Welcome back to another installment of a short series of Fanposts that look at Pete Carroll's book Win Forever and the philosophy therein. The first two articles in the series can be found here and here. While reading previous entries isn't necessary, they provide a solid backdrop and get in you in the mood to Always Compete. The focus of this post is the recruitment of coaches and players.
Shortly after Pete Carroll being hired by the Seattle Seahawks in January of 2010, I asked my friend Kyle what he thought of the hire. I asked him because I had spent the previous season mildly following the Hawks (it's tough reeling in casual fans with a 5-11 season) with the intention of following the team, and football in general, a bit more closely. Having grown up in a family in which football was hardly considered a sport compared to soccer, I was eager to follow the home football team that had a new coach with a vision that included winning Superbowls rather than losing them. Wait, this isn't the Buffalo Bills Buffalo Rumblings site? I kid, I kid. Seriously though, four years ago I wouldn't have had a clue as to what that joke meant.
Anyways, my friend Kyle wasn't impressed with the hiring of Carroll for the Seahawks. Being the dedicated Oregon Duck fan that he is, he was familiar with Pete's record at USC. Kyle believed that Carroll's success with the Trojans had stemmed from his being able to recruit like a mad-man, arguing that it helps your chances on the field when your athletes are much more physically gifted than the athletes of teams you play against. You might say that the better athletes will win 99 times out of 100. Carroll wouldn't have that advantage in the NFL and his previous records with the New York Jets and New England Patriots added up to a misguided hire. So said Kyle. But we have seen, even after two consecutive 7-9 seasons in Seattle, Carroll's ability to recruit has had serious implications for the Seahawks. Read after the jump to find out how!
Getting the best players on your football team isn't the only thing that is going to determine whether or not the team is going to be successful. Coaches arguably have just as much a part in the success or failure of a team as the players do. If you don't think so, ask Atlanta coach Mike Smith how he feels about going for it twice on 4th and inches Sunday when the Falcons were in chipshot field goal range. Of all the coaches that Pete Carroll has conned into coming to the Great Northwest, Tom Cable is arguably the most important one to the success of the Seahawks this season. Even Clare Farnsworth of www.seahawks.com argues that Cable was the "Best Offseason Addition:"
Cable was hired on Jan. 18 with the title of assistant head coach/offensive line coach. But the running game was his baby, and boy did it deliver down the stretch when the Seahawks rushed for 100-plus yards in eight of their last nine games – a run that was capped by the season-high 178-yard performance in the finale against the Cardinals. And a lot of this was done with Breno Giacomini, Lemuel Jeanpierre and Paul McQuistan stepping in for the injured starting trio of right tackle James Carpenter, right guard John Moffitt and left tackle Russell Okung. It was Cable’s belief in his system that made believers of the players, and eventually even the skeptics.
Mr. Farnsworth is correct that he was able to do some great work with some backups. It doesn't matter whether or not the dropoff from starters, rookies Moffit and Carpenter, to these replacement players was relatively low, or even an improvement in the short-term for the team this season. These were not starting caliber players. Cable was able to turn these guys into a serviceable group that helped Lynch have the first 1,000 yard season for a Seahawk since Shaun Alexander did it half a decade ago. Credit doesn't go to Cable just for his work with the offensive line. He certainly gets credit for helping Lynch turn around his season. Here is an article written by Farnsworth on Dec. 30 that contains an interview with Cable and others. Below is an excerpt from the article:
"We made a deal – you have to do it the way I tell you to do it, I ask you to do it," Cable said. "And he’s done it. So a lot of credit, to me, goes to him because he was willing to kind of maybe push his ego or push own beliefs, to some extent, aside and then embrace something new.
"Because this is a system that asks backs to do things a certain way. Once you get in and through the line of scrimmage, then do your thing. You can do all the craziness you want then. But you’ve got to do it this way from A to B. And he bought in from A to B. And after that, what you do from C on is you."
It is all well and good for the Seahawks to have some of the best coaching staff out there. I think we can all agree that it is very important. We want the team to play to their potential and they are able to do that because of coaching. We are also afraid of what it means to have a great coaching staff: Coaches leaving for bigger and better opportunities. Pete Carroll is all too aware of this.
The flip side of hiring a coaching staff made up of great competitors with strong voices of their own is that sooner or later they're going to move on. And often it is sooner. High turnover rates are something I have learned to not only accept but embrace... So rather than expecting loyalty from my coaching, I found that I got all the loyalty I could ask for by supporting them and advancing their careers... I believe that our coaches should get everything that they want out of their association with our program, and I'll work with them to accomplish that. I want that understood before they even come on board and that's the opportunity they'll have with us.
