“Pete [Carroll] rolls out of bed and high-fives his lamp.”
OK, when ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd said that on the radio station 710 ESPN Seattle a couple of weeks ago, he was probably exaggerating. I can almost guarantee that Pete Carroll’s morning routine does not consist of giving his lamp a high-five.
But if you had to pick the NFL head coach most likely to do that, there’s a good chance it would be Carroll.
Whether he’s doing a series of fist pumps after a big play or celebrating a touchdown by galloping down the sideline with his hands raised triumphantly above his head, there is no head coach in the NFL more animated than Carroll. He’s 61, but he has the youthful exuberance and non-stop motor of an eight-year-old on a never-ending sugar high.
So naturally, when people think of Carroll, that is often the image that comes to mind.
But now even the casual NFL fan is beginning to look past his sideline antics and notice what a tremendous job he has done in assembling a powerhouse in the Pacific Northwest.
When Carroll arrived in 2010, he inherited a 5-11 team filled with washed-up veterans. Almost immediately, Carroll began a mass overhaul of the franchise, replacing the previous regime’s personnel with players that fit his vision for the future.
Since taking over, Carroll and general manager John Schneider have made hundreds of transactions. Only seven players on the current 53-man roster remain from the pre-Carroll era.
The result is a roster filled with young, scary-good talent practically across the board.
Now in his third season as head coach of the Seahawks, Seattle is 11-5 and enters the postseason as one of the league’s hottest teams, having won its past five games.
Allowing an average of just 15.3 points per game, they boast the league’s top-rated scoring defense. And few offenses have had better production during the second half of the season than Seattle, a unit that accounted for 122 points over the recent three-game stretch of blowout victories over Arizona, Buffalo and San Francisco.
And with the fact that this already immensely talented team is so remarkably young, there seems to be no limit to this team’s upward trajectory for the future. Carroll has built the Seahawks into a team that has all the makings of a perennial power for years to come.
What's even more impressive is the way in which he has done so.
With things like the draft, salary cap and revenue-sharing designed to create a level playing field—the NFL has the most parity of the three major American sports leagues—bringing in a bunch of big names isn’t all that realistic.
That isn’t to say the Seahawks haven’t brought in at least a few. Carroll and Schneider obtained wide receiver Sidney Rice and tight end Zach Miller by signing them to big contracts. They picked up safety Earl Thomas and left tackle Russell Okung as highly-touted first-rounders in the draft.
But given how things are set up in the NFL, it’s difficult to bring in a whole lot more big names than that.
Carroll has combatted this challenge by targeting undervalued players.
Carroll aquired Kam Chancellor—a Pro Bowl safety last season—as a fifth-round draft pick. Fullback Michael Robinson was released by the 49ers before being picked up by Carroll and becoming a Pro Bowl alternate. And Carroll pegged his current starting right guard Breno Giocomini off the Packers’ practice squad in 2010.
Oh, and then there’s that guy by the name of Marshawn Lynch.
Early in the 2010 season, the Buffalo Bills had essentially given up on Lynch and were ready to move on with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller as their running backs. Sensing the opportunity, Carroll pushed hard to acquire Lynch and ended up obtaining him at the cost of only a fourth-round and fifth-round pick.
Carroll pulled off another brilliant trade in 2010 when he swapped defensive linemen with the Eagles, sending Darryl Tapp to Philadelphia in exchange for Chris Clemons and a fourth-round pick. Since the trade, Tapp has registered a total of just six sacks over three seasons. During that same timespan, Clemons has tallied 33.5 sacks and has been one of only three players in the entire NFL to total double-digit sacks in each of the past three seasons.
Needless to say, Carroll and the Seahawks got the better end of the deal by far.
Yet even more so than finding major bargains, perhaps the most extraordinary part about how Carroll has built this up-and-coming powerhouse has been his ability to throw conventional wisdom out the door and his willingness to try new things that others wouldn’t.
The most well-known example of this is rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. There has long been the idea that short quarterbacks can’t succeed in the NFL, but Carroll ignored the 6-foot tall prerequisite for a signal-caller and drafted the 5-foot-11 Wilson in the third round. Carroll then not only included the rookie in the team’s quarterback competition this past offseason, but ultimately named him the starter over a quarterback making a much bigger paycheck, despite criticism that Seattle would be wasting a Super Bowl-caliber defense and running game by starting Wilson.
No one is doubting Carroll’s decision now, as Wilson put together one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history. His 26 touchdown passes tied Peyton Manning’s NFL record for the most ever by a rookie and his 100.0 passer rating was not only the best in franchise history, but also the 4th-best in the NFL this season, higher than that of elite quarterbacks such as Matt Ryan, Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
Wilson’s performance has been the primary reason for the Seahawks’ late-season offensive surge and there is no question that Carroll has landed the franchise quarterback Seattle has long been looking for.
But the case of Wilson is only one of several major instances in which Carroll has found success by going against the norm.
Height has typically been considered a disadvantage at the cornerback position, but Carroll thinks otherwise. His belief in tall, physical corners led him to 6-foot-3 Richard Sherman and 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner.
Few could have predicted the kind of success they have had. Sherman—now arguably the best cornerback in the league—had only been playing the position for two years when Carroll selected him in the fifth round in 2011. Browner—already with a Pro Bowl selection under his belt—went undrafted out of Oregon State and had been playing in the Canadian Football League when Carroll signed him less than two years ago.
The two now make up arguably the best secondary in the NFL and are a major reason why Seattle leads the league in scoring defense.
Then there’s the case of J.R. Sweezy. A defensive lineman in college, he was picked up by the Seahawks in the seventh round of last year’s draft and is now the team’s starting right tackle. Yes, you read that correctly—right tackle as in the position on the offensive line. Carroll & Co. made the decision to convert Sweezy from a defensive lineman into an offensive lineman, and less than a year later he is the starting right tackle for the second-best rushing attack in the NFL.
It was yet another instance of incredible foresight and a willingness to attempt the unconventional by Carroll and the Seahawks coaching staff.
People have long noted the uncommonness of Carroll’s sideline persona in comparison to other NFL head coaches, but they are only beginning to recognize the unique avenues he has taken to build a rising power in this league.
His open-minded approach and willingness to take risks has played a big role in assembling a roster loaded with young talent that should make Seattle a championship contender for years and years to come.