BY Art Thiel 01:40PM 09/07/2018

Thiel: A snitch? Wilson needs a fresh plan

A Sports Illustrated story lays bare Seahawks fractures. Two conclusions: Carroll can’t claim there’s no double standard, and Wilson needs to have the backs of his teammates.

Russell Wilson needs to lead a different way. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Ahead of the Super Bowl in New York, I asked TE Zach Miller, in his third year as Seahawks tight end after four seasons with the Raiders, what made the Seahawks organization seem different than what he’s seen and heard around the NFL.

“No politics,” he said. “It’s pure competition. Best man wins.”

By politics, he meant not the electoral kind but the kind that typifies most shops, businesses, institutions and sports teams, where individuals or factions vie for favor or advancement within hierarchies.

Miller was a believer in Pete Carroll’s mantra, “always compete.” But he played only three games in 2014 before an injury ended his career.

So he missed out on the unraveling.

At least, the unraveling as described in si.com’s provocative story published Friday, “The dynasty that never was.” That came after the Super Bowl loss to New England, and the Play that Cannot be Unseen.

The notion of no politics apparently evaporated, creating distrust among players.

Based on conversations with a dozen sources, most anonymous, writers Greg Bishop and Robert Klemko posit that coach Pete Carroll had a double standard regarding QB Russell Wilson, exempting him from public criticism for poor play. The change began after a 2014 practice when CB Richard Sherman intercepted a pass and screamed at Wilson, “You f—— suck.’

“He protected him,” the story quotes one player as saying. “And we hated that. Any time he f—– up, Pete would never say anything. Not in a team meeting, not publicly, never. If Russ had a terrible game, he would always talk about how resilient he was. We’re like, what the f— are you talking about?”

The episode is not new, ESPN The Magazine having reported on it earlier. What was new in the story was that Carroll called a meeting of offensive and defensive leaders and asked them to stop the verbal trash talk and abuse when it came to Wilson. Also new is a players’ claim that some of their private conversations that sometimes included Wilson wound up being reported to Carroll. In other words, they suspected he was a snitch.

Without further rehash of the story that you can read yourself, here’s two points worthy of consideration:

1. Many if not most pro sports teams have feuds among players, or between players and management. Some get reported, many are kept quiet by mutual agreement. Also regularly present is a double standard for some stars.

In the case of the Sonics, there was a double standard for Gary Payton and Ray Allen, the latter being inducted Friday in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

So too, for the mid-1990s Mariners of Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson and especially Ken Griffey Jr. , and later Ichiro. Early in his tenure as CEO, Howard Lincoln was so irked at the double standard for Griffey that he cited a famous Japanese proverb about non-conformity: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” It was a part of Lincoln’s eagerness to accept Griffey’s trade demand.

With the Seahawks, double standards existed for players other than Wilson. Both Sherman and RB Marshawn Lynch pulled stunts worthy of being defined as insubordination, but Carroll saw reasons to indulge their actions without suspensions or public rebukes.

The practice by team managements is widespread and historical, going back to Babe Ruth.  What isn’t widespread was Carroll’s belief the practice could be overcome. Double standards are often the consequences of success and money. Those who get less of either tend to be jealous of those who get much of both,  and managements almost always lean in favor of the stars. Carroll needs to recognize the inevitability of human nature.

In his first go-round with success as a pro coach, it appears Carroll could not talk his way around the demands of stars who wanted him to live up to his stated standard, a standard rarely even attempted (except rhetorically) elsewhere. As a partial result, Lynch and Sherman are gone, Earl Thomas could be, and Wilson remains — the guy who stood by his coach. That is the fundamental relationship for success in the NFL (see Brady and Belichick).

2. There is no coach in the NFL who would treat Wilson as anything other than a teacher’s pet. Some may confront his shortcomings more bluntly, but Wilson brings nearly all the assets necessary to be a franchise QB.

But he is not a flinty hard-ass like Aaron Rodgers, nor a bully like Brady. And maybe Wilson’s too sensitive to in-house criticism. Those are personality issues that do not preclude success, as has been seen.

But in the absence of success, which is the lot of most teams most of the time, the one thing Wilson cannot be is a snitch.

By definition in the NFL, all top quarterbacks are extensions of management. Anyone saying otherwise is naive. The NFL opportunity is at once so great and so fleeting that tensions around club personnel decisions often are nearly unbearable.  Nevertheless, veteran players, many of whom have earned their right to speak up about coaches and management, want to know they can trust their leader.

It’s plain that after the tumult of the off-season, the bosses have given over the team to Wilson, which is the biggest responsibility he’s had. And he has to do it differently, which will be his greatest challenge.

