33-31 is still a winning record. Jim L. Mora’s 31-33 is not.
Already, the Seahawks have improved by two games.
People point to Pete Carroll’s previous head coaching stint with the NFL (6-10 with the Jets in the ’94 season and 27-21 with the Patriots ’97-’99) as the definitive reason he will not succeed as Seattle’s new main man.
It’s often forgotten that this is all prior to a decade of successes (two national championships, six BCS victories, seven consecutive Pac-10 Championships, and an overall record of 97-19) at media darling USC, where Carroll found his niche.
The man has learned how to win. He has found what works for him. I suspect Sunday Funday crowds next fall will find that he works for Seattle as well.
With rocket Matt Hasselbeck in and out for injuries, and Seneca Wallace, well, not good, the Seahawks need to establish a quality protege to take the reins as franchise quarterback when Hasselbeck inevitably retires.
Carroll’s tenure at USC is bookended by quarterbacks Carson Palmer (Cincinnati Bengals) and rookie romeo Mark Sanchez (New York Jets). Carson Palmer led the red-hot Bengals to a 10-6 mark in the regular season, only to lose to the quickly maturing Sanchez and the Jets in the wild card round of this year’s playoffs.
Heisman winner Matt Leinart (Arizona Cardinals)—who may see more playing time in 2010 after the recent retirement of starting quarterback Kurt Warner—and untested quarterback John David Booty (Houston Texans) were also mentored by Carroll.
No stranger to the pass-friendly West Coast Offense, Carroll is likely to see this widening breach as a high priority.
He has a keen eye for NFL readiness in young draftees (Sanchez ultimately did well but may have been better out of the chute had he heeded Carroll’s warning to “stay in school”) and will know what card to play come April or whether it’d be more beneficial to wait for next year’s crop (Washington Huskies’ Jake Locker, maybe?) and just work on keeping the pocket protected for now.
Carroll has already bolstered the offensive line with staff additions Alex Gibbs (offensive line coach/assistant head coach) and Jeremy Bates (offensive coordinator).
Gibbs is the zone blocking guru who helped the Broncos win consecutive Super Bowls in ’98 and ’99 and was recently helping the Texans become a notable franchise.
Bates also worked for the Broncos before joining Carroll’s staff at USC.
Their respective styles will mesh well, and the two will have a lot to work with as Carroll uses draft picks to repair the ventilated offensive line and restructure the under-performing receiving corps he inherited from Mora.
Even more pressing than the quarterback situation is the folding deck of left tackles. Walter Jones thrived there for over a decade until an injury sidelined him late in the 2008 season. By November 2009 the Seahawks had gone through four players in that position; apparently nobody can fill the void Jones left.
Carroll won’t overlook this detail come draft day, but he may not pick the top prospect. Gibbs' zone blocking scheme can be just as effective with average-ranked players. It worked in Denver; why not Seattle?
Perhaps the most notable quality Carroll has is his extensive experience coaching defense. Before his first head coaching venture he spent a decade coaching various aspects of the defense, strengthening teams like the Minnesota Vikings and propping up teams like the Jets.
This bodes well for the Seahawks, who currently have no discernible defensive strategy.
He brings with him former NFL star Ken Norton Jr. as linebackers coach. Norton’s track record speaks for itself. Besides being the first player to win three consecutive Super Bowls (’92 and ’93 with the Dallas Cowboys and ’94 with the San Francisco 49ers), in his five years coaching under Carroll at USC he has already produced many great NFL defenders, including Seattle’s own Lofa Tatupu.
Clearly he knows what it takes to succeed as an NFL linebacker. He should have no problem getting results from the players under him.
No less than 53 of Carroll’s former Trojans currently play in the NFL (there’s a touch of irony here in that 53 is the number of players on the Seahawks roster). Of the 53, three play for the Seahawks, and the rest are spread over 26 other teams.
Carroll’s penchant for sticking with who he knows suggests that one or two of these players may find their way to the Northwest over the coming months via trades and free agency.
I imagine, though, that those who don’t (or aren’t able to) join their former coach will be mercilessly exploited when they meet with the Seahawks. He is their creator. He knows their weaknesses. He knows their strengths. Why not take advantage?
Maybe it’s his own drive in the face of adversity (before getting hired at USC, Carroll lost two different jobs to the same man), his positive outlook, or his playful nature, but something about this man makes players play harder.
At USC he churned out three Heisman Trophy winners (Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and the Saints’ Reggie Bush) and countless winners of other prestigious college football awards.
Mora’s “do it or you’re fired” approach certainly didn’t get results. Maybe a pep talk from Carroll’s buddy Will Ferrell will.
It’s likely that we’ll see highly touted players such as Julius Jones and Aaron Curry perform at a level closer to what was originally expected of them.
The cyclical nature of college football has given Carroll the tools he needs to turn an aging franchise into a self-rejuvenating team without having to rebuild from the bottom up.
Carroll’s natural instinct will be to utilize any existing elements he can and augment those elements with younger talent.
“Senior” cornerback Marcus Trufant will be teaching whatever new recruit Carroll comes up with the ins and outs of professional football.
“Freshman” Aaron Curry will be taught to look to veteran Walter Jones for guidance.
Carroll’s players won’t be bloated, self-centered icons; they’ll be teammates working together for the good of the whole.
Before Carroll’s contract is out, the Seahawks will have stabilized. At the very least, Carroll will pull them out of the NFL’s cellar and into the ring.