Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll on the sidelines against the Carolina Panthers during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013. Seattle won 12-7. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Let’s Talk About Pete Carroll

We have a group chat for the Hawk Blogger crew on Twitter. Discussions range from intel we are hearing about the Seahawks to unfiltered emotional rants to planning our next trip to Matador for nachos. It has become a core part of my Twitter experience, talking about the team I love with people I consider friends. It is not, however, always light-hearted. The topic that turns friendly banter to biting snark in an instant is Pete Carroll.

Some of the guys are in near-constant attack mode, while I am often in the position of parrying. Both sides appear flummoxed by the other. They cannot understand why I do not join in on bashing Carroll at every turn, and I am equally frustrated about why they are so intent on tearing him down. What’s odd is I know Carroll’s flaws well, and have been among the first to write about them in many cases. So why do I find myself doing my best Jon Snow impression at the Battle of the Bastards? Why does this topic trigger me so consistently?

The following is part journal, part analysis. Some of the underlying issues are related to football. Some are more personal values or societal. The hope is that by articulating the different layers of this discussion, it will help not only me, but others on both sides who are exasperated by this topic to have a more productive dialogue.

Beyond football

There is a lot of ground to cover, so I will try to organize the topics to be somewhat modular in case you want to skip around. This first section will focus on the triggering aspects of this debate that are not specific to football.

Gratitude, or lack thereof

The Seahawks have won more games under Carroll than any other coach in franchise history. They have won more games this decade than almost any other franchise in the NFL. They have gone to more Super Bowls this decade than all but one team.

Carroll was hired as not only the head coach, but as vice president of football operations. That gave him veto power over who would be the general manager and over personnel.

Every player, every decision on the field, good or bad, ultimately falls at the feet of Carroll.

It was not long ago that the Seahawks fan base adored Carroll and appreciated the turnaround he led for a franchise that was plummeting prior to his arrival. That has faded of late as the team has fallen out of serious contention for another Super Bowl.

Many want to blame Carroll. He is the guy in charge, so that makes sense. My challenge is: (a) lack of appreciation for how hard it is to sustain success in the NFL (b) lack of appreciation for how good we have it compared to past regimes and other franchises.

I wonder how Carroll would be perceived if Bill Belichick and Tom Brady had not accomplished what they did the last two decades. They have set such a high bar. Is there really any other coach or franchise you can point to as clearly being better than what Carroll has done since he arrived?

This general premise that we have a major problem that needs to be solved always feels a bit spoiled to me. It’s like getting out the pitchforks and torches because you were only served cookies when you also wanted ice cream.

I definitely want more, but that does not stop me from appreciating what we have. The level of desperation and anger feels out of proportion with the state of the team.

It also bothers me that people seem to be trying to undercut Carroll’s legacy and contributions to building the best team in franchise history, but I will save more of that for the football section. The societal tendency to tear down heroes bothers me.

Grass is not always greener

I have worked my entire career at one company. That is abnormal, especially in the tech industry. There have been countless chances to jump to other companies, including during the big dot com boom in the late 90s. The framework of my company has always given me chances to grow and succeed, which made the alternatives feel less appealing.

Many folks have left to chase what appeared to be better opportunities, only to boomerang back with new appreciation for what they had. The situation we have with Carroll in Seattle feels eerily similar.

This notion that moving on from Carroll will automatically result in improvement feels like a major leap of faith. We have not had the easiest time recruiting coaches to the northwest, and the results have been mixed at best. The last successful coach in Seattle was Mike Holmgren. When it was deemed time for him to move on, we got the Jim Mora Jr. experience.

Before Holmgren was Dennis Erickson. Before Erickson was Tom Flores. By my count, that is two coaches with extended success and three that were clear failures in the last 30 years.

Look beyond Seattle and you see franchises around the league struggling to find a coach who can sustain success. Even the “genius” Sean McVay has seen his shine dim a bit in his third season. Winning consistently is tough in a league designed to create parity.

We have become very familiar with Carroll’s flaws, and have become somewhat blind to his strengths. There is no guarantee, though, that the next person will not have greater strengths or less glaring flaws. The flaws will just be different. Maybe the team would start faster like we all want to see, but they will blow leads and stink at finishing. Maybe they will choke in prime time games.

Getting sick of the same mistakes for a team that is winning is a very questionable reason to roll the dice on a new staff. Chances are pretty high that new person and staff would employ different schemes and require significant roster turnover to fit those schemes. Those eleven win seasons with playoff victories may seem pretty appealing at that point.

Pitting Pete against Russ is unproductive

A strong undercurrent of this debate seems to hinge on this notion that Carroll is harmful to Russell Wilson. I will cover the football aspect of that later. My non-football frustration with this is the toxic effect of this line of thinking on the fan base. It has become a civil war. Either you are #TeamRuss and look for every chance to build him up while tearing Carroll down or you are #TeamPete and look to defend him while diminishing Wilson.