 


YourThoughts

  • Gary Patrick

    It’ll be a fun season to watch and the timing of the SI article and this one will make Sunday must see TV. The dynasty is resembling the 85 Bears or 86 Mets.
    Number 3 better be great or things will go sideways in a hurry.

    • WestCoastBias79

      If number 3 gets hurt, top 5 pick. Hope they do better than Aaron Curry.

    • 1coolguy

      3 is always great – it’s the O line that needs our prayers!

      • Stephen Pitell

        Get real.

  • StephenBody

    Well, there’s several minutes of my life I’ll never get back. What an utter crock of s**t.

    • art thiel

      Well, thanks for stealing only two seconds of mine.

  • 1coolguy

    Good column Art, but then what else is new, right?
    Anyone who thinks the QB is not the MVP on a football team is a fool, regardless of salaries and accolades. Unlike all other positions, the QB handles the ball every snap and makes decisions, multiple decisions, each snap.
    Without Wilson, behind the Hawks annual crappy O line, the Hawks would have had losing records, without a doubt. The guy has been a godsend to the organization and if any of the players have an issue with them, I say they are not being honest in their assessment of his worth.
    Wilson would have won at least one MVP had he played behind even a top 16 O line, not behind one that is annually ranked 30th-32nd (last) in the league. Let’s not forget, he has missed ONE (1) offensive play. I suggest many, if not all, QB’s behind the disaster of the Hawks O line would have missed complete games, or more, had they played behind such a mess of a unit.
    I must say it was odd that Graham was in Wilson’s wedding party, when RW had gone to war with so many others – it told me at the time he wasn’t very close to many teammates. Of course, maybe they were pixxed that he scored with Ciara? Haha.
    Maybe Pete and JS need to include the following question in their interviews: “What position is without question, the most important and valuable on all football teams?” Any equivocation ends the interview.

  • DonMac

    Great article Art. I think Russell Wilson is a great quarterback and an equally good human being but to be labeled a “Snitch” is something that could be very damaging to Wilson moving forward. I wonder how much of the “snitching” that Wilson did, if he in fact snitched, was encouraged by Carroll. I lost a great deal of respect for Carroll a few years ago when his “always compete” mantra was put to the test when he had a chance to sign Colin Kaepernick. He chose not to sign Kaepernick based on the ironic justification that Kaepernick wanted to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Thus, Kaepernick wouldn’t be allowed to “compete” for the starting quarterback job. So much for “always compete” and exemplified Carroll’s double standard when it comes to Wilson. No wonder so many players were pissed off and anyone who works or worked in an organization like that would be pissed too.

    • jafabian

      IMO the given reasons of the club not pursuing Kap because he wanted to be a starter is at best a half truth. Since they’ve never brought in a QB to truly push Wilson that may be true and the SI article pretty much gives reasons why. But also because of his stance to continue to kneel. Not because of its political nature but because of the potential backlash from fans, especially when it comes to tickets and merchandise sales. It’s about the money.

  • jafabian

    Nothing in the SI story was surprising and some had already been reported. The story could have dug deeper on Marshawn, Kam and Percy Harvin but didn’t. What I did notice is that the players who have issues with the team are the ones who were drafted by the Hawks. Basically ones who haven’t been around the block. Bennett was able to challenge Sherman because he played elsewhere and has had more than one head coach as a pro. Little more wisdom there. Star QB’s are always at a different standard, just like standout players in other sports or even other jobs. QB’s are much harder to find. Look at the history of the Seahawks. Their best QB’s were undrafted, traded for or signed as a free agent (their worst were first rounders) and none of them brought home the trophy. Of course they’ll kowtow to Wilson. For a team that is brought up in a positive environment it’s disappointing to see that there’s players who can only focus on the negative.

    I did notice that the column states that Sherman feels as though the club doesn’t hold Wilson accountable for his mistakes. IMO they don’t need to because he typically does that himself. But in the times Sherman has been outplayed on a play or misjudged one he always has an excuse. Food for thought. Don’t get me wrong, I do think at times Wilson is disingenuous but he’s the least of the Hawks problems.

    Ultimately these young men took their situation for granted. They’ll most likely never say so but when their athletic careers have passed they’ll realize that maybe they had it pretty good in Seattle.

    • Kevin Lynch

      Well said. I agree.

    • art thiel

      Fair points, John.

      Overlooked, however, is my mention of how Carroll also indulged Lynch and Sherman. They were high value players who pushed limits, and Carroll gave in, which undercut his principle that competition determines everything. That’s where Carroll lost control.

