BY Art Thiel 03:15PM 05/03/2015

Thiel: Seahawks draft a fun bunch — and Clark

Seahawks drafted a bunch of intriguing players, but top choice Frank Clark had a host of problems at Michigan. Pro sports teams aren’t necessarily equipped to find out everything.

Frank Clark and the Seahawks ssid all the right things about his past and what they imagine his future to be. / Wiki Commons

Typical Seahawks draft: One guy was born in Albania. Another was born in Nigeria. One is going to play defensive end after being a wide receiver for two years at Oregon State. To get a punt/kickoff returner, usually a checkout-stand impulse buy, the Seahawks spent three draft picks to move up in the third round.

To top off the three days, among the undrafted free agents signed Sunday was a 34-year-old long snapper who is a former Green Beret. They were planning to sign Chewbacca the Wookie, but he was in the Star Wars bar with the class of 2016.

Did I mention the Albanian guy was a 302-pound lineman with a 38-inch vertical leap? Richard Sherman at the combine had a 38-inch vertical leap.

And how about safety Ryan Murphy, the seventh-round draft pick from Oregon State? Sounds like a fine Irish lad, but he wasn’t listed among the many pre-draft scouting reports. Turns out he’s a cousin of Marshawn Lynch, who went to his high school, Oakland Tech, and even lived in the lair of the Beast for awhile during high school.

Truth told, Murphy would have preferred to have been drafted by a team that didn’t have Lynch.

“Just competition,” he said. “I always thought if I can tackle running backs like Marshawn, and running backs like Adrian Peterson, then I can tackle anybody in the league.”

Guess so. Whether he has the skills to make the NFL, Murphy has the attitude — in his case, to knock the crap out of Beast Cuz.

If there is one characteristic that that can be cited from the outside of this casting call for a remake of The Dirty Dozen, it is ferocity. The Seahawks under Carroll have done a Moneyball kind of thing in pursuing undervalued talents, but for football seek a rage about being overlooked.

The idea of being selected to try to join the best team in football the past two seasons has these guys so jacked that they could re-dig the Panama Canal if they were given a shovel and a weekend.

In his post-draft presser Sunday, Carroll, speaking of Nate Boyer, the former soldier who, after three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, enrolled at the University of Texas and became the starting long snapper, said it succinctly:

“We cherish competitors. We cherish tough guys. We cherish guys who have overcome odds.”

Put that one on the poster for the wall,  Twelves. That is the Prime Directive that governs personnel acquisition and has put the Seahawks in consecutive Super Bowls. Those virtues manifest themselves in different ways, from Sherman’s bombast to Russell Wilson’s Hallmark Card sentiments, but explain the emotional edge the Seahawks seek.

Beyond that, Carroll and his coaches believe they can manage the rest — be it a talent shortcoming or self-destructive behavior. The coaches are not always right (see my column from Saturday), but right often enough that they will keep taking risks no matter what outsiders say.

In a nutshell, that explains the controversial choice of Frank Clark, a talented pass rusher who was thrown off the Michigan team after being accused of beating his girlfriend.

Schneider and Carroll knew they were taking a huge risk in drafting a player who was arrested and jailed in November for domestic violence that capped a list of misdeeds at the University of Michigan.  The DV bust took place while Schneider was in Ann Arbor, MI., cross-checking the scouting report on Clark.

Regarding football, they believed he was exactly the kind of defensive end that could not only fit well the Seahawks’ scheme, but succeed Bruce Irvin/Michael Bennett/Cliff Avril once the time came.

Regarding his behavior, the Seahawks described an intense investigation of his background and personality. They were convinced, despite the police report, that Clark did not hit his former girlfriend, and that his talent was worth flying into the teeth of the public storm stirred by the NFL’s long neglect of domestic violence as a part of the pro sports culture.

“All of the elevated awareness (about domestic violence) made us more tuned in with what we needed to do to take care of business,” Carroll said Saturday. “John made his trips, we visited with the kid numerous times, we flew him in here — we have taken every opportunity and every chance to figure out what we needed to figure out.

“We did it, and we are going to hold him to a very standard of expectation. We think he is going to be very successful.”

But sometimes there are things that can’t be determined by the most well-intentioned efforts of football personnel. If they could, the New England Patriots wouldn’t have hired Aaron Hernandez, now a convicted murderer.

As Carroll himself said, they look for what’s best in athletes, not the negatives.

That has consequences.

The Dallas Cowboys also drafted a defensive end with baggage, using the 60th pick on Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, an admitted dope-smoker foolish enough to have marijuana in his system when he was tested at the combine in February.

Sources also told the Dallas Morning News that Gregory has bipolar disorder. In his draft teleconference Friday, he was asked directly if he struggles with bipolar disorder or depression.

“Not anything like that,” he said. “I think I have the same kind of anxiety that a lot of guys in my position have. After talking with the staff, I think they were comfortable enough to be able to support me in that way. This is something that I’ve been working on for a while.”

I’m not sure I can decipher that answer. I’m also not sure pro sports teams can, either.

Pro sports teams rarely discuss mental-health problems specifically. While hiding behind privacy laws is convenient, teams can’t attempt a clinical diagnosis before a draft because no agent would allow it, and no kid would want it, even if it was affordable.

After a player is signed, a team can make mental health professionals available to counsel athletes. But that doesn’t mean the athletes will accept counseling or treatment, given the stigma in the macho world of sports, nor does it mean the professional will act in the best interests of the individual instead of the team’s interests.

