Friday, January 8, 2010

The biggest concern with the Seahawks hiring Pete Carroll

Just 24 hours after dismissing head coach Jim Mora, the Seattle Seahawks are poised to hire current USC head coach Pete Carroll as not only their new head coach, but as dual general manager.

Now, let's never mind Carroll's okay-ish 33-31 record in two uninspiring NFL coaching jobs during the 1990's (Jets 1994, Patriots 1997-1999). Let's never mind that no NFL offense under Carroll ever finished higher than 11th in the league in total yards despite a talented offense led by Drew Bledsoe during his last three seasons, that only once did his offense or defense finish in the NFL's 10 top in yards gained/allowed any season (New England's defense did during his final year), or that his NFL teams' running games always finished in the bottom half of in the league (16th, 26th, 27th and 23rd in yards, respectively).

Let's never mind that Carroll inflated his current reputation with a comfortable USC gig where he always has recruiting access to some of the finest HS and JuCo football talent in the nation, let alone top recruits who want to play for USC badly enough to fall into his lap... working in one of college football's most prestigious and high profile schools, not to mention one with a vast amount of resources at the coach's disposal, and thus a place where it's very easy for a competent college coach to step in and quickly build a dominant program.

Let's never mind this fine USC career all came on the heels of replacing the overwhelmed Paul Hackett, an NFL offensive coordinator who save for a two year stint coaching small time UC Davis had never been the head coach for any team at any level, and who could do no better than .500 football despite a wealth of talent falling into his lap every year... and that as long as Carroll was capable, he would easily exceed Hackett's accomplishments and come out looking like a better coach, let alone look like a great coach when all those top recruiting classes produced 10-14 win season after 10-14 win season, with the occasional BCS title thrown in.

Let's never mind that the Seahawks brass bought into an inflated reputation and forgot the history of accomplished D-1 NCAA head coaches who have jumped to the NFL and floundered, forgetting that the list of such coaches in the modern era who have successfully made the jump and had a long, accomplished career consists of Jimmy Johnson, Bill Walsh (MAYBE John Robinson if you decide Super Bowls don't matter) and about 10 inches of empty space on the page... and that the list of failures and forgotten mediocrities is far longer.


No, the real concern with the Seahawks decision isn't that they hired Pete Carroll. You can make just as many arguments why you consider him the best man for the job despite everything that I mentioned as you can for why he's a bad choice. Given the potential pool of applicants, the Seahawks could have certainly done worse than to hire Carroll away from USC.

The real concern is that there was no selection process whatsoever. Not 24 hours after Jim Mora's dismissal, word was already out that the Seahawks were prepared to make Pete Carroll an offer he can't refuse (A token interview with Vikings coordinator Leslie Frazier, a black man, was offered solely to work around the NFL's Rooney Rule that requires a team interview one minority candidate for a head coaching position).

Twelve NFL teams make the postseason, and until each team is eliminated, their head and subordinate coaches may not be approached by any NFL team seeking new coaches. The Seahawks could have explored their options with other NFL assistant coaches, and waited until postseason's end to interview candidates. NFL assistants tend to translate to success as NFL head coaches far more frequently than college coaches. The Seahawks could have selected from many more qualified (and likely interested) candidates once the Super Bowl concluded, so that they would hurry to hire a college football coach now is baffling, especially given the team hasn't hired a new General Manager yet.

The only reason I could see the Seahawks justifiably hurrying to make a deal was that Carroll was in danger of committing elsewhere and he was by far their most preferred candidate. That doesn't make sense given Carroll himself was not a particularly hot commodity: Along with the reasons above, which many NFL front offices are acutely aware of, no other NFL team had shown interest in Carroll's services. But the real question is... whose preferred candidate was Pete Carroll? The team has no GM right now and the closest they have to such is CEO Tod Leiwecke, who isn't one to handle player/coach personnel decisions and has in fact been focused on finding a GM to make that decision for him.

Here's the rub: Reportedly, Mora's dismissal was requested by Seahawks owner Paul Allen, not exactly a reach given the team appeared to fall apart in the final month of a 5-11 season and Mora repeatedly pointed ill-advised fingers at players in lieu of taking responsibility as the head coach for the team's performance... not to mention scaled down and over-simplified the team's game plan, in turn facilitating the aging, injury-ravaged team's fall from grace in 2009.

But then it's likely the decision to hire Carroll was Allen's as well. The decisions smacks of a hasty lack of foresight, reason, and patience that would get a typical GM fired. Allen is a man of great hubris, and doesn't mind throwing his financial and political weight around to get what he wants. It would not be a stretch to assume that the order to fire Mora at once was quickly followed by an order to hire Carroll at once. And the team's hands are tied: It's Allen's money funding the team, and therefore if Allen wants the team to hire someone, they're essentially bound to his whims. If Allen wants the team to hire Pete Carroll, they're going to hire Pete Carroll.

How big of a problem is this sort of heavy hand? It reportedly ran Mike Holmgren out of town, though to be fair Holmgren's draft and personnel decisions as GM/coach weren't the best, and to some degree this year's team paid the price for his years of poor draft day decisions. But in light of Paul Allen's demands that the GM not have total roster control, it appears that this saga is an illustration of another power-mad team owner who thinks he knows more about football than the football experts he is paying to be football experts.

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