NEW YORK CITY — Competitively, the Seahawks were dead. After Coach Mike Holmgren's final year of 2008 was a 4-12 dud, general manager Tim Ruskell was fired after a 4-7 start to the 2009 season, which ended 5-11 after losses in the final four games by a combined score of 123-37. Hometown favorite Jim Mora was fired after a single season as head coach.
"The dominant feeling," said a member of the Seahawks staff, "was fear."
Yet from that compost pile, one of the lowest periods in club history, bloomed a team that will play for the NFL Championship Sunday against the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, a feat unfathomable from the despair of early January 2010.
On condition of anonymity, several current and former employees of the Seahawks with direct knowledge of events talked candidly this week with Sportspress Northwest about the rapid-fire decisions that led to the hires of Pete Carroll as coach and John Schneider as general manager, the men primarily responsible for having Seattle on the edge of its first major pro sports championship in 35 years.
The sources also sought to dispel what they viewed as myths surrounding the hires, notably that Carroll had advance understanding of the gravity of NCAA sanctions that were about to hit his employer, USC, over cash payments made by a representative of an agent to the family of star Trojans running back Reggie Bush.
As far as looking at another job, "Pete at the time was going nowhere," said one source with knowledge of the situation at USC. "He and (then-athletic director) Mike Garrett were certain the worst it would be, was some scholarship losses. They were planning around it for the next season.
"We called him. He didn't call us. He was king of LA."
Yet . . .
The tale of Curtis Martin
After being fired from the New York Jets after a year (6-10, 1994), and after three years in New England (27-21, 1997-99), Carroll always felt he had unfinished business in the NFL, even though he spent time this week in New York denying that the trip to New York was completing a career circle.
“I don’t feel like that," he said Sunday. "I think my first time in New York as the head coach was kind of in the middle of the circle somewhere, or maybe it wasn’t even a circle. Might have been some other shape.
“It was kind of a hairy time.”
But his astounding success at USC — seven Pac-10 titles in a row and two national championships (2003-04) — kept him sufficiently secure that he turned down several inquiries from NFL teams until he was given what he wanted, which was control over decision-making on personnel.
Carroll, according to one source, never got over the March 1998 loss of five-time All-Pro running back Curtis Martin in Carroll's first year with the Patriots. Martin left in free agency to the division-rival Jets in a six-year, $36 million deal.
"That was my best player," he told people then, bewildered, figuring the Pats could have found a way to keep a game-changing talent.
In 2009, things were falling apart for the Seattle Seahawks. Mora, a voluble sort who once talked his way out of the head coaching job with the NFL Atlanta Falcons, was at again. Particularly after the third game, when he criticized kicker Olindo Mare for missing two field goals in a 29-25 home loss to Chicago.
“There’s no excuses for those," Mora said angrily post-game. "If you’re a kicker in the NFL you should make those kicks — bottom line. End of story. Period. No excuses. No wind, doesn’t matter. You’ve gotta makes those kicks . . . it’s not acceptable. Not acceptable. Absolutely not acceptable.”
In the NFL and all team sports, that kind of public candor is deemed unwise because of its impacts on players.
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