Is Pete Carroll too generous with second chances?
by Art Thiel
Pete Carroll on a practice field with the Seattle Seahawks. Credit: Photo: JC Winkler/Flickr
While not exactly defiant, coach Pete Carroll this week was resolute that the NFL-best, 10-1 Seahawks, rocked in the bye week by NFL drug suspensions of two defensive backs, would not be derailed.
"Not a bit, not a bit," he told reporters at his first media scrum since suspension of Walter Thurmond, and the pending suspension of Brandon Browner, were disclosed. "It's a very difficult situation for the individual. For us, we'll march on and be OK about it."
Carroll was speaking primarily of Thurmond, whose four-game suspension for street drugs was made official Tuesday. Browner, already out with an injury, is appealing a one-year suspension whose length is because of multiple violations. He is heading into free agency, and a suspension well into next season likely means his Seattle career has ended.
Per NFL policy, Carroll wasn't supposed to talk about Browner. He did talk generically about the second-chance ranch he operates, Browner being an example. He had a four-game suspension a year ago for performance-enhancing drugs.
"We will always look to give guys a second chance around here," Carroll said. "The league has adjusted the rules. It allows a guy who is suspended to be with us. We are going to take care of him, look after him, bring him along until we get (Thurmond) back. We are disappointed.
“I know that over the years I’ve always found myself wanting to find guys that maybe need some considerations, some special opportunities, to do what they can do. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. Guys get in trouble, or something pops up."
It has worked out most of the time for Carroll. But the failures are piling up. Browner is the first two-time suspension, but six players — seven if Richard Sherman's positive test is counted (one that was dismissed on chain-of-custody technicality) — have been suspended. The Seahawks are the NFL leaders in busts as well as wins.
Asked if he needs to recalibrate a message that isn't getting across, Carroll said, "I think we’re constantly reinforcing the behavior, the mindset, and the mentality that we want. It’s hard to expect everybody to be exactly on point. If that’s what you think is going to happen, you’re going to be disappointed.
"It’s more about how to be able to adjust and move with it, and make most of the situation and overcome it. I would love to say that we haven’t had any issues and we clean it all up and there will be nothing there. But that may not be the case, even as we move ahead. We’re going to keep working for it. We’re going to keep expecting to be as perfect as we can get to be.”
But the Seahawks are falling sufficiently short of perfection that it becomes a distraction, as well as potentially divisive. Already targets of national criticisms and jokes, Seahawks players are jumping on their Twitter accounts to defend their teammates. Yet even Seahawks fans have a right to be dismayed at a potential jeopardy to their desires for a championship.
Tuesday night, Golden Tate wasn't bashful about bashing the critics:
It's that kind of foolish defensiveness that has potential for backfire. In his zeal to play Father Flanagan for a misguided player, Carroll seems to miss the point that the frequency of episodes by his players have made them targets for ridicule that can't be glossed over with soaring rhetoric. Carroll seems to favor rehab over ruthlessness, which in most cases is commendable. But in his line of work, it can cost.
"It’s not about the issue itself — it’s about moving forward and taking care of the people that are involved," he said, "and turning your focus on what is important. I’m not concerned about that at all, we’ve already done that and we’ll take care of business."
Carroll is missing a point: The violations are of rules that the league and the union have agreed upon through collective bargaining. It doesn't matter what Carroll's views are of player welfare, or whether fans think it's much ado about nothing, or a big deal because it's cheating.
The league and the union have agreed to say nope to dope. The have agreed on a scale of punishments. Some players get caught, some don't, but more players get caught in Seattle than anywhere else.
This week, it means the Seahawks have lost two starters at the same position, and are working the streets to find replacements. The guy they signed Tuesday, free agent CB Perrish Cox, has a little history himself. As this story explains, Cox, then playing for the Denver Broncos in 2011, was charged with two counts of sexual assault. A jury trial found him innocent due to a lack of evidence, but the circumstances were filled with classic temptations that bring down pro ballplayers and teams.
How Cox works out as a temp is anyone's guess. But Carroll, as with many of his successful contemporaries such as Mike Holmgren (Jerramy Stevens, Koren Robinson) and Bill Belichick (Aaron Hernandez), often flatter themselves in thinking that their words, and their teams, have a universal and positive effect on all.
Not so. Some players are beyond the reach of "special opportunities," as Carroll called them. Not saying Thurmond and Browner are such cases, but the casualty rate in the NFL for physical injuries is high, then throw in a few screw-offs, and the jeopardy to team success is palpable.
Players who think they are smarter than the NFL drug policy, or their teammates, or women, or coaches, invite trouble that they and the clubs often cannot see, particularly in a social media age where there are no barriers between anonymous fans and easy targets. At minimum, it's a major distraction.
That's what the Seahawks have now. Carroll may manage it masterfully, but when an enterprise closes in on the summit of the sports industry, a single misstep can end the climb.