle. Why not? He doesn’t have anything else to do.
You could tell as Carroll paced the floor, gesticulating animatedly with his hands, that he is frustrated. The man who made more than 200 roster moves last season, his first as the coach of the Seattle Seahawks, can’t make any now.
Because of the ongoing labor spat between the National Football League and its players, no free agents can be signed, no one can be cut and no one can be traded. Players can be drafted, as they were April 28-30, but they can’t be signed or brought into camp. There is no camp.
All Carroll can do is plan what he will do after the back-to-work signal blares. And plan and plan.
“It’s frustrating, but we’re going to get back to work soon and we’ll be ready to go,” Carroll said. “But our mentality is controlling what you can control. What matters is what we do.”
Carroll said he is optimistic the dispute will end in time for the 2011 season.
“There are so many smart people working on this that I can’t believe they’re not going to figure it out.”
But there will be casualties along the way.
“It will be hardest of all on teams with new coaches and new quarterbacks,” Carroll said. “Teams with transitions to make are going to have challenges.”
Carroll is not a new coach, but he might have a new quarterback. Matt Hasselbeck is a free agent, and the only Seahawks QB under contract is Charlie Whitehurst, who was drafted in 2006 by the Chargers but threw his first regular-season passes last season with the Seahawks.
Whitehurst started two games, including the 16-6 win against the Rams on the final Sunday of the regular season that gave the 7-9 Seahawks the NFC West title. And enabled Carroll to claim victory in his top goal for the club: own the NFC West.
The following week, the Seahawks were the laughingstock of the pundit class. The Seahawks were tarred and feathered with that 7-9 record as they got ready to play the Super Bowl champion Saints in the first round of the playoffs.
As Carroll remembers it, his team was being labeled the worst in NFL playoff history. Which made it a snap to keep his squad on message. And managing the message is perhaps Carroll’s greatest strength. He’s a master manipulator.
My favorite is his continuing mantra during his USC days that he did not know how the BCS rankings worked. Of course he knew. But he couldn’t control the rankings. He could only control what his team did. So that was the message.
It worked at USC (a 6-1 record in BCS games and an 82-9 overall mark from 2002-08). And it worked against the Saints in a riveting 41-36 victory at Qwest Field that should have given the Seahawks a severe jolt of momentum boost heading into the 2011 season.
Carroll doesn’t like shoulds. That’s why it will be fun to watch how fast he can get his Seahawks ready to blast out of the gate in September.