JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Somewhere between easy conclusion and uneasy reality is the notion that some great assistant coaches should never become the boss.
It’s rather shallow, vaguely insulting and never 100 percent true. And there are more spot-on examples than you can count.
The arithmetic does Tom Cable no favors in this argument. In four years at the University of Idaho, his teams went 11-35. In an oddly opportune, combustible two-plus seasons as one of the late Al Davis’ rotating chew toys with the Oakland Raiders, Cable was 17-27.
Rarely, of course, are circumstances properly weighed before the grand pronouncement. Idaho has devoted nearly two decades to earnest witness that it has no business playing football at its chosen level, and Davis was never happier than when he could give his choice of coach a first-class hanging.
More telling was the fact that, with his team in the middle of preparing for the 2010 NFL playoffs, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll made time to reach out and tell Cable he had something for him.
“He was the first guy who called me,” Cable recalled. “They were getting ready to play New Orleans and he called and said, ‘You know how to run it as good as anybody in football and we need that in Seattle.’”
And guess what? Here in 2014, here comes Super Bowl XLVIII and the Seahawks providing half the entertainment, thanks largely to the fact that in two playoff games they’ve run it as well as anyone in football.
There’s no danger of shorting their Beast of burden, Marshawn Lynch, of his due credit.
But there must be something in Tom Cable’s method, too.
As the euphoria over the Seahawks’ march toward destiny swelled this season, necessary stops were made along the way for fans to reach for the worry beads – often in regards to the offensive line, where Cable has crafted his professional reputation.
For seven weeks, the Seahawks had to make do without both starting tackles, Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini – giving up 19 of their 44 season sacks in the first five games of that stretch. When Paul McQuistan was no longer needed in Okung’s spot, he was handy motivational leverage for the occasionally underperforming James Carpenter at left guard. Center Max Unger missed three games with injury. Michael Bowie was a surprise replacement for Carpenter in the first playoff win, then inactive the next week.
“Everything we do is about competition,” Cable said. “Until the job is secured and won, we make them all compete for their job that week.
“One week it’s been this guy, the next week that guy. And it’s been OK because they’ve all done enough for us to win.”
The tire-patch approach is not the sort of thing to comfort the fan base in advance of The Big Game, of course. But opponents have had more than enough chances to expose the folly and keep the Seahawks from reaching this point, and haven’t.
And though both Okung and Carpenter were first-round draft picks (though the choice of Carpenter raised some “huhs?”), these guys are not getting by on pedigree. Not that Cable much cares.
“I have a belief that you should draft early for guys who sack the quarterback and score touchdowns – put the money in the picks for the guys who do the flashy stuff,” he said. “Give me tough, smart guys and I’ll do the rest.”
You might detect a whiff of arrogance in that. More than one coach has been ushered to his getaway car still thinking he can will character to beat skill.
But while acknowledging that Cable “is a little different,” Giacomini also insists the coach has “taken my skillset to another level.”
If Cable’s head coaching at-bats have ended with him dragging his lumber back to the dugout, he does not tend to look upon them as unhappy experiences. Idaho was too much like home – when the phone was ringing off the hook, he’d hide out at John’s Radiator, where he’d worked summers as an undergrad. And the fact is, he’d gotten the woeful Raiders back to .500 – and 6-0 in their division – when he wore out his welcome with Davis over some ugly personal drama.
“Whatever they think about it, for me it was special,” he maintained. “When I was a young kid (in Snohomish), the Seahawks didn’t exist yet, so the Raiders were my team and it was a blessing to work for Al and be a part of that. More than that, it was fun to change the environment back to some of what it was. Regardless of how it ended up, I know how much I changed it and I think the people there did, too.”
For that reason, he thinks he’ll be a head coach again “at a place that values toughness and discipline. But right now, I absolutely love what I’m doing.”
And maybe that should carry the day.