I see the best coach in franchise history and the best quarterback in franchise history leading the most successful run of success in franchise history, and scratch my head about why I have to take a side.

I can think Carroll is a good coach and think Wilson is a good quarterback. Both can be true.

One of the things I see contributing to this odd holy war is some folks who are bigger fans of Wilson than they are of the team. One prominent member of Seahawks Twitter is an unabashed Wilson fan above all else. He has added great information to the conversation that has helped to amplify just how great Wilson is relative to other players in the league. That has been valuable as so many across the NFL have underestimated Wilson.

He also has adopted a strategy to tear down other parts of the team to build up Wilson. This can be saying things like the LOB would have been “irrelevant” without Wilson or being upset that Marshawn Lynch returned this season for fear it would diminish Wilson’s narrative if the team had success in the playoffs. It begins to feel like propaganda that is damaging to the fan base more than genuine discussion about what is best for the team.

This person is just one example. There are others who have adopted this mentality of Wilson above all else. I’m thrilled we have Wilson as our quarterback. I’m not sure there is anyone else I would rather have at the helm. I also love Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf and Chris Carson and Bobby Wagner. I do not see any reason it is necessary to belittle one member of the team in order to build up others.

Debating whether there is a coach who could build a better team that was more suited to Wilson’s strengths is a worthy discussion. Having that discussion with folks who more interested in Wilson’s status than team success feels like arguing with a lobbyist. Team success over individual success. Always.

Lack of humility and bullying

I have written thousands of articles on the Seahawks, spent countless hours researching football, and decades watching. Even with all that I have learned, there is significantly more about football that I do not know than that I do. Even if I knew everything about football, I would not know critical details about the specific people on different teams, ranging from interpersonal dynamics to learning aptitude to strengths and weaknesses.

The point is, even if I believe something strongly, I always start from a place of awareness that I have only a fraction of the information. Carroll knows more about football and about the people inside that locker room than any of us will ever know.

I do not see that humility from some in the analytics crowd. They share out data that backs up a perspective they have (I realize they would reverse that) and seem to hold it up as proof that they know more than Carroll. When the team fails, they revel in reminding people about how right they were and how wrong Carroll is. When a pass-happy team like the Chiefs make it to the Super Bowl, they are sure to remind everyone. When a run-centric team like the 49ers or Titans do well in the playoffs, they are silent or look to undercut their success.

What’s worse is it tends to lead to a blood-in-the-water feeding frenzy when someone shares a perspective that differs from theirs. I see fans logging on to Twitter to talk Seahawks and then getting attacked from all sides for voicing an opinion that goes against analytics.

I know from talking to some of those folks that they feel attacked as well. Heck, someone from the Seahawks even went after one prominent analytics advocate after a recent game.

In general, I would love to see more humility on both sides. None of us are as smart as we think we are. Seahawks Twitter is at its best when the community is adding new information to the tribal knowledge we are all collecting. Data and analytics are incredibly powerful emerging additions to the sport. It is also not the only thing that matters.

Data is not all-knowing

Analytics are presented as if they are causal proof of a decision being right or wrong. Causality is proven when identical stimuli cause identical (or very similar) result on a reliable base. There is no way to recreate identical circumstances from one moment to another in the NFL. It is a chaotic and uncontrolled environment. The players are different. The coaches are different. The location of the game. The referees. The time of day. The fitness level and health of each player. Nobody can be sure a play failed because it was a run or a pass. A different run or a different pass may have worked. Or against a different team. Getting the play called 5 seconds earlier may have allowed a lineman to hear the call correctly and make the right block.

Many of the folks who heavily rely on data and dismiss any argument not based in analytics start from a foundation of believing humans are bad at predicting probability. They are right. A number of studies have proven as much. Vegas has made trillions on just how bad people are in this regard. I recommend listening to this Freakonomics podcast on the topic or reading this short article.

This fact leads some people to be extremely skeptical of human instincts, and only value arguments backed up by data.

While using data to compensate for human flaws is a great step forward in many ways, it is also important to recognize where data is weak and humans are strong.

People are outstanding at pattern recognition. It is at the core of what has separated our species from others. Science is often driven forward by humans innate ability to identify a pattern that they then set out to validate through the scientific method. Books like Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds go into numerous examples of why unquantifiable human instincts are powerful and merit consideration.

It is often humans ability to recognize patterns or a gut instinct that leads to to a question data can help to answer. They are not at odds. They complement one another.

Data is only as good as the quality of the data set and the questions posed of it. There are often errors in both. There are also limits to the depth of data available which limits the types of questions that can be asked. For example, we have tons more data about the NFL today than we did just a few years ago, but there is still more specificity missing.

Consider the most controversial play call in Carroll’s tenure. Ironically, analytics enthusiasts defend the call because of the early down pass and because of the heavy run defending personnel the Patriots had on the field. But those probabilities did not account for Brandon Browner being across from Jermaine Kearse and the ball being thrown to Ricardo Lockette or the potential for catastrophic failure (as opposed to simply not gaining the necessary yardage), or that the Seahawks successfully ran for four yards against the same personnel a play earlier. Maybe having that additional information will not change the probability of success. My guess is it will, and we will look back and smirk at some of the things folks are certain to be true now.