As always, people have a reason for thinking the way they do. Pete was stuck coaching for the Minnesota Vikings when he wanted to pursue a job with the 49ers. Carroll's experience with the Vikings was undoubtedly a formative one in developing his feelings towards his coaching staff, their recruitment, and their possibly leaving the organization.
I had been there for several years, when a similar position opened up in San Francisco. Although I was technically still under contract, we had always been told that whenever we wanted to go somewhere else, we would get permission to leave. But when I went to the head coach, he told me that he didn't think it was the right job for me and that my career would be better off where I was. When I pressed, explaining that I wanted to find out more about the job - among other reasons, because it was a chance to go back to my hometown - he flat-out refused to let me go.
At the end of the next season, Carroll had his freedom and accepted the position of Defensive Coordinator with the New York Jets. The stifling environment in which Pete performed his duties in Minnesota was one in which "no amount of money" would be enough to keep him there. While I'm sure everyone has their price, Pete did forego a $10,000 bonus that would have come with signing a 2 year deal that would have kept him in Minnesota. That's no small chunk of change for anyone, but it meant more to Pete to get out of a situation in which he had no opportunity to really better himself.
So really, what does this mean for the Seahawks? Basically, when (and I am so confident in the Front Office and in Carroll that I "when" and not "if") this team reaches championship quality, do not expect the coaching staff and other executives to stand pat when other opportunities to arise. The organization hasn't reached any Super Bowls yet and we have already seen the departure of a couple of lower level assistants. Jeff Ulbrich, the Seahawks’ assistant special teams coach the past two seasons, is leaving to become special teams coach/linebacker coach on Jim Mora’s staff at UCLA. Luke Butkus, a quality control/offensive line coach the past two years, will become the offensive line coach at Illinois, his alma mater. As soon as I saw that Raiders head coach Hue Jackson had been fired on Tuesday, I immediately had this horrible thought that the new GM in Oakland would hire Tom Cable back as head coach. Whether it happens tomorrow, next month, next year, or several years from now, I don't expect Cable to stay here forever. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy to stick around as an assistant head coach when he probably feels he got the short end of the stick after being fired from the Raiders after an 8-8 season. I'm sure that other people around the league feel the same way. Hopefully, Cable will stick around long enough to implement a successful system that will stay with us for years after he has moved on to another head coaching job. The real question is, will he stick around long enough to get the ball rolling to the point momentum can be sustained?
Ultimately, Carroll's philosophy is adheres to the principle that competition is going to build a staff (and a team) that will reach its full potential and that 'the idea of holding someone back just because they can help us in the short term in not only totally contrary to the spirit of our philosophy, it's self defeating." We're going to live on, we're going to survive, when these men leave us because the men who replace them, whether they are hired from inside or outside the organization, are going to see the opportunity to do great things in their time in Seattle.
The product on the field is going to be a result of two major factors: the coaches work with the players and the players themselves. According to ESPN, USC had the 2nd, 1st, 7th, and 4th ranked recruiting classes in the years 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. How did this happen? In Carroll's own words:
Before I went back to college football, other coaches had told me that recruiting was a burden. However, for me recruiting was just another way to compete. Once again the philosophy came through as we found ourselves immersed in just another competitive arena. We found ourselves in a "relentless pursuit of a competitive edge" in recruiting and it took us right back to our central theme of competition. This was not only a perfect extension of everything we were trying to do at USC, but also a great job by the recruiting coordinators I was able to work with... Our recruiting classes were at or near the top for eight straight seasons, and that is a credit to our entire coaching staff.
Carroll only ever promised his recruits one thing: "an extraordinary opportunity to compete for a position from the moment they arrived on campus." It wasn't a lie either. During the course of Pete's nine years at USC, a Freshman started at every single position on the field, not the least of which was the quarterback spot. The players on each of Carroll's teams at USC were all too aware of the promise made by Carroll to the incoming recruits. In fact, he made it a point to remind his players that the incoming class would be gunning for each and every one of their spots.
On National Signing Day, when we would add twenty or so top recruits to our program, we had a team meeting where we showed highlight film of those incoming freshmen to our returning players. I reminded them that our staff had told those young players being featured on the big screen that they would be getting a fair shot from the moment they stepped on campus to compete for a starting position. It was a fun meeting, as the players suddenly became expert analysts, critiquing the incoming players who, more than likely, would be going after their spot... It proved to our entire team that there was always an opportunity for every player to compete.
