The Elephant in the Locker Room: My 100% Candid Interview with Pete Carroll
By Greg Wright
No, I do not have access to Seahawks’ head coach Pete Carroll. And even if I did, no, he would not answer questions as directly and transparently I’d want him to.
But if I did, and if he would, the following is a transcript of what such an interview might have looked like during the past week.
The Waterland Blog: Tough loss in Cincy last week, Coach. That was hard to watch.
Pete Carroll: Yes, it was. And I guarantee you it was harder for the coaching staff to watch than it was for you.
TWB: I suppose that’s true. Fans have the luxury of throwing things at the TV and spewing four-letter-words, but you usually seem so calm and collected in crisis. The most I’ve seen you do, I think, is throw off your headset, like you did after that interception against the Patriots.
PC: Yep. I do allow myself to get excited in the positive direction, though, like when I ran into that ref during Lockett’s return for a TD in preseason, or when we get a pick or throw a TD. But when things are going tough, yeah–I’m not throwing things at the TV, or yelling at players on the sidelines. We just don’t allow that. That’s not how we roll.
TWB: It is easy to see a difference in Seattle’s coaching staff. Like when Chris Matthews came down with that onside kick in the NFC Championship game last year. Bostick just got a tongue-lashing on the sideline. That wouldn’t have happened if the tables were turned.
PC: Well, the Packers are a great, great team and run a really model franchise. So that surprised me, too. It also surprised me when Mike [McCarthy, Green Bay head coach] kind of threw Clay [Matthews] under the bus for not being on the field in the fourth quarter when we driving up and down the field.
TWB: Yes, I noticed that as well. Honestly, sometimes I wish someone would talk that way to Michael Bennett! Have you threatened him with a benching over his penalties?
PC: Michael has a real strong motor. We love that about him. Sometimes that gets him in trouble on hard counts and things, but he’s working on it. To be honest, I’ve told him we could get a couple of high draft picks to send him back to Tampa Bay. And he’d be waiting a long time there for another ring. We’ll see if that gets his attention. Obviously, we’d rather have him here wreaking havoc in the backfield, but not if the price is too high.
TWB: Maybe you could give him that contract rework he wants, with some non-penalty incentives. Like a sliding scale deal where he gets more money for tackles for a loss, sacks, and pressures, but with a steep discount for each stupid penalty he draws.
PC: Have you been sneaking looks at my texts?
TWB: No, no… but if I had, would I have seen anything in there about what you’re planning to change up in the face of these epidemic fourth-quarter collapses?
PC: No, you wouldn’t.
TWB: Because you don’t send texts about that kind of stuff?
PC: Because we don’t plan on changing anything up.
TWB: But surely something’s broken. Isn’t it? You’re not going to just stand pat, are you?
PC: Certainly, things didn’t go the way we planned at Cincy, or in Green Bay. Heck, they didn’t exactly go the way we planned at the end of the Detroit game, either, or while visiting Jeff [Fisher]’s place. But those issues weren’t because our schemes were wrong. They were because of individual breakdowns–like Kam missing a tackle against Detroit, like Russell not getting the protection right in OT last week, like Michael getting drawn offsides by Rodgers, or even like me failing to call a timeout at the end of regulation in Cincy so we could get our block unit on the field for that field goal attempt. These are correctable problems.
TWB: So you’re saying the basic concepts are sound. They’re just not working right now.
PC: That’s the theory, yes. But it’s still a theory, remember.
TWB: What do you mean?
PC: Look, we came in here five years ago with a plan. If we were going to give this thing a go, we wanted to do it our way, and see if wouldn’t work. How could we rebuild a franchise quickly, and then make success sustainable, given that the draft system rewards poor performance, and that defense wins championships? What would that look like? So we built this team on defense, ball control, and competition. Pedigree means nothing here. Attitude does. Performance does.
TWB: So you end up with more undrafted free agents on your roster than any other team in the NFL.
PC: That’s right. Just because you were a first round pick, or landed here because of a flashy trade, that doesn’t mean you’re a de facto starter, and that we’re going to suffer through your play just because we can’t admit we made a mistake.
TWB: You mean like Aaron Curry, or Percy Harvin. Or even Jimmy Graham, if things head that direction.
PC: You got it. And to be honest, the Percy and Jimmy deals have taught us something. I don’t think we’ll throw away draft picks like that again. Honestly, we do a much better job of evaluating raw talent than we do evaluating talent that’s gets skewed by how well it works in someone else’s system.