That doesn’t mean we should ignore the data we have. It would be a nice step forward if we could just acknowledge that there is value in instinct and data, instead of shaming someone for citing one source or the other. I would also love to see more frequent moments when the reaction to a team or player defying probabilities is to dig in to understand why in the hopes of feeding that back into the system instead of immediately discrediting it as an outlier or irrelevant. You cannot be a true data scientist without a commitment to acquiring training data to improve your algorithm.

It’s also a sport. Part of why I watch is the matching of wits and instincts. If it really just becomes who has the better AI to make all the decisions, it becomes a lot less relatable and fun.

Football stuff

These are the football arguments I generally hear against Carroll that I often find frustrating.

“Pete’s philosophy is outdated”

The conversation tends to center around the belief that Carroll’s football philosophy is prehistoric and that the modern game is passing him by. What part of his philosophy? Assume we are talking about his desire to have a physical running game, a strong defense that limits big plays, and an efficient passing game that creates big plays.

Other parts of his philosophy include utilization of sports psychology, using competition to drive sustained performance, creating a fun and supportive environment that encourages individuals to be themselves, having a strong partnership with his GM, allowing that GM to make decisions he might not agree with even though he has veto power, seeing the best in people and trying them to realize their potential, never giving in or giving up, and a host of other things, but evaluating the entirety of someone is too complicated.

I will cover some of those other items later, but let’s focus first on this notion that the formula of a strong defense, running game, and big play passing game has become outdated.

What were the best two teams in football this season? The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. Their defenses ranked 4th and 2nd in DVOA, respectively. They ranked 30th and 22nd in percentage of pass plays on 1st and 2nd down in neutral script situations.

Analytics folks have found a strong, positive, relationship between teams that pass the ball on early downs and scoring more, which leads to winning more. Neutral script refers to characteristics that give us a better sense for what a play caller’s true tendencies are by limiting to situations where the game is close (within one score), they are not in the final two minutes of a half, and the team is in the first three quarters (teams are less predictable in the fourth). Increasingly, you will see some people define neutral script as between 20% and 80% win probability instead of the single score criteria. They both are meant to get at the same concept that the game is close enough to keep play callers doing what they naturally lean toward doing.

All of last year, the analytics folks were hammering Seattle and Carroll for being dead last in the league in pass rate on early downs in neutral script situations. It was a sure sign, in their opinion, that Carroll was going to stick to running and get left behind. They loved pointing to the Rams or the Chiefs as examples of the future of football.

Then this year happened. Five of the teams finishing in the bottom eleven in that statistic made the playoffs, including the top seeds from both conferences. The Ravens and the 49ers also featured two of the best run offenses in the league. Oh, and Carroll’s Seahawks made one of the largest leaps in early down pass rates in the league.

The same folks who admonish Carroll for the formula he believes in, celebrate John Harbaugh and Kyle Shanahan for following that formula. Jimmy Garoppolo just passed a total of eight times in the NFC Championship while blowing out their opponent. Derrick Henry and the Titans just beat the Patriots and the Ravens on the road while Ryan Tannehill barely passed the ball. I don’t see any reason to think a team with a good defense, a strong run game, and an efficient passing game is going to have trouble winning anytime soon. If having a team like that makes you outdated, stick me in a crypt and call me Tutankhamun.

Does that mean a team should go build a team around a strong running game, especially if they have a franchise quarterback like Wilson? No. But let’s not claim that the formula Carroll likes has been invalidated in the modern era. It simply is not true.

“But Pete is not going to build another LOB, and his philosophy requires one”

Once you have given valid examples about why the fundamental premise of Carroll’s formula (strong defense, run game, and efficient passing) being outdated is clearly not true, the conversation will then shift to the idea that his formula will only work with a defense like the one Seattle featured during the Legion of Boom era.

The idea here is that even if Carroll’s formula still works, the steps required to realize it are never going to happen again, so why keep him around?

Anyone waiting for another Legion of Boom defense to be erected is going to be disappointed. That was a generational defense with multiple hall of fame players in their prime, playing a defensive scheme that the league had not adapted to yet. It was not just the best defense in franchise history, it was the best defense of the decade, and in the conversation for the best defenses over the last 30 years when accounting for the era they were playing in.

If a coach truly requires a defense like that to win, then they are not worth keeping around. Does Carroll require a defense like that to win?

Seattle has defenses ranked 5th, 13th, 14th, and 18th in DVOA the last four seasons. Not a good trend. None of those teams had a defense the caliber of the LOB, a group that led the league in points and yards allowed for four straight seasons from 2012-2015. As good as this 49ers defense is, they were 8th in points allowed and 2nd in yards allowed this season.

