In a Seattle sports rarity, a coach and a general manager seem to be getting along. There’s no award for best tandem, but if there ever were, here is my nomination.
Given the states of disrepair for the local enterprises over the last couple of decades, it wouldn’t take much to stand out in the Seattle sports management crowd.
Karl v. Walker. Piniella v. Lincoln. Holmgren v. Whitsitt, Holmgren v. Ferguson, Holmgren v. Ruskell. Neuheisel v. Huntsman. Bavasi v. Knowledge. Willingham vs. Tee Times.
A conflicted bunch, them. In that regard, Seattle is hardly unique; the roaring egos, civic politics, billion-dollar deals and media/fan dissection of every forensic detail are visible across American sports’ fruited (fruitcake?) plain, and frankly, make a lot of people nuts.
But without delving into nationwide comparisons, let’s just agree that Seattle sports fans have had a bellyful of bellyaching. So without further ado, it pleases me to forward this quote from Seahawks coach Pete Carroll Wednesday regarding his relationship with general manager John Schneider, which for serious Seattle sports fans should go down as pleasurably as a holiday sip of 18-year-old single malt:
“For me, (Schneider is) an absolute joy, because we can talk about everything, work through everything, and understand that we have to come to an agreement using all of the strengths and the savvy that we have.
“We turned around a pretty good project. I can’t imagine anybody doing a better job general managing than John has done. He’s just done an incredible job, and part of that is supporting me too, so that I can do what I want to do.”
As a manifesto for modern major league sports franchise operation, that is about as clean as it gets. Of course, you are free to disbelieve; the Seattle sports fan comes by such skepticism honorably and at great cost. And you may never like Carroll, whether because of his USC background, his failure to take responsibility for the Trojans’ NCAA debacle, or his enthusiastic demeanor that in no way resembles the Bill Parcells/Tom Coughlin/Bill Belichick traditional NFL coaching model that suggests the concierge one first meets upon being sent to the lobby of hell.
But it is indisputable that Carroll and Schneider have led the Seahawks to a 10-5 record that probably will get to 11-5 following Sunday afternoon’s visit to the Clink by the St. Louis Rams. They have outscored the last three opponents 150-30, a victory margin created elsewhere in sports only by Usain Bolt.
They are in the playoffs with an extraordinarily young team that, barring calamitous health woes or ego disruptions, figures to sustain contention for two or three years.
The Seahawks certainly are capable of losing Sunday, as well as the next weekend in the postseason’s first round on the road, which undoubtedly will cause some fans to carp, wail, kvetch and otherwise doubt Carroll and his self-salute to the virtues of front office harmony.
Fine. Those outcomes would certainly be disappointing to fans, so complain away. But as you read this, it is plain fact that Carroll and Schneider have done an uncommon thing: They have done what they set out to do.
“This is really the culmination of the three years’ approach,” Carroll said. “We’ve just continued to grow. Our way of thinking was hindered last year (by the lockout and subsequent loss of practice time) when we didn’t have the off-season to get our guys ready. We wanted our guys to play early, then all of a sudden, we show up at camp that was as hard as you can get.
“Our philosophy and approach (is) to play the young guys (and see them) come to life; it showed up this year successfully. You can see that we had a terrific draft. Those guys have grown to where they are either regular contributors, or they’re starting.”
The selections of DE Bruce Irvin, LB Bobby Wagner, QB Russell Wilson, RB Robert Turbin, CB Jeremy Lane and OG J.R. Sweezy excited no one at the time. The Seahawks nationally and locally were mocked for overreaching.
Carroll and Schneider discovered that third-rounder Wilson had many of the same personal qualities as Apollo astronauts, and decided to make him mission commander, despite the fact that they risked looking like idiots after committing up to $26 million to veteran free agent signee QB Matt Flynn. You know how the gamble has paid off.
Which is not to say they have done everything right. Former first-round pick OG James Carpenter is, thanks in part to injuries, teetering on whiffhood, and if I study it until the polar caps are melted, I will never understand what they saw in QB Charlie Whitehurst.
But perfection is not the requirement. Competitiveness is. Despite inexperience at so many positions, the Seahawks this season have not lost a game by more than seven points.
“We still feel like we’re in the early stages,” Carroll said. “But we have been through three drafts, and John has done a marvelous job with the draft, and with all of the transactions that we’ve gone through. We weren’t just making moves to make moves; we were trying to learn. Because when our players started to fit the bill, we didn’t have to continue to make those moves.
“So we’ve adapted well together. I hope we just continue to push really hard and compete really hard at every every opportunity.”
It helps the situation that Carroll was hired first by owner Paul Allen, then allowed to choose Schneider and make it more of a partnership than a hierarchy. And with either great success or epic failure, the trajectory of human nature suggests things may come apart.
But for now, Carroll might get some votes for coach of the year, but a great coaching story is underway in Indianapolis. Schneider will get votes for top executive, but so will his peers in Atlanta, Minnesota, Washington, Denver and Houston.
There is no award for tandems. I’m not sure that many in Seattle know what a good top end looks like, given the lack of experience in such evaluations. And at the moment, Carroll and Schneider share a single playoff win.
But the apparent absence of palace intrigue suggests more energy is being devoted to winning games than to taking credit. It’s a rare thing, worthy of a second sip to mark a moment in Seattle sports history.