TWB: You know, I hadn’t thought of that.
PC: Well, we hadn’t either before a couple weeks ago. But there’s a downside to being right about so many UDAs [undrafted free agents].
TWB: Obviously, the upside is that their payscale works out much better alongside the contracts you pay your stars. But what’s the downside?
PC: We don’t use our preseason the way other teams do.
TWB: What do you mean?
PC: Take St. Louis, for instance–or Dallas. They build their rosters the conventional way, through blue-chip draft picks. Jerry [Jones] has got Smith, Leary, and Martin on his offensive line. All first-rounders. And he’s got Doug Free, to boot. They go to camp with the lineup all penciled in. It’s not like they don’t know who’s going to be there on opening day. They go through camp together, they get all the reps together, they play four preseason games together. First snap on the first series of the first game, they know what they’re doing–together. They play as a unit. There are advantages to that system. For us, though, we typically only know who about half of our starters are going to be. Every year there are real competitions at about half of our positions… and thanks to the CBA [collective bargaining agreement between the league and players’ union], we don’t have time in camp to see how a lot of these guys are going to work out under live fire. So we throw them out there in preseason, just to get our first look at how they do. And we think a lot of them will stick. Ultimately, we think it’s more important to start the season with the right guys and finish well than to start the season well with the wrong guys and fade in December. Would you rather have been Bruce Arians last season? I think not. You may have noticed we have the best December record in the NFL over the last few years. That’s no accident.
TWB: I see where you’re going with that, I think. It’s almost like your first four games of the season are your “real” preseason, where your starters–like this particular offensive line–are working out the kinks… only with real outcomes on the line, and real implications for division standings.
PC: That’s right. And when Kam comes in late, that throws our usual schedule off by two weeks for the defensive unit.
TWB: So to a degree, you expect some rust until week five of the season. And this year, you expect a little more.
PC: Yes, unfortunately. But I think if you look back over the last three seasons, in particular, you’ll see that pattern emerging in our performance. You might remember that we didn’t name Russell the starting QB until after the final preseason game his rookie year. It’s not like he was getting all the reps in practice that preseason. There was a guy named Flynn around, you may recall.
TWB: So you’re staying the course, then. You have confidence in the scheme. You’re expecting to turn the corner this week or the next, and make a strong drive for another division title.
PC: Yes. I have to, don’t I? It wasn’t some other scheme we started with here. It was ours. And it’s gotten us a couple of championships already, and one ring. We want more. We think we can get more. Stage One of the plan has worked. Now we stay the course. Now we see if Stage Two works. Now we see if we can sustain success with this model.
TWB: Got it.
PC: But I’ll tell you something. We won’t find that out this season, or even next. We might even take a step or two backward in this phase. We’ll only know if our plan works in another four years or so. If we’re consistently challenging for the division title, we’ll feel pretty good about it–but we’ll still feel like it didn’t work. We’re expecting championships, not just competing, and not even just titles. We like traveling in February.
TWB: Well, I’m looking forward to the beginning of the “Real Season,” then. I hope it starts this week.
PC: So do I, Greg. So do I.
- With all the talk about Graham’s lack of production, there’s one thing that fans and analysts alike are missing: Graham isn’t catching twelve balls a game for any other team in the NFC, either. And that’s probably the best thing about having Graham on our squad. Who wants to travel to the Superdome for an NFC Championship game? There’s more than one way to beat a conference rival. Now if the Hawks could just work out a trade with Green Bay…
- It wasn’t just that players lost matchups in Cincinnatti, coaches lost matchups, too. Like those TDs to Eifert, or on that one play the Bengals ran on their first touchdown drive. Remember how they lined up? Remember how that play had Jack Buck and Troy Aikman completely speechless? No, I didn’t think so. But when you can shut those guys up you’re doing something pretty unique. Hue Jackson and company really ran some innovative stuff last Sunday.
Back to the prognostications. Here we go with Week 6.
Has Carolina ever looked really good against Seattle? Their defense has, but not the entire team, and particularly not Cam Newton. This is Carolina’s make-or-break season, though, and I think they’ll pull it together for a complete game against a Hawks team in slight disarray.
A tough loss at home against a perennial playoff foe will finally wake the Hawks up. Panthers 31, Seahawks 21.
I’ll be very happy to be wrong, however.
After two Super Bowl appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.