The Seahawks won a total of 40 games over the past four seasons without that dominating defense. That tied for the 6th-most wins in the NFL over that span, just one win from being tied for fourth. They made the playoffs in 3 of those 4 seasons, and won a playoff game this season.

They have not been the best team in football, but they definitely have been winning. To provide some context, the Seahawks had five seasons with at least ten wins in the 35 years prior to Carroll’s arrival. They have three in the past four seasons. It does not exactly feel like lean times.

It is also worth noting that plenty of lower-ranked defenses have won Super Bowls over the past twenty years. Even more interesting is that while it may not take the top-ranked defense to win the championship, having a better defense than your opponent appears to be far more important than having a better offense.

Teams with a higher ranked defense in terms of DVOA have won the last four Super Bowls and are 13-7 overall in the past twenty. Conversely, teams with the higher ranked offense in terms of DVOA have lost the last nine Super Bowls and are just 4-16 overall. That does not bode well for Mr. Mahomes.

Carroll has floundered in reconstituting a quality defense in Seattle after losing all that talent, but I find it hard to believe there is a more qualified defensive coach out on the market to figure things out.

“But they have not been to a Super Bowl in five years”

The goalposts of the conversation tend to shift again at this point to the lack of Super Bowl appearances and rings.

Context check. Carroll has two Super Bowl appearances. The only active head coach who has more is Bill Belichick (9). Only 11 coaches in the history of the league have been to more Super Bowls than Carroll. You know who else went to two Super Bowls in his career? Vince Lombardi.

Getting to Super Bowls is not easy. Belichick’s success has certainly skewed expectations. The names following him are not exactly modern:

  • Don Shula (6)
  • Tom Landry (5)
  • Chuck Knoll, Joe Gibbs, Bud Grant, Marv Levy, Dan Reeves (4)
  • Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells, Mike Holmgren (3)

I’m not saying the goal should be less than getting back to the Super Bowl and winning, Of course that’s the goal. This idea, though, that a coach is a failure without reaching the Super Bowl in a five year window is out of touch with reality.

There is also an irony in the fact that analytics folks love Andy Reid because he is so pass-happy, but he went 15 years between Super Bowl appearances, and has yet to win one.

It can be frustrating when the criteria is different for different coaches, especially when there is a tendency to find ways to favor coaches outside the team you root for.

The objective is, though, to win as many rings as possible. That is where things start to get really funky.

“Russ deserves most of the credit for the Seahawks Super Bowl teams”

At this point, I start looking around the room to see if I am being pranked. There is a sizable group of people who believe Wilson was the best part of the Seahawks Super Bowl teams, and deserves the bulk of the credit for them winning.

The logic goes something like this: the team was 7-9 the year before Wilson was drafted when they already had Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Brandon Browner.

Forget for a second that there were other significant changes to the team after 2011 besides Wilson, like Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin, Cliff Avril, and Michael Bennett, to name a few. The 2011 squad was coming off a strike-shortened offseason with a new offensive coordinator, a journeyman quarterback who played almost the whole season with a torn pec, and Sherman did not play until about a third of the season had passed. They started Charlie Whitehurst for two games (both losses).

Even with all that, they were 7-7 with two games to go before losing a close game to the stacked 49ers and in overtime at Arizona.

The foundation of the defense was formed and the running game found itself that season. Lynch finally stopped fighting the system and worked with Tom Cable the last part of the year to become a powerhouse.

The same people who will tell you Wilson is the primary reason the team won the Super Bowl will also tell you Wilson is the reason the run game became productive.

Lynch had his famous conversation with Cable the week before the team played the Cowboys in week nine of that year. Seattle ranked 31st in rushing yards before that conversation. From week nine on, they ranked sixth. Lynch ranked 37th in rushing yards and 46th in yards per carry before, and ranked 1st and 21st after.

Wilson and the read zone were nitro boosters to an already productive rushing attack.

That is a major point of frustration about this whole discussion. The debate is setup that either Wilson deserves all the credit or someone else does, when the truth is that they complimented one another. Why do we have to diminish the contributions of Lynch, the offensive line, Zach Miller and others in order to build Wilson up instead of celebrating how amazing they all were together?

Those Super Bowl teams were some of the most balanced and talented groups you will ever see. They were not just great because of Wilson. They were great because of Wilson, Sherman, Thomas, Wagner, Bennett, Lynch, Baldwin, Tate, Avril, Wright, Chancellor, Thurmond, Browner, Maxwell, Unger, Okung, Miller, Robinson, Irvin, Mebane, and more.

Any argument that those teams were only good because of Wilson reek of bias and an agenda to rewrite history in a way that minimizes Carroll’s and others contributions in order to strengthen the case for moving on.

“Well it was John who built those teams”

If the Wilson attack fails, some people will turn to a Schneider salvo. The notion here is that Carroll just benefitted from Schneider’s personnel moves.

