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I'm a fool in many ways when it comes to the Seahawks. I had myself convinced, heading into 2008, that this team's signing of a 31-year-old #2 wide-out was destined to spark this offense. Going into 2009, I had myself convinced that Jim Mora's tough conditioning and hard practices would take this "finesse" team to more of a harder edge. As that fell apart I even defended Jim Mora as deserving another year to try and put his stamp on this team. Fear and foolishness had swept through two consecutive seasons.
Jim Mora's post-firing media sweep-through was a thing that just made me run my hands through my hair as he made me look like an utter fool for imagining he was the answer or that he ever deserved another year. So you can imagine my hesitation to buy into Pete Carroll when he was signed.
My first reaction to the news was one of "Huh?" when it was announced. Most people wanted to speak about how Paul Allen was violating convention (funny to think about now) by hiring Pete first and then marrying him (my choice of word) to the GM of his choice. I argued at the time that I understood this move by Paul, with the long and awful history of GMs under Holmgren's regime. This, however, didn't mean I was sold on Pete Carroll.
This happened in an interview he gave to Brock & Salk on 710ESPN. He was full of energy. Lawyer Milloy described his extraordinary X's and O's knowledge and credited Pete as the reason he had become a Pro Bowl player. All the mess and the hype and the arguing. It's kind of feels years and years ago, but Pete sold me in his first interview after being hired. He didn't come in with bravado and tons of slogans. Those would come later as he directed the team; this sentence by Pete Carroll sold me:
"I want to look at this entire organization, this entire deal, everyone in that building and make sure from the players to the janitors and even the peanut guy that we are putting everyone in the best situations to be successful."
This is probably exaggerated by Pete, but the mentality is key. It wasn't discipline. It wasn't culture. It wasn't teaching winning football. It was, -- "I've gotta find out how I can put these guys in situations to be their most successful." When asked in a follow-up if the Seahawks would run a 3-4 or a 4-3 he said. "The coaches and I have never run a 3-4 but if I put that tape on and that's what I see we have to do than we as a staff will learn how to coach that."
I was so pumped, like Pete kept saying in every presser leading up to the 2010 season. I wanted to see what we would get from all the quirkiness of Pete's slogans like "I'm in" and "Always Compete" that had him mocked a ton by Mike Salk and Softy at that time. Personally, I always went back to the mentality of putting people in the best situations to be successful. This is finding not just creating the cultural identity of the team, but helping to find the individual identity of players and helping them become successful.
They made trades for Leon Washington, Chris Clemons and Marshawn Lynch while identifying key traits for the cultural identity of the team. They also found special roles for guys like Roy Lewis, Red Bryant. Will Herring. Kennard Cox. Mike Williams. Brandon Stokley, Mike Robinson. They drafted Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. After all that though, you could see the team lacked talent. Pete squeezed all the talent he could out of the roster of 53 guys - many of who would be off the roster or out of the league the next year - but made them come together and compete, even against the odds.
The 'marriage' I talked about between Carroll and John Schneider seems to be working because they are of like-mind on the most important tenets to choosing players and establishing the culture. "The basic premise of our philosophy is," Schneider explained, "we preach to our staff - and not to get too philosophical with you but in society today - the easiest thing to do is to talk about what people can't do. We just think that's the easiest thing to do. The hardest thing to do is to find out what a guy's strengths are: what do you think the guy does well, tell us how you think he would fit, and tell us how you think he could accentuate those strengths once he's here, and develop those strengths."
When I watched this team progress through 2010 I kept thinking back - as a huge WSU Cougar fan - to Tony Bennett's coaching of a ragtag group of 2nd string college basketball talents to the Sweet 16. The 2010 Seahawks had just as little going for them, yet they never looked intimidated. They walked into Chicago and got a signature win against a team at 10AM on the road. I remember when those were just checked off as losses. When you watched them, even in blowouts against the Saints in New Orleans, you saw guys doing their jobs the best that they could. Earl Thomas was a rookie still learning, but as that cultural identity took hold, you saw guys start to embrace their individual identities. Milloy was in the box, Kam played dime and quarter packages deep. Red Bryant, though injured in 2010, started to find his way as a d-end, this after confessing that when Pete Carroll and John Schnieder discussed the move with him -
"I honestly thought they were getting ready to cut me."
Pete and John did cut players. Rather than try and light fires under self-entitled guys and veterans who felt practices weren't for them, they kept guys who demonstrated work ethic. "I'm in." So even though that season was 7-9 and they won a playoff game, I noticed something key. Losses didn't dominate them. They didn't worry about what wins and losses meant for their team other than the simple fact of they won or lost.
Identity is so key to being able to do that. Knowing who you are as a team, knowing how to work and practice and work out. It goes beyond sketching plays on a whiteboard. It goes beyond just saying "We want to play hard-nosed football for sixty minutes." It goes even beyond guys knowing we're gonna be a run-first team. It comes down to the individulal identity of each of your players and whether they can accept that and grow from within those skills.
Dallas, in my opinion, is an example of a team with a bunch of talent and no identity. Week to week, the talent shows up, or it doesn't, and their mentality changes at home and is different on the road. They might have a solid X's and O's guy in Jason Garrett, but without an identity, without players with defined roles on the field and in the locker room, utilizing their talents week in and week out, it's going to look like an up and down team.
The Giants are an example of a team that seems to lose and then find their identity for stretches. The Cardinals did that when they went to the Superbowl. Week in and week out though, you're kind of unsure what you're looking at for most of the time. Identity is a big part of consistency - it also limits panic in tough loses which accounts for how the Seahawks seem to be able to so thoroughly bounce back against the Giants on the road last year despite a rough start to the season, and why one team coming off a tough loss is more prepared to lay the wood to an opponent who thinks the win last week is what defined them coming in.