Losing sucks. Seahawks fans know that from experience. Winning is pretty darn fantastic. Seahawks fans a little about that as well. The strong aversion to losing, and constant yearning for victory can leave a fan feeling anything but objective when faced with painful loss after painful loss. There is something more than frustration, though, that is driving criticism of Pete Carroll. Many local media members and a sizable share of fans appear to have made up their minds about Carroll before his tenure in Seattle really began.
Ian Furness, a radio host for KJR, mocks Carroll every day with parodies of his practice themes. He welcomes fans to the show on Monday with, “It’s a Win Forever Monday here at KJR,” in reference to Carroll’s book “Win Forever” and his Monday practice theme of “Tell the Truth Monday.” Mitch Levy, a favorite sports radio personality of this blogger for many years, struggles to find anything positive to say about this new regime. He even jokingly talks about being the “eeyore” of Seattle sports radio when it comes to the Seahawks. Dave Grosby and Bob Stelton skewer Carroll after nearly every press conference they carry. Jim Moore, on with Kevin Calabro, challenges Levy for most negative attitude about what is going on at Seahawks headquarters. There are more.
What you will not find is a Carroll-backer. Nobody stands up and speaks glowingly about what Carroll has accomplished thus far. If you know of a public media member that is drinking the kool-aid, so to speak, let me know because I have not seen, read, or heard them. The goal of this post is not to extol Carroll’s virtues or become the first and only blind Carroll supporter. Instead, the hope would be that baseless opinion could be balanced with actual facts. I have seen this script before, and it almost cost Seattle a Super Bowl appearance.
Mike Holmgren took over the Seahawks in 1999. The team was coming off back-to-back 8 win seasons. It had been 10 years since the franchise had made the playoffs, the longest drought in the NFL at the time. Holmgren not only got that 1999 team to the playoffs, he won a division title with a 9-7 record. That was the second division title in franchise history up until that point. Holmgren saw the cracks in the team’s foundation, however, and decided to blow it up after that season completed. Moves like trading away Joey Galloway for two first-round picks made the team less talented in 2000, but helped set it up for steep improvement down the road. After adding one win over his predecessor in his first year and winning a division title, he dropped three games to 6-10 in year two. He went out and got his franchise quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck) in year three and flipped back to 9-7. His fourth year was a disappointing 7-9 that required three straight wins to end the season to reach even that record. The 4-9 start ended up costing Holmgren his GM position, and the final three wins probably saved his coaching job.
Holmgren has said he seriously considered leaving at that point, but felt he had something left to finish. Then team President Bob Whitsitt made it clear that the change in Holmgren’s responsibilities was as much about yielding to public pressure as it was about a lack of confidence in Holmgren. He proved that by hiring a placeholder GM in Bob Ferguson who really just did what Holmgren told him to do. Anyone who watched those last three games of 2002 and knew a little about football could see the team had turned a corner. Sports radio and the newspapers were killing Holmgren back then. Speaking positively about a 4-9 team that finished 7-9 was not a popular stance to take. That mob mentality very nearly led to Holmgren leaving or being fired. You know the rest of the story as the Seahawks went to the playoffs an unprecedented five straight years, including four division titles.
Rewind for a second, and compare to Carroll. Holmgren takes over a team that was 16-16 the previous two years, adds one win and wins a division title in his first year. Carroll took over a team that was 9-23 the previous two years, added two wins in his first year and won a division title. Holmgren had a player like Galloway to trade away and get two first-round picks, one of which turned into Shaun Alexander. Carroll had no player worth a first round pick, let alone two. He was left to get crazy value for a player like Darryl Tapp.
Holmgren added Brock Huard in the draft early, but did not get his franchise QB until year three. Guess who is scheduled to add their franchise QB in year three? Holmgren had an offensive line that already featured a Hall of Famer in Walter Jones in his prime, and added Robbie Tobeck and Steve Hutchinson. Carroll had to take the line down to its studs and rebuild, which he has done in two off-seasons.
Carroll’s performance is not just acceptable when compared to Holmgren. Chuck Knox took over a team that had gone a combined 10-15 the previous years. He turned that team around almost immediately by getting them to the playoffs his first two seasons, the first two times the franchise reached the post-season. He inherited a franchise QB in Dave Krieg and a Hall of Famer in Steve Largent. He also inherited Kenny Easley. None of that diminishes Knox as a coach, but consider that he did not win a division title until his sixth season, and only won one. He won three playoff games in his nine year tenure. Carroll has as many division titles and a third of Knox’s playoff wins after one season. Joke about winning a division title at 7-9 if you must, but appreciate how bare the cupboard was that Carroll inherited compared to Knox or Holmgren.
The floor for Carroll appears to be Dennis Erickson. Erickson took over a dismal team from Tom Flores that was 12-20 the previous two years (still better than what Carroll faced). He was part of a leadership team that drafted Galloway, Christian Fauria, Pete Kendall, Phillip Daniels, Shawn Springs, Walter Jones, Itula Mili, Anthony Simmons, and Ahman Green. One could argue that leadership team infused the franchise more talent than any other. There are signs that this current front office could challenge that with names like Russell Okung, Sidney Rice, James Carpenter, John Moffitt, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright, Chris Clemons, Red Bryant (re-born), Mike Williams, Zach Miller and Doug Baldwin. That’s in just two off-seasons.
Carroll deserves your scrutiny, and should feel that pressure. He has shown great ability to bring in talent and help build a strong defense. His decisions as head coach have not been nearly as encouraging. This Seahawks team is likely to end the year with may more losses than wins. It will not be the first time a team takes a big step back in the second year of a new coaches tenure. If fans and media are not at least trying to see the big picture of the level of transformation going on, there is a chance we will all miss out on a fantastic stretch of winning football. Don’t take my word for it. Look at the facts. Examine history. There is wisdom and perspective there.