Five years ago Friday, during a private meeting with Seattle Seahawks officials, Pete Carroll decided to return to the NFL. At an age many men are beginning to contemplate retirement, he was ready for the ultimate career gamble.
Carroll arrived in Seattle two days later. I recall my first impression from the introductory press conference: This is a guy who talks in the manner of a Grand Prix race car. His sentences swerve from left to right at breakneck speed, and just when it seems as if he’s lost control, he manages to steer back onto the middle of the road.
Since then, I’ve learned that any of dozens of adjectives apply to a coach who is visionary, energetic, imaginative, bold, ambitious and utterly without a peer among his contemporaries.
But there’s another word that comes to mind, too.
How could one of the most successful college coaches of all time, on the cusp of a playoff run that could solidify his status as one of the most successful pro coaches of all time, lack recognition? It defies logic, but that’s the reality.
Last week Sports Illustrated’s Peter King put together a 26-member panel to select the NFL’s 2014 award winners. The panel — it included current players, former players, writers and statisticians familiar with advanced metrics — was a comprehensive representation of what those who follow football are thinking.
The Arizona Cardinals’ Bruce Arians won Coach of the Year honors in a landslide. Arians finished with 17 first-place votes, well ahead of the Dallas Cowboys Jason Garrett (3), the Detroit Lions’ Jim Caldwell (2) and the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick (2).
Carroll received one first-place vote, which is as many as Joe Philbin got for leading the Miami Dolphins to an 8-8 record. Because I don’t watch the Dolphins on a weekly basis, I must be open to the possibility that Philbin worked wonders with them this season.
What I know for sure is that Miami finished 8-8 under Philbin in 2013. Following an 8-8 mark with an 8-8 mark does not strike me as worthy of Coach of the Year recognition, but, hey, winning is difficult in the NFL. Ask Philbin, a third-year coach whose next winning season will be his first.
As for Arians, I understand the accolades. He turned a mediocre team decimated by injuries into a division-title contender. Arizona didn’t quit on Arians until the second half of its wild card playoff game at Carolina, where his genius was underscored.
A coach able to coax 11 victories from that pool of hobo stew is a coach who deserves his own magic show theater on the Las Vegas Strip.
Carroll, on the other hand, benefited from an abundance of talent in 2014. That he played a major role in accumulating and developing such talent, apparently, is irrelevant.
Here’s what I don’t understand: From the moment the Seahawks basked in the confetti of their celebration parade through downtown Seattle, they were challenged with surviving the post-championship fatigue that has undone every Super Bowl winner since the 2004 Patriots. And while the the Hawks have yet to break a decade-long trend — Super Bowl victory one year, no playoff advancement the next — they earned a No. 1 seed, an essential component in defying recent history. They earned this because of Pete Carroll, and yet he’s not even in the conversation for Coach of the Year?.
Color me baffled.
Carroll stewarded his team through a slow start and internal issues so serious they reached the point of a crisis. A coach from the old school asserts his power as a crisis management technique. Carroll? He gave the power to the players, essentially saying, “You guys are professionals with the opportunity to accomplish something special. Figure it out.”
An explanation for Carroll’s absence from Coach of the Year consideration could be that gaudy ring he owns. Since the inaugural Super Bowl was played after the 1966 season, the coach of the defending league champions has won the AP Coach of the Year award only once: In 1983, when Washington’s Joe Gibbs picked up the trophy.
Voters are biased, is my guess. They figure a coach returning from a Super Bowl run has a head start, which is nonsense. A coach returning from a Super Bowl run must find a way to make his players hungry again.
During the seven months between the Super Bowl and the 2014 season opener, every Seahawks player was the toast of a metropolitan area whose fans worshiped their presence. It has been a while since I was 25, but if I can recall the thrill of hearing occasional compliments, (almost always, they were answered by the same three words: “Thank you, Mom.”) heaven only knows how I would have survived seven months of adulation every time I walked out the door.
Pete Carroll managed to negotiate the public’s fawning of his team. He reset the Seahawks’ mindset from all they accomplished in 2013 to all they could accomplish in 2014.
Coach of the Year? Maybe, maybe not. But it was a hell of a lot better example of superior coaching than anything Joe Philbin did.