Is Embattled Pete Carroll the Seattle Seahawks' Next Dennis Erickson?
Now that Pete Carroll has made the rounds to tout his new book and taken megawatts of heat for the NCAA infractions at USC under his watch, it is time to get past all of that NFL-irrelevant baloney and get to the business at hand.
In the span of six months, Carroll has gone from celebrating his return to the NFL to being skewered for the Reggie Bush fiasco at USC. His book is obviously a way for him to close that chapter of his coaching life, but – right or wrong – he’s been getting roasted along the way.
If the Seahawks were looking to boost their national profile, they surely did it with Carroll, whom owner Paul Allen reportedly is paying $7 million a year. Of course, Allen had to know there would be criticism of Carroll, both from those who don’t think he can coach in the NFL and from those who blame him for the recently revealed sanctions of USC.
It’s pretty funny to see some people calling for Carroll to resign or be fired by the Seahawks. How preposterously stupid is that?
The NFL is not college football. And while Carroll’s team ran afoul of the antiquated NCAA for something that happens at almost every major institution, Carroll doesn’t have to answer for any of that in the NFL. Anyone who thinks he does is an overzealous idealist with no sense of reality and/or a sour-grapes groupie whose whine glass is always half empty.
The NFL is real professional football, not professional football disguised as amateur athletics (that’s another story entirely). And Carroll surely is glad to be back.
As Carroll prepares to go to his first training camp as coach of the Seahawks, it is highly reminiscent of a coaching hire the Seahawks made 15 years ago, when they brought Dennis Erickson in from college power Miami.
Like Carroll, Erickson had won national titles in college and risen to the top of the NCAA coaching ladder.
Like Carroll, Erickson left under a cloud of NCAA investigations and resulting sanctions for the program’s misdeeds under his leadership.
Like Carroll, Erickson arrived in Seattle as a college superstar coach expected to turn around the fortunes of a team that had sunk to the bottom of the NFL.
Unlike Carroll, however, Erickson did not have any pro coaching experience. He brought a lot of his Miami assistants with him, and it hurt him badly as he failed to move the team above .500 in four seasons.
Carroll has what Erickson did not: NFL experience and assistant coaches with NFL experience.
When Erickson arrived, the Seahawks were coming off the worst three-year stretch in franchise history – a funk that had seen them go 14-34 under Tom Flores.
The quarterback was former first-rounder Rick Mirer, who had failed to progress after an excellent rookie year. He turned out to be even worse in Erickson’s pass-happy offense.
Erickson brought in John Friesz and Warren Moon, and he also unearthed Jon Kitna. All played quarterback for the Hawks under Erickson, and Moon even went to the Pro Bowl in 1997.
But Erickson’s special teams were a disaster in his first three years, and his defense was a big-play unit that gave up a lot of yards and points. Erickson often looked like a deer in headlights as opposing kick returners lit up the ill-prepared coverage units coached by Erickson’s college special-teams coach, Dave Arnold.
Erickson’s 1998 defense had 10 returns for touchdowns, and the team had 13 return touchdowns overall (including three on kicks), but the Seahawks still finished 8-8 thanks to one of the absolute worst calls in the history of sports – the phantom Vinny Testaverde touchdown.
Even with the appropriately credited win over the Jets, the Seahawks still would not have made the playoffs, because New England had a better conference record, but Erickson might have salvaged his job with his first winning record.
As it was, Erickson was fired and Mike Holmgren was brought in to replace him.
As Carroll takes over just a year after Holmgren left, the Seahawks are coming off a two-year slump that has seen them win just nine games.
It’s impossible to predict how Carroll will do in his return to the NFL, but he at least seems better prepared to succeed than Erickson was. Carroll’s top assistants all have NFL experience: coordinators Jeremy Bates and Gus Bradley, plus O-line guru Alex Gibbs.
Plus, Carroll has a veteran quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, rather than a third-year player ill-suited to his system.
Former NFL executive Jeff Diamond, who was with Carroll in Minnesota in the 1980s, thinks Carroll will succeed this time.
"If he didn’t have respect and credibility, it wouldn’t work, but in Pete's case it will, because he has experience in the NFL,” Diamond told Sports Illustrated in June. “The hardest thing for college coaches coming into the pros is adjusting to the fact that they don't win all the time; it's not always 11-1 and the Rose Bowl. But Pete knows that.
“I think his personality is only going to help. I think players deep down like a coach who shows fire. The great coaches know what buttons to push.”
Hasselbeck was impressed from the get-go.
“It’s been extremely energizing,’’ Hasselbeck told the Boston Globe in early May. “Our team, our whole organization was heading in one direction under
Holmgren, and then we stumbled a little bit, and Holmgren kind of gets pushed out and we get new people in and they get fired.
“It was like, ‘Who’s steering the ship? What’s the philosophy? What are we about?’
“They threw on the brakes this offseason, and our president made a change, and stopped and brought someone in to turn things back around, and that’s what Pete’s done. It’s a total change. It’s a paradigm shift. I think everyone’s energized.’’
But will Carroll’s energy be enough to lift the Seahawks out of their doldrums?
It’s time to forget everything that happened in college and find out.
To find out why Tod Leiweke's tenure as CEO of the Seahawks (Vulcan Sports) was a success, go Outside The Press Box .
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