Schneider was a major part of the success of those teams, but to ignore Carroll’s role in personnel, especially in the early years, is a significant misunderstanding of how the organization is structured.

Carroll was part of the interview team that decided whether to hire Schneider in the first place. He has final say over personnel. His defensive scheme that could utilize tall cornerbacks, a massive safety, a lanky outside linebacker, and even a defensive tackle like Red Bryant playing at defensive end allowed Seattle to value players differently than the rest of the NFL for the first few years before other teams caught on.

Many of those players were drafted not just because Schneider is a good scout, but because Carroll had intimate knowledge of most the country’s best recruits from his USC days. It was about three years in that he stated that advantage waned.

People talk so much about Scot McCloughan, but Carroll’s insights were at least as instrumental in constructing that roster.

Some will point to the fact that Carroll was not high on Wilson and Schneider was the one who insisted on drafting him as a demerit for Carroll. That is partially fair. The other part of the story is that Carroll allowed his GM to pick a player he did not love at the team’s most important position and then enabled that player to compete with established veterans for the starting spot as a rookie. Can you imagine Belichick allowing a player to be selected he was not in favor of?

Where some see a flaw, I see solid collaboration with his GM, a lack of totalitarian micro-management, and process that allowed himself to be proven wrong quickly through on-field competition.

The quality of personnel has dropped quite a bit, and Carroll bears just as much responsibility for that as he does the historic accumulation of talent the first few seasons. The point here is that you cannot credit Schneider without crediting Carroll.

“Pete is incapable of adapting”

This argument tends to tie back to the idea that his formula/philosophy is outdated. Set aside the tinge of ageism that seems to permeate these positions, and what this really is about is questioning whether Carroll can adopt analytics that appear to contradict some of his stated positions.

If the question was truly whether Carroll is able to adapt, it would be silly. Few coaches in the NFL have shown a better ability or willingness to adapt to his personnel over the years.

We already cited the Bryant example in his first year. We have seen him tinker with Irvin at end and then SAM linebacker. He found a way to utilize Malcolm Smith and Maxwell and others in ways that other teams could not.

Adaptation does not always work. He changed his scheme over the last two years to feature more two-deep safeties and play more base defense this season. Those were in response to personnel and the way opponents were attacking their single-high safety look.

His offense went from heavy read option and use of fullback and zone blocking to more power runs and two tight end sets.

Carroll has adapted almost every year, so the statement that he is incapable of it is simply false.

The question of whether he will utilize analytics to make better in-game decisions or allow more throws on early downs is a far more specific and valuable one to ask.

I have reason to hope that he will, but to a limit. If we are going to see analytics influence Carroll, it will be this offseason. If he rejects them, the case for criticizing him goes up considerably.

“Pete is limiting Russ and wasting his prime”

You can see all the threads from other arguments tying into this one. Analytics is calling for more early down passing, Carroll has a philosophy that emphasizes running and defense, there are questions about whether Carroll can adapt to a game where passing and analytics are utilized more heavily, and there are some folks who just want Wilson to look as good as possible because they are bigger fans of him than the team.

Combine all of those, and you get the boiled down fear that Carroll is limiting Wilson and wasting his prime.

Let’s start with the hard stuff. Like it or not, Wilson has more Super Bowl appearances than:

  • Drew Brees
  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Steve Young
  • Dan Marino
  • Joe Namath
  • Donovan McNabb
  • and more…

He is tied with:

  • Brett Favre
  • Joe Theismann
  • Bart Starr
  • among others…

To say his prime has been wasted is again a matter of expectations. Brady is a not reasonable standard. Even Brady went through a stretch of two Super Bowl appearances in nine seasons (both losses). Wilson has not been to a Super Bowl in five seasons.

No Seattle fan wants to admit it, but Wilson’s best chances to make a Super Bowl and win it are probably behind him, regardless of who is coaching. Seattle had great talent across the board they could afford to keep around thanks in part to Wilson’s rookie contract.

It is not impossible to win with a big deal like Wilson’s, but it is definitely more difficult. There is less margin for error.

All Seahawks fans want to make the most of his tenure in Seattle. Some have come to the conclusion that means the team needs to go all-in on the offense to build around Wilson.

We already went over that defense does appear to matter in the Super Bowl, and that having a healthy running game is not a bad thing. Would it surprise you to know that Carroll has been shifting spend to the offensive side of the ball?

Add that to the examples of Carroll adapting.

The other part of this argument is that Wilson is being held back. By almost every measure, he had his best season as professional last year.

How much more can we reasonably expect? Maybe he can throw 40 or 50 touchdowns in a year. Even if he does, only four players in history have done it more than once, and Brady is not one of them. That feat has been accomplished 13 times in NFL history. Just one of those teams won the Super Bowl (1999 St. Louis Rams with Kur Warner throwing 41 TDs).

The team has brought in Lockett and drafted Metcalf early. They took three receivers in the draft last year. They took Will Dissly the year prior. They even have eliminated most of the malcontents and brought in more positive teammates. I don’t know how credible it is to say the team is not building around Wilson.