      They both were let go, injured, for little or nothing in return, in part because of their unwillingness to be managed by Carroll.

      Regarding Wilson’s admission of his own mistakes, a lot of players do that, but it is far more important internally when a coach publicly does it. Carroll is a little tone-deaf to how his comments play among among players.

      • jafabian

        I believe Wilson is quick to admit his shortcomings in order to head off criticism from the coaches. It’s easier to take it from yourself than from someone else. But that’s more than what some of his teammates do. I’m also curious as to why players are so quick to blame Wilson when the shortcomings of the offensive line the past few years are so obvious Stevie Wonder could see them.

        I also believe some of this could have been headed off if they kept Max Unger. He had a good relationship with Russ and was respected by his teammates. (As far as I know.)

  • DJ

    Thanks Art!
    That SI article was a difficult read. I appreciate your strong deciphering! Seems like there was so much more relevant information missing that could have been included to make a clearer point and give it more continuity. Effort is everything!

    Three things stand out to me:
    1) As we figured, competition isn’t everything – anymore, as the team and we fans all touted, and were proud of. Too bad. Maybe some day we will be let on to the reasons behind this; change in philosophy? unwarranted trust in assistant coaching decisions? shifts of political power within management? owner intervention? etc. Or maybe it’s just that Carroll and Schneider aren’t as perfect a team as we thought.

    2) The timing of the release of this article, two days before the Seahawks’ first game of 2018. It’s almost like there’s a rush to call the organization a failure without the former team stars, then watch it fizzle during the 2018 season, and say “I told you so” before anyone else can. Smacks of Sherman trying to get in the last word, huh? ;^)
    (I am anxious to watch the Niners specifically to see if he has anything left)

    3) There is no fair representation of Russell, his on-field contributions and his overall accountability and drive to be the best. Russ has shown it on the field, literally carrying the team, and sometimes making up for the failure of the defense by outscoring the other team. I think his failures on the field have been more related to playing good soldier and following through plays that have broken down, due to weak play calls or poor O-line play. He shines when he’s able to take over.
    Russell is his greatest critic, and is the FIRST to give credit to his team mates. I have a hard time believing that there was any protection edict given for Russell. I would think it more that it was to show respect to his position of authority, and allow him to be the single team leader. There is something to say about too many chefs, or in this case, too many outspoken leaders, and them not falling in line when they should. Free spirits and free thoughts are great, but only if they stay within the top level structure of the team to a single mission.

    • art thiel

      1) Carroll/Schneider are as fallible as the rest of us, but still have been remarkably successful.

      2) I know Bishop as an honest guy. I’m sure SI wanted the story out ahead of the season, but there is no unusual motive here against the Seahawks,

      3) No one discounts Wilson’s achievements. But his shortcomings often are subtle and known only to players/coaches. I don’t think players made up the episode about the Carroll meeting to shush them. I also think some players resent the “otherness” of Wilson, but that goes back in the NFL as far as Tittle and Unitas. QBs are different. Deal with it, gents.

  • Stephen Pitell

    If everyone knows he is a snitch (or more politely referred to as an extension of the coaching staff) then where is the problem?

  • Alan Harrison

    Link to SI article is not correct within the article. Should be https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/09/07/seattle-seahawks-dismantling-rift-russell-wilson-pete-carroll

  • Matt712

    A few thoughts:

    1.) The article’s repeated mention of “a defense full of Pro Bowlers” was irksome in that, while Wagner and Thomas III would most likely have become Pro Bowl players for any team, Sherman, Chancellor and others would probably never have gotten their shot. Carroll broke the mold for those guys, and helped redefine the position. I have yet to hear publicly their appreciation for that.

    2.) I am wrong? I thought Carroll’s criticisms of Wilson’s play – such as leaving the pocket too early and not trusting his receivers enough – were well documented, including a notorious halftime face-to-face challenge of him to do better.

    3.) I’ve just been gobsmacked by my own hypocrisy in making fun of my girlfriend’s penchant for soap operas and reality TV.

    • art thiel

      I really like point No. 3. We guys are notorious for failing to see how our sports dramas hook us, But in partial defense, sports are at least real and not scripted.

      Regarding Pro Bowlers, Sherman, Chancellor, Bennett and Avril would have been good anywhere. Carroll/Schneider get credit for Bryant, Mebane and other contributors who were important but not top caliber.

      Regarding Wilson’s mistakes, Carroll has cited some, but has also glossed over his subtle errors that perhaps only players can appreciate because they know what the play call was, and we don’t.

