The return of John Schneider to Seattle as the Seahawks’ new general manager completes what many considered a cart-before-the-horse process of hiring a coach and GM that was seemingly as clumsily executed as many of the team’s offensive plays this season.
In the end, though, the Seahawks got the main man they wanted, coach Pete Carroll, and brought in a solid personnel executive to complement him.
As it turns out, the process—while certainly clunky—wasn’t conducted quite as shoddily as it seemed.
Schneider was probably the best guy the Hawks could get under the circumstances. Some GM candidates would not be interested in playing second fiddle to Carroll or coming into a situation where they did not have power over the coach. Tom Heckert and Eric DeCosta withdrew, surely for those reasons (Heckert joined Mike Holmgren in Cleveland). That left Schneider as the strongest of the four candidates the Seahawks interviewed.
Despite his vast experience, Floyd Reese would have been an underwhelming choice. His track record at Tennessee was spotty, and most NFL teams seem to be turned off by him for one reason or another these days (mainly because he seems to be marketing himself too desperately).
The two other candidates came out of nowhere and seemed woefully misplaced in this search. Omar Khan is a contracts guy for the Steelers, and Marc Ross, the Giants’ scouting director, seemed too inexperienced.
For some reason, the Seahawks apparently didn’t want to interview Arizona’s Steve Keim or San Diego’s Jimmy Raye III, who are now available after their teams lost in the playoffs last weekend. But they might not have wanted to play second fiddle to a coach who was hired before they were. Schneider is probably as good a choice as either of those guys would have been anyway.
It might not have been the conventional method of “GM first, coach second” that many prefer, but the Seahawks haven’t really been all that conventional in the way they have configured their front office over the past decade.
They tried the all-powerful grand poobah approach with Holmgren. Then they tried pairing a new GM (first Bob Ferguson, then Tim Ruskell) with Holmgren. Then they tried a natural coaching succession plan, from Holmgren to Jim Mora, under Ruskell. None of those strategies worked for long, if at all.
So now they’re going with a collaborative approach, where the coach and GM share equal say. At least that’s how CEO Tod Leiweke has presented it.
“He [Carroll] does not want to be the general manager,” Leiweke told reporters last week, “and I think our hand is strengthened with general manager candidates where we can now go get somebody who is really going to be focused on that draft board and personnel.
“This is how you build out great organizations,” Leiweke said. “You find people who are really good at what they do and put them in those roles and keep them in those lanes, and that’s really our vision. ... The structure is going to be Pete Carroll, general manager [Schneider] and then cap/contract, which will be our vice president of football administration [John Idzik].”
This structure, where the coach and GM have equal say, has worked in other precincts: Tampa Bay, where Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen worked in concert; Pittsburgh, where Bill Cowher and Kevin Colbert worked together; and Tennessee, where Jeff Fisher has always had major say. Power coaches get power, and the Seahawks view Carroll on the same plane as Gruden, Cowher, and Fisher.
“We feel like we’ve really been fortunate, and to some extent it was a coup to get Pete,” Leiweke said, “because at the end of the day he was comfortable working in tandem with a general manager and being shoulder to shoulder.”
If Carroll had not agreed to come, Leiweke said they would have followed standard procedure and first hired a GM, who then would have hired the coach.
He said, “This wasn’t something we were otherwise predisposed to doing if not for Pete’s candidacy.”
Despite Leiweke’s talk of Carroll and the new GM working “shoulder to shoulder,” it’s pretty clear that Carroll’s wishes carry a little added weight, considering he was hired first and had input in the GM search.
He won’t have as much power as Holmgren had when he was hired in 1999 as coach, general manager, and executive vice president of football operations. But Carroll possesses two of those titles, while Schneider has only one of them. That should tell you who has the power.
John Wooten of the Fritz Pollard Alliance was insistent that Carroll not have GM powers if the Seahawks were going to be allowed to interview Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier to comply with the Rooney Rule.
At the time, that looked like a transparent farce of an interview. Truth be told, it probably was. But it has since been revealed that Leiweke approached Tony Dungy about becoming team president after Holmgren turned down the job and before the team decided to focus on Carroll. If Dungy had agreed to take the job, he would most likely have hired Frazier.
So while it looked like the Seahawks were using Frazier to satisfy the minority-interview requirement, they actually had started down that road before the Carroll deal came together so quickly. The timing probably was faster than Leiweke would have preferred, and it made it seem like he interviewed Frazier to fill the quota—whether he did or not.
One of the results of the speed round of interviews was that Leiweke had to backpedal on offering Carroll complete control, as he probably intended. But Carroll obviously is fine with the power he has, which included input into the hiring of Schneider.
Meanwhile, conspiracy theories abound at the melodramatic ProFootballTalk.com, which already has created a fictional conflict between Leiweke and Carroll.
PFT and some fans apparently do not understand Leiweke’s position within the organization. He is not a football guy, does not claim to be a football guy, and does not want to be a football guy. In other words, he is no Bob Whitsitt. This will not be another Whitsitt-Holmgren power struggle.
Leiweke is the CEO who runs the business end of the franchise. He’s a master marketer, and he’s Paul Allen’s Seahawks spokesman. He does not make decisions regarding the football team, except choosing the men who make the decisions regarding the football team.
Asked about his role in arbitrating disputes between his coach and GM, Leiweke said, “...My job is not going to be to sit in judgment necessarily on specific issues, but overall to synthesize this group and make sure they have the resources they need to be successful.
“We’re going to have collaboration on the draft and our general manager will hear from Pete, and that’s a really important thing. That’s really how we wanted to set this up. ... We’re going to set this up so there is good tension where people are weighing in and we’re talking and we’re communicating, and no one person will sit in judgment of sweeping issues.”
But don’t be fooled into thinking Schneider will have the same input as Carroll either.