Wilson may be able to pile up bigger numbers in a different offense, but that does not mean he would have a better chance of winning. Ask Matthew Stafford or Golden Tate.

Brees, Peyton Manning, Steve Young, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, and John Elway are all great quarterbacks who had their best chances to win a Super Bowl when they were given a strong defense, a strong running game, or both. Focusing too much on Wilson takes away from the larger problems keeping this team from contending.

Criteria for evaluating a coach

The way I tend to evaluate coaches are four vectors:

  1. Maximizing the talent they are given
  2. Sustaining success over time (as the league adjusts, players come and go, rules change, etc.)
  3. Winning
  4. Winning in big games

Carroll grades out well in all of these. Seattle has outperformed their Vegas-predicted win total in six of Carroll’s ten seasons. They are +8 overall in terms of wins versus expected.

Mike Clay of ESPN does a ranking of talent on 53-man rosters each season. He had Seattle as the 21st-most talented roster in the NFL heading into this season.

They ended up having more games lost to injury than any other team, and still ended up with 11 wins and a playoff victory. People who really dislike Carroll will chalk all of that up to Wilson. I don’t see how you can separate one from the other. Every single decision, from personnel to coaches to plays called are ultimately up to Carroll even if he does not make the calls or the plays himself.

He has clearly sustained success, not just in Seattle, but at USC. His primetime record is impeccable. His Super Bowl record is great as well if you are judging by getting his team ready to play and performing to their talent level.

There just is not a strong case for firing him. But let’s make one for completeness.

The case for firing Pete

His emphasis on the run game has led to linemen who are incredibly flawed pass blockers. Now is the time to remake the line. Carroll is more likely to bring back guys like Germain Ifedi and D.J. Fluker and Justin Britt and Mike Iupati than most coaches would be.

This team could be significantly better next season just by letting Ifedi go, cutting Britt, and letting young players like Jamarco Jones, Phil Haynes, and George Fant (free agent they should resign and move to RT) step forward.

Carroll has been too loyal and nepotistic with coaches. Brian Schneider should have been canned long ago. Ken Norton Jr. is bad. Tater (Carl Smith) was awful. Carroll’s two best assistants were Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn. Neither were hired by Carroll. They were retained from the Mora Jr. regime. Where is the heir apparent? We should all hope he or she is not on the current staff.

He has been unable to rebuild a top defense. The defense has been plummeting the last four years. The scheme choices he made this year appeared to be bad. Although, the talent was so lacking at times that it was hard to evaluate. Look at the difference between when Quandre Diggs was in the lineup versus Tedric Thompson or Lano Hill. Talent matters a lot.

If Carroll cannot fashion a top ten or even top fifteen defense over this offseason, it starts to make more sense to roll the dice with an offensive coach who can potentially score more points and hope they find a clever defensive coordinator somewhere.

This offseason is unlike any in recent memory. Seattle has just 42 players under contract, a ton of cap space, with a chance to have even more, and a bunch of draft picks. The choices made this offseason will determine whether this team can contend in the next 1-3 years. If you do have significant doubts about Carroll, now would be the time to make the change.

Why I believe Pete is the best bet

Look at the coaches getting hired so far. Ron Rivera. Mike McCarthy. Kevin Stefanski. Maybe one of them would be great. None of them have Carroll’s resume.

He has been a part of the some of the league’s best defenses for four decades, through multiple eras and schemes. The only person I might feel better about piecing together a solid defense would be Belichick.

Wilson is getting better and better. I do not see this limitation others do. I would be happy to see him utilized more, but I do not see that as the difference between where the team is now and winning another ring. If he threw for another thousand yards and ten touchdowns but had the defense from this season, the team would still struggle to win it all.

Plus, I believe the offense is on the cusp of being really good. Metcalf will improve. They will add more receiving help or see guys like John Ursua step forward. Dissly will return and they likely will add another tight end. The offensive line could be markedly better.

We also saw the team make one of the largest jumps in the league when it came to passing on early downs. This could be the offseason where analytics makes a bigger impact on some of Carroll’s more frustrating characteristics.

I do not see flawless perfection when I look at Carroll. It is possible the team could improve by moving to someone with a fresh perspective. The odds of that seem longer, though, than his ability to solidify this defense and continue building around Wilson.

I love the heightened expectations of the Seahawks fanbase, but I hope to see a more nuanced perspective about how the team can improve than the convenient flogging of a head coach who has given them more wins than any other and does not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. For my part, I will try not to get triggered, be less snarky (very hard), and just share a link to this article more. It is time to focus on the offseason ahead and realistic changes that can be made to return this franchise to the level we all desire.

