Off-Season Officially Underway: Bates Fired, Intrigue Galore

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That Pete Carroll guy sure is soft. While everyone else is still digesting a pleasantly surprising 2010 season, he takes all of 48 hours to fire his offensive coordinator and re-shape his coaching staff. If Carroll was anything but the optimistic, energetic guy we are all getting to know, you could make the case he’s the most ruthless coach in the NFL. Did anyone else make the kinds of tough choices he made this season with veterans and coaches? People can debate a variety of things about Carroll, but nobody can deny he is decisive. President Teddy Roosevelt once said this about decision-making:

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

I am still getting a bead on Carroll, but there are some things we can make a pretty good guess about regarding what transpired today. Jeremy Bates was not fired on the off-chance another guy could be hired. Many  speculated today that now-Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was the heir apparent to Bates. The thinking was that Carroll would not let Bates go unless he had a clear upgrade in the bag, and McDaniels fit the bill for many. That’s certainly a plausible scenario, but I don’t see it that way. Carroll fired Bates because there was a fundamental mismatch in philosophies. Bates stubbornly eschewed high-percentage plays in search of explosive plays. There was tons of well-founded criticism that this offense never established an identity. Trent Dilfer was asked on Brock and Salk what the identity of this offense was, and famously answered, “I have no idea.” Looking back, the identity matched Bates’ philosophy. It was inconsistent, but featured some epic heights. That’s not what Carroll is after. He wants to control the clock and protect the ball. It was no accident that he openly admired Atlanta, saying they were the model of what he wanted his team to be. Bates’ scheme bore almost no resemblance to Atlanta. Some of that can be attributed to the same things that effected the players. Namely, an ever-changing offensive line, cast of wide receivers and injuries were obstacles to any real consistency. But even in the games where things went well (@ARZ, @NO, NO), the offense featured lots of big plays, and a lot less ball control. No, this was not a move to get a specific coordinator. It was a hard cut away from something Carroll knew he did not want to build around.

Better to make that kind of call after year one than after year three. In all likelihood, the team will be bringing in at least one, and possibly up to three, new quarterbacks in the off-season. It’s painful to have the fourth offensive coordinator in four seasons, but you can bet this next guy will be here a while. The QBOTF (Quarterback of the Future) will grow along with this coordinator, and enjoy some stability. While we are on that topic, be sure to listen to Mitch Levy’s interview with Matt Hasselbeck on KJR. In it, Hasselbeck says a ton about Charlie Whitehurst without mentioning him even once. Hasselbeck said that Carroll and Schneider had said that they *eventually* will be bringing in the future quarterback, and that they wanted to know if he *eventually* would be willing to mentor that player. He talked about the lack of QBs the team has drafted the past few years, and how they acknowledge the need to fix that problem. All of his language was very clearly indicating the QBOTF is not already on the team. That should be a surprise to nobody. I will break down the entire team and which folks should stay/go in future posts, but suffice it to say, I expect Whitehurst will not be on the roster next season.

Some are speculating that the firing of Bates is an indication that Hasselbeck might be on the way out. If McDaniels had been hired, I could see how bringing in Kyle Orton would have made a lot of sense, since he will be cheaply available, is youngish, and has had success in that system. Since McDaniels is going elsewhere, we fall back to what we know. Carroll has not shown any inclination to mislead the media. In almost all cases, he answers questions directly. He has stated that he wants Matt back. Matt has said he wants to come back. That has to be the most likely scenario at this point. Somebody else, like Arizona, could come in and make an offer that moves Hasselbeck out of the range Carroll and Schneider are willing to invest in him. My expectation is that we will see Hasselbeck re-signed, a veteran free agent added (e.g., Leinart, Smith, etc.), and draft a rookie. This position needs serious attention if the team is to avoid a major drop-off when Hasselbeck is not a viable starter anymore.

Rumors are that Minnesota Vikings Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell is in town to interview for at least the vacant quarterbacks coach role, and possibly the OC role. Bevell worked in Green Bay when Schneider did, so there is some familiarity there. He’s also said to run a more classic West Coast system that plays to Hasselbeck’s strengths a little more. Jim Zorn’s name came up as well. I talked about Zorn as a possible OC, or even Head Coach, before he left for Washington. He and Matt have a special relationship, and nobody got more out of him than Zorn. In that same time frame, I thought Trent Dilfer would be an ideal quarterbacks coach. I still do. Stepping back, though, I don’t know that it makes a ton of sense to optimize this decision around Hasselbeck, even if he is back for a few years. Carroll will almost certainly outlast Hasselbeck in Seattle, so he needs to choose a guy optimized for him. Remember what he said about Atlanta? Do you know the guy rumored for the Rams job if McDaniels didn’t get it, and also rumored for the Vikings job that Bevell will be vacating? The guy’s name is Bill Musgrave. He’s the quarterbacks coach/assistant head coach for the Falcons. Musgrave was a quarterback at University of Oregon. He’s got Northwest ties. He brings the quarterback expertise and ball control pedigree Carroll desires. Don’t be surprised if Musgrave ends up being the guy.

Tom Cable coming in as offensive line coach is a big deal as well. The Raiders rushing offense finished 2nd in 2010, 21st in 2009, 10th in 2008, and 6th in 2007. Before Cable was hired in 2007 as offensive line coach, they were 29th in 2006, 29th in 2005 and 32nd in 2004. Guess where the Seahawks finished in 2010? The correct answer is 31st. Cable won’t solve the problem all by himself, but he brings the attitude and pedigree to make a significant impact. Expect Art Valero to move on and Pat Ruel to potentially stay on as Cable’s assistant. If we are lucky, Cable has some sort of sway with Nnamdi Asomugha.

The Seahawks also brought on Todd Wash to as defensive line coach, replacing Dan Quinn. Wash’s hiring tells us Gud Bradley is probably going to avoid Bates’ fate. Wash worked with Bradley in Tampa Bay, so it’s safe bet that Bradley had some say in bringing him in.

The mass exodus of Seahawks coaches says a lot about the quality of the staff Carroll has assembled. Outside of Bates, these guys were recruited away. That’s a great sign. Carroll is starting to have a pretty decent coaching lineage himself. That should add to fans confidence since he’s proven he can add talent, he’s proven he can maximize the talent he has, and he’s proven he can win without top talent. All of that plus a solid track record with coaching talent points to better things ahead. Not a bad way to start the team’s most critical off-season in recent memory.