I hope that in the days following the draft Carroll and his staff put together highlight videos of all the players they have drafted for the rest of the team to watch. Naturally, they aren't going to be able to do it the day after because Pete and John Schneider have their hands busy calling every single Undrafted Free Agent (UDFA) they can. I imagine that each one of them gets the same pitch that every USC recruit got during the time that Pete was head coach was there. Without a doubt, it leaves an impression on 17 year old kids leaving their homes for the first time and it leaves an impression on college graduates trying to make their way into the National Football League. Ricardo Lockette, by his own admission, was one of these players. A post on the Seahawks blog on the official website will tell you that
The Seahawks got Lockette because, as he put it, "The sincerity in John and coach Carroll’s voice, it wasn’t about the money other teams were offering. I would have come here for free."
Catching himself, Lockette laughed. He then added, "I just appreciated the sincerity and how much they cared. How they felt about my talent and what I could do for the Seahawks."
The fact that thirty-two separate teams called the kid and he chose to come to the Seahawks is pretty special in my mind. I can't imagine Lockette would have actually come to Seattle for free 'cause let's face it, money is pretty awesome to have. Yeah, the organization did call him before anyone else did and offered him a significant amount of money to come here, but it's pretty clear that money wasn't the overriding factor based on the interview above.
Obviously, Lockette isn't the only UDFA to make a splash on the Seahawks team. He wasn't even the best UDFA on the team. As we know Doug Baldwin went from a relatively unknown player coming out of Stanford to leading the Seahawks in receptions (51) and receiving yards (788). This makes Baldwin, according to Mike Sando at ESPN, the first UDFA in the history of the NFL to lead the team in both categories. Did I mention that his average Yards Per Catch was an extremely solid 15.5?
The issue with Baldwin in the context of this article is the fact that it could have been a lot of different things that led him to Seattle. It could have been money. It could have been the fact that his old coach Jim Harbaugh passed him up in the draft electing to choose *gasp* another receiver in the later rounds and Baldwin wanted his chance to prove Harbaugh had made a mistake. Heaven forbid he wanted to get out of the hellhole that is California with all of its horrendous weather to come to the rain-drenched Pacific Northwest. Honestly, I just like to think that Pete can recruit with the best of 'em.
Undrafted Free Agents aren't the only ones who get a lot of attention. Big name and small name free agents are recruited as heavily as anybody ever is. The only big name free agent acquisition that I can think of for the Seahawks is Sidney Rice, and it is arguable that he wasn't even that big a free agent acquisition considering that it was going to come down to a choice between the Seahawks and the Vikings. I expect that Rice is going to make some big plays for this team once he (hopefully...) gets healthy. Other smaller acquisitions really haven't been any less important. Alan Branch walked away from Arizona and started every game at the 3-tech Defensive Tackle position except one in which he was injured. Brandon Browner was recruited from the Canadian Football League and started every single game at Cornerback, amassing 23 passes defensed and 6 interceptions.
Before the season started, the Seahawks had made a pitch to Nnamdi Asomugha late in the process that he apparently seriously considered. Yeah, Nnamdi didn't come to Seattle but it reportedly made him really think about coming here. Other teams were in the mix too, and he ended up on a team in Philadelphia that was by and large the offseason winner of 2011 when it came to free agents looking to win a Super Bowl. I realize some fans are happy about his not joining Seattle because of questions regarding how he fit our scheme, and do we want to spend the money on a guy that may not be with us in a few years during which we will really be looking at Divisional, Conference and Super Bowl championships yadda, yadda, yadda... Why does that matter in the context of this article about recruitment? It says we as a team aren't ready yet. We aren't ready to compete for a Super Bowl. We don't even have a starting quarterback that is under contract for more than one more season. We are getting closer though. It's coming together. I can almost taste it. When it comes time that the Seahawks are a team that the national media can't afford to ignore because our players and our coaching staff are kicking butt and taking names, it won't be difficult for us to get the free agents we want. Whether they are hot shots looking for a big payday, under-appreciated guys looking to prove they are more than they showed on their previous teams, or kids coming out of college looking to get their start, people will want to come to Seattle for a shot to play for Carroll and with the players we have. We shouldn't even have to try very hard. I'm talking shooting fish in a barrel easy (although for such a common saying, I don't think it's as easy as some people say...) And for the folks who are having a difficult time deciding whether or not they want to come here, Carroll is going to be able to show them the real reason to come to Seattle is to be the best that they can be.
Ultimately, Pete Carroll's success in Seattle is going to be about a lot more than recruitment. His (and John Schneider's) ability to scout/draft well and Carroll's ability to coach are going to to be the things that defines whether or not the Seahawks become a team that is able to Win Forever. That doesn't change the fact that the coaches he hires become an extension of himself and his philosophy. That doesn't change the fact that the talent level in the locker room, from starting positions to depth in case of injuries, is dramatically affected by the players brought into the organization via free agency. With everybody competing, everybody wins.