INDIANAPOLIS In one half hour here, it became obvious speaking with Pete Carroll why he overturned seven years of Seahawks’ coaching continuity in a less than a month.
With two years left on his Seahawks contract, the 66-year-old coach wants to go big.
And he wants to challenge Russell Wilson to get better, while he is still under a Seattle contract.
Asked Thursday at the NFL combine if he views this offseason as a potentially franchise-altering one, Carroll said: "I am looking at it in that regard.
“I think the opportunity for it to be an altering moment for us is there. But every offseason we approach it the same way: to compete as hard as we can to figure out the best ways to put our guys in the right positions, to do the right things, to make the right choices, to stay abreast at what's going on in the league. And sometimes you've got to make some tough calls to get that done and put it in the right order. I really feel confident that we've done that.”
The NFL’s oldest coach has gone from being at the bottom of the league, fired and out of it after the New York Jets canned him in the 1990s, to its pinnacle, a Super Bowl champion with the Seahawks four years ago. Now, two months after Seattle missed the playoff for the first time since 2011 he wants to be challenged again.
He wants his players to be challenged more. And none more than the most important one, Wilson.
“I think it’s a great challenge. I take it as a personal challenge, as well as a franchise challenge,” Carroll said of rebounding in 2018. “We weren’t satisfied. We didn’t like the way it went, and we wanted to do stuff about it.
“You’re seeing the result of that.”
That result has been the most upheaval of the Carroll era in Seattle. It’s come because the head man wants more energy to re-charge the team during its undeniable transition this year.
“Maybe some newness to uncover,” he said. “It was difficult to make those choices, because the guys that left we had done so much together and worked together in great fashion.
"But I just felt it was time. It really comes back to compete, and just trying to find a way to get a little bit better. That's why we made those choices. I'm really excited about the guys that are here, and how it's working out so far. We are seeing the new energy. I am energized by it. The whole group is. And we are looking forward to working to see how it's going to turn out."
Carroll used to tout the coaching continuity he had with the Seahawks for seven years. The same play caller in Darrell Bevell. A defensive coordinator, Kris Richard, who had coached with him since Carroll gave him his first coaching job as a graduate assistant at USC a decade ago. The same offensive line coach for the last half-dozen years, Tom Cable. He had unusual authority from scouting collegians, drafting, signing free agents and coaching blockers while with other roles as assistant head coach and the coordinator of the rushing offense.
Bevell, Richard and Cable are all gone.
I asked the 66-year-old Carroll on Thursday, why now? Why fire or otherwise send away eight assistants, hire six new ones--including offensive and defensive coordinators--and reassign two more coaches since the end of the 9-7 season of 2017, a year that in many NFL cities would be considered far from a catastrophe in need of an intervention?
“I was ready. And I’m excited about it,” Carroll told me off the podium inside the Indiana Convention Center. “I’m excited about the challenge of the newness and the opportunity to get better. I want to personally be challenged by our guys. And I want to personally challenge them.
“That will translate to challenging our players to see things differently and in a new way. It felt like this was the right time, and the opportunity to get some guys that were available obviously made that an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Guys such as Brian Schottenheimer. Carroll hired the former offensive coordinator with the Rams and Jets to be Seattle’s new play caller, to replace the fired Bevell. Carroll said he made that change to challenge Wilson, the franchise quarterback, to accelerate if not resume the six-year veteran’s learning and development while the Seahawks still have him under his $87.6 million contract through 2019.
“Really good connection with the quarterback, really good communication, relationship with the QB,” Carroll said of Schottenheimer.
“He works directly with the quarterback more so than some other coordinators do.”
Yes, you can read that to mean more than Bevell did. It’s obvious now that Carroll saw Bevell as having become, for whatever reason, too lax on demanding details from Wilson.
Frankly, it sounds like Carroll wanted a hard ass to drive Wilson, for a change.
The 44-year-old Schottenheimer is known as a detail freak. He’s also known to rip into receivers during games, in film sessions and at practice for lining up so much as a foot too far inside or outside in a formation. Schottenheimer indeed comes off as intense--yeah, he yells. But the coach has also gained his players’ admiration and respect for gestures such as taking them out for dinner or hosting them at his house.
That’s according to veteran NFL quarterback Kellen Clemens. He’s had Schottenheimer as his offensive coordinator for seven of his 11 seasons in the league.
“He’s got good quarterback background,” Carroll said of Schottenheimer. “So I really like all of that for challenging Russell, giving him new looks, new outlooks, new perspective possibly, just to continue to grow.
“He’s very well-versed. I’ve been through a lot of systems, too. The classic systems, West Coast system, the digit system, the things that are out there in the league. He’s been through all of that, too. So we can communicate on a really deep level about how we can put our stuff together and find our ways just to try to get better.”
Speaking of hard asses, Carroll sees the firing of Richard and the re-hiring from Oakland of fiery former Seattle linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. as another way the Seahawks will get better in 2018.
"Just time to make a change. He's a terrific coach. Dallas got a great guy in him,” Carroll said, diplomatically, of Richard, now the Cowboys’ defensive backs coach.
“The opportunity to get Kenny back in the program, who is just a remarkable individual and the energy and the juice that he brings, it was a rare opportunity. ...”
Carroll said Cable’s firing and the hiring of Mike Solari as new offensive line coach is to get a new way of blocking into Seattle’s offense.
The hirings of Carroll’s former staff mate with the San Francisco 49ers decades ago and of Schottenheimer are obviously intended to mesh with Carroll’s vow to return the Seahawks to an effective run-first offense in 2018.
“That’s exactly where we want to make sure we are headed,” Carroll said. “We didn’t exactly get that done like we wanted to.
“There’s a number of reasons why. And it’s not directed at the coaches. It’s not directed at any one aspect of it. We had some unfortunate situations with injuries and personnel stuff that didn’t allow us to stay with the direction we had the couple years before and hopefully we wanted to capture that and regain that. So we are definitely excited about getting the running game rolling and make it part of the game that can really be a focal point for us because everything feeds off of that.”
Schottenheimer isn’t necessarily a run-first guy--only when personnel and situation dictate run. The situation dictates that in 2018 in Seattle.
"We were very fortunate. I've known Brian for a lot of years and watched his coaching, watched his development, seen the variety of systems that he's been in that's made him the individual that he is,” Carroll said. “Very intelligent. Very articulate. Very bright. Very gifted communication.
“And a dedicated quarterback guy, which is a big deal to me. I like the fact that he can connect the play caller and the quarterback leader, and the guy that's going to be with him on the field, as well, on a regular basis. I like the fact that...I wanted to make that connection for Russell, so we could communicate directly with him in a little bit different fashion than we have. Dave Canales (the Seahawks’ former wide receivers coach) will work with him, too, of course (as new quarterbacks coach). But I think Brian brings something that we are looking forward to seeing.
"Mike Solari and I go back way back to the Niners days, so I've known Mikey for a long time. He is a great football coach. Very strict, very disciplined. Brings a little bit different background, different scheme for us. It gives us a chance to do a little bit different things than we've done in the past, a different variety and diversity in the stuff that we are doing. But also brings us a wealth of experience in evaluations and that stuff, so we are very lucky.
“Also, Brian and Mike had been together a little bit in the past. That gave them a good connection, too, in communication, and that's important.
“So it's going to be a great move for us. I'm really fired up about it."