Pete Carroll on a practice field with the Seattle Seahawks. Credit: Photo: JC Winkler/Flickr
Here's the aggravating thing about the Seahawks. They once were a soap opera only a sports columnist could love. Back-stabbling, in-fighting, plots and palace intrigues worthy of czarist Russia. But it's all gone.
Former owner Ken Behring once hired an executive who was subsequently charged with a murder-for-hire — via crossbow. GM Bob Whitsitt, who hired coach Mike Holmgren, low-balled the coach's front-office ally in order to get the guy to quit. When Whitsitt was fired, his successor, Tim Ruskell, also couldn't get along with Holmgren and hired a coach-in-waiting, Jim Mora, to succeed him. Holmgren left, Ruskell was fired and so was Mora, all in a year's time. Yeesh.
Wonderful for storytelling. Not so wonderful for footballing.
Now in its fourth year is the Pete Carroll-John Schneider musical, two white suits short of a Fred Astaire-Gene Kelly Ziegfield Follies number.
All they've done so far is win, smile and be nimble with word and deed. That may be OK with fans who like stuff like Super Bowls, but they seem to have bled out the rancor, acrimony and misdeed that was such a Seahawks front-office tradition, as well as great newspaper copy (if you're unfamiliar with the term, google "primitive 20th century tribal communication tool").
Some would say — Carroll, for example, emphatically — that their dance is what has moved the franchise two steps from the Super Bowl.
“I think it’s absolutely the most crucial relationship," Carroll said Tuesday of their coach-GM bromance. "All of the decisions that we make, we make together, and the fact that we communicate so well and we trust one another so much, it’s helped us throughout."
We'd ask Schneider for his version, but he rarely speaks during the season. So in that way, the duo is more like Penn & Teller. Aside from a weekly pre-game segment on the radio broadcast, Schneider, who is plenty affable and quick-witted to finesse the media obligations, lets Carroll tend to most of the explanatory patter (perhaps the NFL will fine Schneider $50,000 for not making himself available to media).
It's certainly conceivable that, behind the scenes, Carroll and Schneider are swinging away like Popeye and Bluto. But that would have shown up somewhere by now. And it would make Carroll a big fat liar regarding a statement like this Tuesday:
"I’m functioning as well as I can because of John, and I hope that he is too. I really think it’s one of the crucial elements of NFL football. All of our (assistant coaches) who interview for jobs and get the opportunities to talk about it, they’ve been hammered" about how a harmonious relationship works.
It's true that the dysfunctional Ruskell-Holmgren regime produced Seattle's lone Super Bowl entrant after the 13-3 season in 2005. Which proves the point that there is no template, no organizational flow chart, no blueprint for the successful operation of a big-time pro sports organization.
Weird stuff happens.
Just look at the Saints, Saturday's playoff opponent. After years of torpor and dreariness, the Saints in 2009 under coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees won the Super Bowl after a 13-3 season, then won 11 and 13 games in the next two seasons.
But in 2012 New Orleans plunged into the despair of "Bountygate." The scandal over paying cash for deliberately injurious hits led to firings of assistants and executives and a one-year suspension for Payton. Not to mention a 7-9 season.
But Payton is back, Brees is as good as ever, the Saints are 11-5 and look to be better than the eight-point underdogs the oddsmakers have ordered against the Seahawks.
The scandal seemed a huge blow, and still some scars are visible. But the Saints are back with the same key franchise elements the Seahawks have: A good coach in full control and a good quarterback.
The key in Seattle was that Carroll would not have accepted the job unless owner Paul Allen and then-president Tod Leiweke gave him final say over personnel matters. That always is a risk, but Carroll insisted that he be given the control he lacked during his one-year tenure with the New York Jets (1994) and three years with the New England Patriots (1997-99).
A part of that control included the right to pick what would appear to be his boss, the GM. But so far, the tandem appears a more horizontal pairing than a vertical one. Not to mention successful.
"I don’t know if I said this clearly in the past, but I thought that this relationship would be the one that could be the issue that pushes us over the top, if we did it right," Carroll said. "I think it’s like making a good marriage. It’s not any different. You have to work and bend and understand and learn and grow and be resilient.
"We have to do all of those things too.”
If the Seahawks don't make the Super Bowl, everything will be scrutinized to the nano level. But it seems as though the GM-coach relationship will not be among the usual suspects considered when a team falls short.
Too bad. There is such a rich tradition of Seahawks front office mayhem and discord — next month is the 18th anniversary of Behring's attempt to move the franchise to Los Angeles — that it's a shame we likely will be denied another bracing plunge into the chilly abyss of front-office dysfunction.
There's always the Mariners.