Jim Mora got up in front of the press after his dismal 2009 season as head coach of the Seahawks. The man who had hired him, Tim Ruskell, had already been fired. Mora represented the last remnant of a dark era in Seahawks football, littered with horrible personnel decisions and cliche-driven coaching. The news broke shortly thereafter that Mora had been fired to make room for a special mystery candidate. Fans and media were understandably skeptical when word spread that Pete Carroll was taking over. I had questions about what type of identity Carroll would establish with the team. It felt like a splashy hiring, lacking in substance, by a desperate ownership looking for anyone not named Mike Holmgren.

Back then, almost anyone would tell you the expectation was that Carroll would come in and create a middling team that played undisciplined finesse football. The Seahawks would become a USC graduate program, with Carroll unable see past “his guys,” from the glory days. Very few, if any, would have foreseen what has happened since:

– The now-famous roster turnover of 2010
– A division title in year one
– A playoff win in year one
– The rise of a Top 10 defense in 2011
– The creation of what may the best secondary in football as soon as this coming season
– A punch-you-in-the-mouth identity on both sides of the ball built on mammoth offensive and defensive lines, and a runner more often called “Beast” than his given name

The word was that Carroll’s rah-rah demeanor might play well for a year at best, but that professional players would soon tune him out. Seattle crossed a chasm this off-season. Key players on both sides of the ball were free agents. This would be the first time we could truly see how players felt about Carroll, and what he was doing in Seattle. Would they run to other teams and start talking trash like Josh Wilson, who famously referred to “California Pete,” after his trade to the Ravens? Would the Seahawks have to overpay them to retain their services? After nearly a week of free agency, the Seahawks have re-signed arguably all of their most important free agents, and to reasonable deals.

Players like Red Bryant talked about feeling like they are onto something in Seattle, and that he wanted to stay a part of it. As exciting as that was, there was another test when it came to attracting players who had not been a part of the resurrection for the past two years. Jason Jones and Matt Flynn were both highly sought-after free agents. They each visited Seattle during a particularly nasty stretch of weather. The Seahawks were recruiting them, but not blowing them away with financial offers that made the decisions easy for either player. If they were going to come to Seattle, it was going to be because they believed in the program.

Jones was the first to fall in. His signing was a shock because there were so many reasons to expect him to sign with his former coach, Jeff Fisher, in St. Louis. Instead, he decided to move to the farthest NW corner of the country and play for a team that will rarely make an appearance on SportsCenter. Then, Flynn flew to Miami. His former offensive coordinator was there. It was right around the corner from Louisiana, where he played college football and where his girlfriend grew up. The fan base was clamoring for him. The starting job was there to be had. Instead, he decides to take a job with the Seahawks where there will be no guarantees that he will be a starter. How does that happen?

Sports Illustrated writer Peter King posted some illuminating tweets Sunday night after speaking with Flynn:

“Talked to Flynn. Said a big factor in Sea over Mia was vibe in the building in Seattle: “The coaches, the staff–they were fantastic.” – link

“Said he sat for a long time with OC Darrell Bevell, formerly of GB, and felt the Sea offense would be just like the one he learned in GB.” – link

Carroll and John Schneider are building something that players want to be a part of. Flynn could wind up being a total bust, but that’s besides the point. At the moment of truth, two free agents who had interest from multiple teams, chose the Seahawks because of a belief that something exciting was being built here. It is still mostly a secret across the league. Seattle is the below .500 team with Marshawn Lynch at running back. The tide is turning, though, and even the commonly blind national media is slowly starting to realize what is going on. King, Pete Prisco, and others have started talking up the Seattle defense. A few may even go as far as picking the Seahawks as their sleeper team in 2012. None of it will matter if the team does not continue it’s evolution on the field, but there is little reason to project a step backwards. The team should be healthier, more cohesive, clearer in its identity, and now bolstered with some new free agent goodness. And that’s before Schneider gets to work his magic in the draft.

Give Carroll his due for getting the franchise where it is now, after being so far gone only a couple years ago. I greatly underestimated him, and totally misunderstood him. He deserves continued scrutiny until the team starts winning, but there is nothing wrong with tipping your cap and taking some pride in being a team on the rise.