Founder, Editor & Lead Writer
  1. In the realm of human behavior/communication, Twitter is just the “flavor of the month” relative to the spectrum of existence. Not unlike politics, it’s too much of symbolism over substance. Plenty of opportunity for folks to let their mockingbird mouth overload their hummingbird arse. As for the subject at hand. How many of those “wise guys” have ever actually run/coached a successful pro football team? How many have ever run a successful business (somewhat similar though also different challenges) for that matter? They’re certainly entitled to their opinion, but it doesn’t give them credence in the real world. “And the beat goes on………………”

    1. Agreed. Thank you thank you thank you Brian. I don’t see a reasonable holistic analytical response that could adequately counter what you’ve laid out here

  2. One statement I heard over and over again this season was that Pete was making decisions based on the team he wished he had rather than the one he did.
    I can’t disagree with that sentiment but I think that one of Pete’s major weaknesses has always been in game decisions. This isn’t new. In fact I’d say his top major flaws are – in game decisions and loyalty to staff.
    He’s not wasting Wilson, his track record of success with the Hawks means he will be here as long as he wants and his “philosophies” are as spot on now as they were when he started. The NFL is a great circle of evolution and adjustment. Pete’s culture brings out the best in players, all he needs to do now is bring the always compete culture to his search for coaching staff.

  3. I am super critical of Pete i admit that. I am willing to give him at least 1 more year. But i have to ask, how long are you willing to give him? are you one those who says he has earned the right to leave the Hawks of his own accord? Cause i 100% disagree with that take. No is ever beyond at that point for me in any walk of life. If you suck at your job you should be capable of being removed from it. I am not saying Pete sucks at his job, just that i don’t believe in that mentality. It is funny you bring up the examples Rodgers, Brees and Payton because they are all reasons that i feel Pete is failing at utilizing Russell’s abilities as well. Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy are the actually the best example of this. He had probably one of the most talented QB’s in history with an extremely good offensive core, yet his conservative mindset held his team back for almost a decade. And when he did finally get removed it was too late, Rodger’s had declined to shell of his former self. This is my biggest fear for Wilson, that because people are unwilling to move out their comfort zone with Pete and make the necessary tough moves to progress forward. Cause right now this is not progressing, it is stagnant

    1. “how long are you willing to give him? ”
      as long as I feel he’s fielding winning/competitive teams. you have a different perspective on that than I do, and you and I both have different perspectives than others.

      “Cause right now this is not progressing”
      was 2019 a more successful season than 2018? More wins? More playoff wins? Better offensive point production? Better end of season weighted DVOA? Did the Seahawks have more injury games lost in 2019 than 2018? the answers to those questions are all yes.
      was 2018 a more successful season than 2017? More wins? More playoff wins? Better offensive point production? Better end of season weighted DVOA? the answer to those questions are all yes (I have no clue about injury games lost 2018 vs 2017 and don’t want to look it up).

      How is that not progressing?

      Was our team better at the end of 2019 better than at the beginning of the year? Weighted DVOA (recency bias) suggests a much better second half of season team.

      How is that not progressing?

    1. Let’s say Pete coaches five more years. Let’s say ten different teams make the Super Bowl in that time—the maximum possible. 22 teams, more than 2/3, will also not make the Super Bowl.

      I’d be disappointed if the Seahawks don’t make it again but that doesn’t seem like a fair measure of success.

    2. Seattle will not win another Super Bowl with Russell.
      Defense won our only Super Bowl. Russell lost the next one. Not enough money left after Russell is paid to build a Team.

  4. I am not arguing that Wilson was the major reason Seattle was great from 2012 to 2015.

    I am arguing that Seattle is only competitive since then because of Wilson.

    Seattle was an incredibly well rounded team from 2012 to 2015. In fact, they were so exceptional that it is reasonable to question Pete for only making two Super Bowls and only making one.

    Yet since then there is no aspect of Seattle’s team that has been decent except those parts directly affected by Wilson.

    Build another decent defense while making the offense more consistent and I will fall in line, but until I see a team that can contend with the league’s best, I will continue to be a skeptic.

    Additionally, I see the heavy run teams such as Baltimore and San Francisco to be counter points to Pete, not arguments for his philosophy. Strong, progressive running teams rely heavily on misdirection and creativity, not an insistence on physicality. Just because a team runs often and successfully does not mean they have any resemblance to Pete’s philosophy.

    Your entire argument is apologist and disingenuous.

    1. ‘The fact, they were so exceptional that it is reasonable to question Pete for only making two Super Bowls and only making one.’
      As Brian does point out, the fact they were so well rounded should be attributed to Pete as well. Plus, great teams don´t reach superbowls all the time (see ravens). I feel you’re being disingenuous in this very case.

      ‘Yet since then there is no aspect of Seattle’s team that has been decent except those parts directly affected by Wilson.’
      Really? No single aspect has been even decent? Seems a little hyperbolic to me.

      I’m not going to get into the flaws I percieve in Russ’s game, as it defeats the point of this article. Still, I believe we have at least as good a chance at getting to the super bowl with Pete, as with any coach we could sign of the street.

