How Pete Carroll, Seahawks Saved Each Other and Built a Contender in the Process

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How Pete Carroll, Seahawks Saved Each Other and Built a Contender in the Process
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Head coach Pete Carroll (left) and Seahawks owner Paul Allen (right) share a moment before the NFC Championship Game.

When head coach Pete Carroll left sunny Southern California for the Pacific Northwest in 2010, pundits from around the league wondered what his motives were. Did he really want another shot at leading an NFL team for the third time, or did he simply want to flee USC’s sanctions?

“The question comes up why I left and all,” Carroll said, per Greg Johns of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “My coming to Seattle was for one reason. This is an extraordinary opportunity. This is an NFL dream opportunity for me and it had nothing to do with anything that was going on at any time.”

Carroll is a likable guy, but there’s no way he was telling the truth.

He needed the Seahawks at that moment in time, and the Seahawks needed him. Seattle was coming off of its second straight losing season, there was organizational unrest at the top and its roster was aging at an unprecedented rate.

Clearly, both parties were bound and determined to save each other and build a contender in the process.

Fortunately for the Seahawks, Carroll had experience building a contender from the ground up (USC) and still had the work ethic and enthusiasm to do it again. Yet, the path to attainment wouldn’t be easy. The 59-year-old coach would have to hire suitable front office members, a brilliant coaching staff and assemble one of the league's most complete rosters.

All three tasks proved to be pressing issues, so Carroll didn’t waste any time. A week after he was hired, he handpicked his general manager. On Jan. 20, 2010, Seattle announced that it had hired John Schneider to be the Seahawks new GM.

It was a rare case in which the head coach hired the general manager. Schneider was given control of salary-cap and contract issues. He and Carroll would work closely on personnel matters.

Here’s what Schneider had to say about his working relationship with Carroll during his introductory press conference, via Danny O'Neil of The Seattle Times: “We're here to build the team that's going to be structured around coach Carroll, his philosophies for every position, what we're going to be doing on offense, what we're going to be doing on defense.”

Schneider was right: He was there to help build a team that was structured around Carroll’s philosophies. That notion became increasingly evident all throughout the 2010 season. Over the course of the duo's first season in the Emerald City, they made 284 roster moves.

Matt York/Associated Press

No matter which way you slice it, 284 roster moves in one season is unheard of. Nonetheless, the method to Carroll and Schneider’s madness yielded favorable results. In 2010, the Seahawks won the NFC West, beat the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs and added key players along the way.

Seattle’s biggest additions were running back Marshawn Lynch, wide receiver Golden Tate, left tackle Russell Okung, defensive end Chris Clemons, strong safety Kam Chancellor and free safety Earl Thomas. Of the six aforementioned names, three have gone on to become All-Pro selections and four have been nominated to the Pro Bowl.

With an effective inaugural season under their belts, Carroll and Schneider were bound and determined to build upon their success. This, in turn, was why the Seahawks made quintessential coaching staff moves.

In addition to replacing offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates with former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, the Seahawks replaced offensive line coach Art Valero with former Oakland Raiders head coach Tom Cable.

Even though neither move was lauded at the time, both have transformed the Seahawks offense. Under Bevell’s watchful eye, Seattle’s offense has improved statistically every year. As far as Cable goes, he has helped countless players reach their true potential.

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

In fact, he even helped Lynch become the runner he is today. The All-Pro tailback out of Cal approached Cable after his 18th game as a member of the Seahawks and said he was ready to change his running style so he could have success in Seattle's zone-running scheme.

In reaction to Lynch wanting to completely change his running style, here is what Cable had to say, via Danny O'Neil of Sporting News: "It's a big deal to me that he was willing to do that. Once he grabbed onto it with both hands, he had tremendous success.”

However, Seattle’s offseason accomplishments in 2011 didn’t stop with its coaching staff.

Throughout the draft, the Seahawks continuously found talent at positions of need. They drafted offensive lineman James Carpenter in the first round, outside linebacker K.J. Wright in the fourth round, cornerback Richard Sherman in the fifth round, cornerback Byron Maxwell in the sixth round and outside linebacker Malcolm Smith in the seventh round.

Of the five players mentioned above, all five have played crucial roles for the Seahawks over the years, and Sherman has garnered an All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection. Unfortunately, none of the five players made a big enough impact on the 2011 season.

The Seahawks failed to repeat as NFC West champions, and they ended the year with a 7-9 record.

The good news is the draft class from 2011 stepped up in a big way and left their mark on the 2012 season. Sherman transformed into an elite corner, Wright was Pro Football Focus’ (subscription required) 13th-best outside linebacker and Carpenter allowed nine measly quarterback pressures at left guard.

On top of an 11-5 regular-season record, Seattle won a postseason game in Washington and came up two points short against the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round of the playoffs. Yet, let’s be honest. The Seahawks wouldn’t have ever gotten to that point without quarterback Russell Wilson, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, defensive end Bruce Irvin and cornerback Jeremy Lane.

For the third straight year, Carroll delivered on draft day. Wilson set rookie franchise records for the Seahawks, Wagner led the team in tackles, Irvin notched 40 quarterback pressures and Lane materialized into a Grade A special teams player.

Furthermore, 2012 marked the team’s first 10-plus-win season since 2007. It also marked real progress. The defensive side of the ball had consistent playmakers at all three levels, and the offensive side of the ball finally had a franchise quarterback and an identity.

For the first time, the Seahawks were considered a contender and a force to be reckoned with.

Nevertheless, Carroll and Schneider weren’t satisfied. Why? Because they hadn’t won anything yet. So they went out and acquired top-notch players at an assortment of positions. The Seahawks traded two draft picks for wide receiver Percy Harvin, signed defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett and inked run-stuffing defensive tackle Tony McDaniel.

Avril and Bennett combined for 112 quarterback pressures, and McDaniel was PFF’s (subscription required) fourth-best defensive tackle versus the run. Of the four free agents, Harvin was the only one who failed to make a significant impact. Yet, his biggest game may come this Sunday in Super Bowl XLVIII, which is why we would be foolish if we wrote him off.

As you can see, the Seahawks knew what their areas of weakness were. They did everything in their power to compete and build one of the most complete rosters in the NFL. And look where it has gotten them. For the first time since the 2005 season, Seattle will be playing for the most coveted trophy in all of professional sports.

Back in 2010, who would have thought Carroll and the Seahawks would have progressed at such a rapid pace? I have no shame in admitting that I was indeed one of the organization’s doubters.

A tip of the hat to Carroll for the job he has done in four short seasons. He took a team that wasn’t getting any younger and built a youthful powerhouse. Moreover, he assembled his roster through the draft and recruited integral free agents along the way.

With one ever-so-important game left to play, Carroll and the Seahawks can show the masses what four years of hard work equates to. They have the opportunity to be the first team in franchise history to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

 

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