Monday, January 18, 2010

Coaches can change. Is Pete Carroll a better coach today?

After being introduced as the Seahawks' new head coach, Pete Carroll owned the shortcomings of his first stints as an NFL head coach during the 90's. Peter King has the money quote:

"I didn't know who the heck I was as a football coach. What transformed for me, before getting to USC -- between New England and SC -- was really, I had an epiphany of what was most important to me as a football coach. In that process of putting those thoughts together, it kind of just solidified a mentality and an approach that now has been put in practice for 10 years.

"I feel like I'm bringing a very, very clear message to our football team when we get in our meeting room. When we start this thing off, they're going to know where I'm coming from, because I know where I'm coming from ... The whole challenge here is to get the whole organization on the same page, everybody understands where we're coming from, what we're all about, where we're going, what we're doing. I didn't know that then. I didn't know it. And I'm almost embarrassed to tell you that I [was] coaching an NFL club and I didn't have my act together."

Coaches changing their approach later in their careers and becoming better coaches than before is hardly unprecedented. The most famous NFL example is Dick Vermeil, a workaholic, high-strung taskmaster during his successful Philadelphia Eagles stint (1976-1982) and during the first two years of his comeback with the St Louis Rams before he mellowed out in his 3rd season (to the point of crying at times in front of the media and his team), and, admittedly with the help of great skill-position players at receiver and tailback along with the surprise discovery of an Arena League quarterback who it turned out could play at the NFL level, he found his greatest glory with the Greatest Show on Turf and won a Super Bowl in 2000. He retired after that season, but came back to coach the Kansas City Chiefs and managed a strong 44-36 record between 2001-2005 with the same revised approach.

Now, the misgivings are going to remain until Pete Carroll strings together 11-12 win seasons, until his teams sport competitive running games, until his defense shows up in the NFL's top 10-15 every season and only if the Seahawks team we see in 2010 and beyond show up every Sunday and play competitive games that either end in victory or, when defeated, remain in doubt until the final moments.

But people can change, and if not for that none of us in life would ever get a chance to learn new careers, develop relationships with new people or ever try anything new. While his track record arouses suspicion over his ability to succeed as an NFL coach, that Pete Carroll owned his past NFL coaching failures and asserts that his decade as USC's coach has helped him grow into a better leader and a better coach is encouraging enough for me to say wait and see, even in retaining legitimate doubt.

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