In the hyper-competitive world of pro sports, neither the athlete, once hired, nor the team has incentive to know what lurks in the corners, particularly when those characteristics may contribute to what makes a football player good enough for an NFL career. And no one can forecast what the introduction of sudden wealth to an impoverished 21-year-old will bring.

Pro sports medicine can do wondrous things with a torn ACL or a separated shoulder. Pro sports mental health professionals probably can help too. But both parties gotta wanna. Tragically, the incentives in pro sports, and many other professions, for ignorance are often greater.

For the sake of Clark and the Seahawks, I hope their research is as accurate as it is sincere. But since neither they nor the player will disclose the information that led to their decision, I hope they will indulge my skepticism.



  • poulsbogary

    Yes Art. Hawk brass belief in themselves has evolved into overconfidence. It appears to me that they do not believe that they can make a mistake.

    • art thiel

      Well, that’s the dilemma faced by leaders in almost every risky endeavor. Does the reach exceed the grasp?

      • poulsbogary

        Bill Walsh gave Lawrence Phillips another chance. Are you somehow saying that Seahawk front office fellas are smarter than Bill Walsh?

        • art thiel

          Mike Holmgren gave chances to Koren Robinson and Jerramy Stevens. All coaches make these kinds of mistakes; the key is to make as few as possible.

          • poulsbogary

            To label as a “mistake” the continued enablement of wifebeaters and criminals is a copout. Tends to whitewash the siutations. Sorry Art.

          • art thiel

            The term “mistakes” referred generally to high risk personnel decisions that failed. Robinson and Stevens never hit wives at the time.

            I agree that calling wife-beating a “mistake” is a term of whitewash and was not intended here.

  • Bruce McDermott

    Uh, I think that everybody, the Hawks especially, acknowledge that Percy Harvin was a mistake. And Schneider has repeatedly referred to lessons learned from the failures of previous choices, although understandably he doesn’t mention names.

    As to Clark, we shall see.

    • art thiel

      Different people and problems, different solutions. But the overarching point I tried to make is that sports teams tend to overlook self-destructive aspects when the upside is so tempting. As with most people and companies, they tend to see what they want to see.

      • Bruce McDermott

        I agree with that. But the problem here, of course, is that this general proposition may or may not apply in this instance. We are right to be skeptical, but wrong to be definitive in criticism, because we do not know what the Hawks at least profess to know.

        • art thiel

          A fair point in that the story is evolving. But we know what the Seahawks didn’t do in their “ton of research.”

  • jafabian

    Looking forward to Lockett playing. At the very least as a return man he’ll have the opportunity to contribute immediately. The return game was lacking last season after Percy left.

    • art thiel

      Seahawks were 25th in POR, 30th in KOR. Definite need.

      • jafabian

        Special teams sets the tone of the game. Rusty Tillman taught me that!

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    An Eclectic bunch we have here. That is the Hawks. Next year it will be a guy who grew up in outer Mongolia and rode a Yak in high school before being adopted by someone who climbed mount Everest and introduced him to American football.

    • art thiel

      Money is likely to have the opposite effect — young people have a tendency to get reckless with the first payday.

      • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

        Couldn’t agree more on the youth vs cash point. I am just hoping he realizes it is no longer a little college claim to fame as a famous Wolverine.It is now an even bigger stage with massive scrutiny and a chance at earning much bigger paychecks down the line as a pro star if you are simply good to your employer and society.Not too much to ask to keep your nose clean and represent your employer well with the residual award of NFL sized paychecks that the average joe never has a chance at beyond rem sleep stage.Leroy Hill never seemed to get this.How lucky he was to be an employee of the Seattle Seahawks.Fame ~Big Bucks and the opportunity to do what he loves.Play football in 16 lucrative games a year.

        • art thiel

          Easy for us to say as middle-class white guys.

  • Green Caribou

    To separate, but not to minimize the DV issue, for the ‘Hawks the problem is one of destroyed credibility. They had other options. They could have faced the controversy head-on. They could have acknowledged the issue and specified how they plan to address this particular case: counseling, mentors, education, no alcohol, whatever. People might not have liked it or respected it, but at least it would have faced the problem. Instead they trotted out their own “investigative” conclusions, making it sound like they had a team of private investigators delving into every angle, when in reality they just accepted the Family Circus defense: “Not Me!”

    Even if this was an isolated, alcohol-fueled incident and Clark is a model teammate, it took years to build “In John and Pete we trust” credibility and goodwill. They just flushed it away in a weekend. How will they defend themselves the next time anyone calls them a bunch of PED cheaters? Did they just raise the price of Russell Wilson, with his squeaky-clean, mama’s-boy image marketing? He would be right to seriously reconsider hitching his wagon to the Seahawks. In the long run, was it really worth it?

    Whatever happens, please remember who the real victims are.

  • notaboomer

    you guys who rationalize the clark signing should be ashamed of yourselves. schneider/seahawks didn’t investigate the incident in a meaningful way. signing a guy who beat up his gf is just flat wrong. geoff baker nails the case in the seattle times:

  • Gerald Turner

    Waiting for the day when we see Gram Richardson and Tyler Lockett lined up together. Scary fast DB nightmare!

  • John M

    Art, loved the way you started this, funny and poignant. It’s scary to realize it’s all true . . .

    • art thiel

      Thanks. Trying something a little different.