  • Husky73

    Art—- I have a tough question to ask. Forgive me if I ask it indelicately. Why did this story (Wilson being treated differently by Carroll to the consternation of others on the team) come out of SI, and not the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune or Sportspress Northwest? The SI story has years of background, yet it hit us (the local fans) as a revelation. Is it a matter of the local reporters sitting on it, for not wanting to be closed off from access or communication? Is it a matter of the sources more comfortable speaking to journalists that they don’t see and interact with regularly? Now that many are no longer in the organization, are they simply free to speak? Or, has the story indeed been reported locally, and I wasn’t seeing it?

    • Centiorari

      At its base level the meaning of the SI story is meaningless. This is likely why Mr. Thiel likely chose to slightly turn the story’s direction. What is the revelation of the SI story? QB’s are the most important position on a football team? QB’s have the toughest position on and off the field of any football position? Players have ego’s and are jealous of other players who play QB? Sherman and Bennett are troublemakers, for better or worse, despite this being covered in hundreds of publications thus far? QB’s, who are likely to spend their entire career with one team, place coordination with the team higher than coordination with the players? Coaches, every team in NFL, who develop franchise QB’s don’t want to erode the confidence of the QB by harping on abnormal bad plays or games?

      Is Wilson untouchable? No. Is he in a position that is different than any other player on the team? Yes. All Pete does is try to tailor his culture to the player’s needs, but some players take this when it benefits them and complains when it benefits another.

      • art thiel

        Did you really whiff on the point of the story? Wow.

        I’ll ask you to read it again. If you’e still stumped, write me and I’ll tell you.

        • Centiorari

          I must say I’m honestly confused by your rude response. I was responding to Husky73’s question regarding why the Sports Illustrated (SI) story was not first reported by local reports by saying that I felt that the SI lacked any real insight and by complimenting local reporting, you specifically, by “turning” the story in a direction that was more in-line with reality of professional sports culture. I cannot tell if you missed the obvious references to SI in my post or missed my obvious intention of replying to Husky’s post, not your article, in my post? Maybe you thought you didn’t write a different story than SI and are offended by my “turn” compliment? Perhaps you are offended by my categorizing of SI’s article as redundant, previously reported, fluff that ignores the realities that are known to exist in EVERY similar NFL team for decades? Heck, some teams have been reported as actively yelling at players for interceptions during practices as eroding their QB’s confidence. I chose to think that you were too busy to reply politely that you disagreed with my take on another’s article. I have enjoyed your articles and I wish you luck in the future. Thank you for your contributions.

    • art thiel

      The sports media world has changed dramatically with the ubiquity of digital distribution. The pro leagues and college conferences are out to diminish and marginalize independent local media. They have invested large coin in creating their own “newsrooms” that are house organs, reaching many fans who can’t discern the difference.

      Players and their agents no longer need local media as they once did because everything in sports now is instantly national. So nearly all anonymous tips and background news are given to national platforms — ESPN, SI, Fox and the leagues’ in-house propagandists — to ingratiate themselves with the power players. Instead of sharing with a half-dozen local outlets, they whisper to one national outlet and are done.

      Additionally, the crash of the newspaper industry has wiped out many local-news resources. Rarely can a local outlet devote the time and money to do such a long-term story as SI did, simply because daily news outlets mostly publish daily news.

      Yes, I know SI has a daily news website, but it’s a lot of wire aggregation. Did you know SI now publishes 26 print editions instead of 52? They’re betting consumers will hang with them despite less frequency. For stories like this, I hope they’re right.

      I’d love to publish a large story once every two weeks. So let me ask you: Would you pay me $100 a year to write 25 long-form pieces? I’m not being sarcastic, just curious.

      • Tian Biao

        Art, I love your takes on modern sports media. Very enlightening, thanks. As for your final question, you may be on to something: you could poll your readers, suggest some stories or road trips, see who’s willing to pony up. just a thought. I mean, at some point people are going to have to pay. I’ve donated to sportspress, and I subscribe to the Athletic and the NYT, just because it’s worth it. The question is: how big is the universe of folks who are willing to pay? I honestly have no idea. But with the big online sports sites (espn and cbs sports especially, but SI too) becoming so increasingly lame, it might force people to consider it.

      • Husky73

        Yes, I would have. But not now. As a recently retired senior citizen on a fixed income, what was once an expense that for decades was unthought of, it is today calculated and prioritized. I now go to the library to read a magazine and to read (and hold) a newspaper. Those are the “dramatic changes” in my 21st century and for the many millions of boomers as we enter the fourth quarters of our lives.

  • Husky73

    The SI story on the Seahawks was the third best “story” of the week— next to Bob Woodward’s book and the New York Times’ op-ed piece.