CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It was back in May, the first day of rookie minicamp, and Pete Carroll had a bounce in his step that belied the prevailing narrative of impending doom.
The demise of the Seahawks had been widely predicted. They missed the playoffs in 2017 for the first time since 2011, had dumped mainstays Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett (and lost Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril to career-ending injuries), and fired both coordinators as well as offensive-line coach Tom Cable.
All that upheaval was happening amid whispers that Carroll’s message was being disregarded in the locker room. More tales of dissension would emerge at the outset of the season. Kumbaya, indeed.
It seemed to be a doomsday scenario for the old coach. Except Carroll, soon to turn 67, was brimming with enthusiasm that can’t be faked. He spoke not of the gloom but rather of how much the challenge had invigorated him.
“There’s this rejuvenation to every season that we have that’s a remarkable part of our business, that sometimes we don’t talk about enough,” Carroll said as the minicamp signaled the start of his 45th year in coaching. “The newness, the challenges, the unknown, the expectations and the uncertainty of all of it makes this very exciting.”
It can now be said: Carroll is in the midst of one of the great coaching triumphs of his career. In a year where presiding over the early stages of a rebuild (or a “reset,” to use general manager John Schneider’s term) seemed to be the best-case scenario, with implosion an equally plausible outcome, he somehow has the Seahawks on a playoff path.
Their 30-27 comeback win over the Panthers on Sunday leaves the Seahawks in full command of a wild-card spot, which would be their seventh playoff berth in Carroll’s nine years. It’s not a lock, certainly, but with three games left against the 49ers and Cardinals, who own four wins between them, it’s well within their grasp – a 75 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.
That’s even more remarkable considering the 0-2 start by Seattle that caused even more speculation about what sort of exit strategy Carroll might use if it continued to fall apart. It looked like a sadly discordant end to what had been a heroic coaching run in Seattle.
Except instead of collapsing, the Seahawks knitted together. Carroll doubled down on his deeply held tenets of building teams around a strong running game and sound defense. The transformation of the roundly maligned (and for good reason) offensive line has been astounding – and the key to the league’s most productive running attack. Even more encouraging, the Seahawks showed against the Panthers they can pivot to a passing attack when an opponent sells out to stop the run, as Carolina did.
The personnel decisions of Carroll and Schneider have proven to be astute. The new blood has meshed well with the veteran holdovers. The decision to bet on quarterback Russell Wilson rather than accede to the whispers that players were chafing against perceived favoritism toward him has proven to be the right one. It’s impossible to imagine this team’s success occurring without Wilson.
Whereas an undeniable air of tension hung over the team last year, the mood is lighter this season. That comes with winning, and the Seahawks have won six of their past nine. Each loss has been close, and the new nucleus is slowly learning how to finish, and how to win.
The transformation engineered by Carroll has been remarkable. To revamp a team so dramatically and yet keep them in strong playoff contention while trending toward increasing improvement and growing confidence is a coup. It’s also now possible to see a new core emerging that bodes well for the future.
Through it all, Carroll’s vigor has only grown. Whereas at times last year, he seemed beaten down, now he is once again exuding joy and energy. Carroll is 67 going on 30. Though he’s signed only through 2019, it’s easy to imagine him going well beyond that. Or to put a slightly different spin on it, it’s still difficult to envision a Seahawks team without Carroll coaching it.
Carroll’s message may indeed have gotten stale to the team’s old guard, but he has found a way to get through to the team again. I harken back again to the preseason, when Carroll talked buoyantly about the joy he got out of taking all the new pieces and trying to make them fit together.
He called it “a coach’s thrill,” and added, “I’ve loved working with these guys because they’ve been so much fun to challenge and to push and to watch excel.”
Now Carroll’s work is paying off, and the Seahawks have recaptured a little kumbaya spirit after all.
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