    2. I was good with your analysis until the last line. Brian was pretty reasoned, acknowledged weaknesses, and offered a full analysis of a range of factors. Apologist and disingenuous labels slander this work.

    3. It’s funny that you perceive it as an argument, rather than a point of view. A point of view that didn’t insult you, or those with your point of view, in any way.

      Calling it apologist and disingenuous is insulting, rude, and combative. Shame on you. Shame…on…you.

      If you want your opinion to be respected, you might start with offering a little respect of your own.

    4. This Dave Wyman Football 101 episode directly addresses the point about the running game, and the difference he sees really comes down to executing blocks on the O-line:

      But it is also conditioned by the personnel available. Penny scored an 80 yard TD on an inside trap play (as Wyman discusses). No Penny, no Carson… running game looks worse than it is.

      This Wyman episode is also in support of Carroll. Frankly, I give Wyman’s analysis even more credit than Brian’s because of his access to the team, and I give a lot of credit to Brina’s analysis because he spends a LOT more time thinking about all of these issues than I do.

  5. This is a great article. It is as much a treatise on Carroll and the Seahawks as it is a clinic on why social media can be so poisonous. Thanks Brian.

    1. The same couple dozen guys, living their lives through twitter, are behind everything mentioned in the article, all of this BS “uproar” caused by just those few and their 100+ daily tweets – each, adds up quickly, them guys sure need to get a life. IMO the print media needs to ignore this (very much – minority group) crap.
      + “The grass is always greener…” & “Be careful what you wish for…”

  6. This entire article is an argument for complacency.

    Also, the idea of gratitude & humility as it concerns fans is insulting. We are already grateful & humble… because we’re paying money for the product. You don’t get brownie points for just existing, you have to perform to expectations. Mind you, it’s the expectations that the team itself has set. “It’s just like 2012!” They’ve said this two years in a row. So, if that’s the case, next year should be the year, right? Well if they set that expectation and they don’t reach it, why is it us that should lower our expectations and be grateful?

    An absurd assessment, Brian. Unless you’re being paid by the team directly, then you should be allowed to feel how you want to feel.

    1. Nobody says you can’t feel how you feel. But if your feelings lead you to change your decisions, then you will have erratic decisions. Gratitude was one simple section of this piece , the rest was data and analysis. I’m hopeful that the coaches and administration in this team do continue to adapt, but that it isn’t knee jerk responses to feeling disappointed.

  7. Firing coaches, and especially the head coach, are classic football fan reactions as far back as I can remember. A lot of fans (including myself) have never really been able to let go of the idea that this was supposed to be one of the new dynasties, but as a result of many factors, has stayed in the good-but-not-great realm since the play that shall not be mentioned.

    My 30 years of watching college and NFL football makes me extremely wary about firing Pete or encouraging him to retire. My college team was Texas, where they had a similar run under Mack Brown, and after a decade, the fans grew impatient with the relative lack of conference titles and MNC appearances — compared to Oklahoma. They said he had lost his touch, that his offensive scheme was predictable and outdated. Eventually the big money guys forced him out. What followed was years of really bad football, and the program is still trying to get “back.”

    I definitely understand the “wasting Wilson” argument and worry about that, but the first thing I think about is all the other greats on par with Wilson who have had an equally difficult time getting back to the big game. To my eye, it’s not the coaching that’s the sole reason they’ve failed to make it back. It’s having to move on from the LOB, Baldwin, etc. and at the same time, dealing with this damn division that keeps seeing cellar dwellers load up on high draft picks, change coaches and then bam, contenders. Unfortunately that is the main barrier and it isn’t going away. They need to find a way to dominate the West first and foremost. 3-3 in division won’t cut it. With the cap space and draft picks they have, they can and should take a major step forward before Wilson starts to decline like Rodgers has.

  8. Another excellent column. While reading it, I remembered a quote that is most often true: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are”.

    1. Twitter AH’s: Are expecting perfection in an imperfect world. + All want to kiss Bellicheats’ arse, he’s so great, he only has to cheat every other year or so & watch his interviews, ahh, ya, maybe, ahh, ahh, I cheat good.

  9. Fantastic column. Tonight, when you are brushing your teeth (or soaking you dentures), look in the mirror and tell yourself you earned some respect and some love today.

  10. For me, it comes down to training wheels on in first half vs. training wheels off in the 2nd, (talking offense). When we play the Big Boys, next year, I hope to see the former.

    I appreciate Pete and his accomplishments, but I wish that, in accordance with his stated philosophies, he’d work on his flaws, instead of stubbornly repeating his mistakes. “Easier said that done,” but every endeavor in life is about being , “The Best You Can Be.” (How’s that for dusting off a few cliches?)

  11. Brian,

    This is, by far and away, the best thing I have read about the Fire Pete Twitter War situation. Thank you for taking the time to articulate all of this. I am on your side of this fence one hundred percent.

  12. i have a question can i join the team when i get older i am autistic and i dream about being wr i just wanna to know so just get back to me when you can.

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