Some years from now, be it in 2025, 2030, or beyond, Pete Carroll will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. On the weekend that Carroll enters Canton, the Legion of Boom will be celebrated, the way his cover-3 defense and unique cornerbacks spread across the league will be acknowledged, and Russell Wilson will of course be recognized as a major part of Carroll’s success.
However, none of those things will be Carroll’s legacy. Not the dynastic run at USC, nor the NFC West titles, nor the four-straight years of number-one defenses in the NFL. No, Carroll’s legacy will be the way he was committed to changing the sport of football for the better, improving player safety in the present moment, and the sustainability of a violent sport for the future.
For years, Carroll and his coaching staff have taught their players to keep their heads out of the tackle, instead, leading with the shoulder in what is now known as “Hawk Tackling.” In 2014, with the help of then-assistant coach Rocky Seto, Carroll released an instructional video on that tackling form in an effort to spread the technique across the sport, at all levels.
While football coaches are famously tight-lipped, here was Carroll willingly and eagerly filming and spreading tape on a tackling form his team had, by then, perfected. Teams and coaches across all levels would take in the video and teach their players the way to play moving forward. The safety and sustainability of the sport superseded any concerns over competitiveness.
After the video was released, Seto, who had been with Carroll since the start of the latter’s USC days, said, “Forget about what happened at USC, forget about any wins and losses with the Seahawks. This is his biggest contribution, our biggest contribution, to the game we love.” In a conversation with Seto last winter, he reemphasized that point to me by calling Hawk Tackling “Carroll’s legacy.”
The video, the praise, and the commitment to teaching players would be a little hollow if Carroll didn’t display alignment, as Seattle’s sports psychologist Dr. Michael Gervais refers to it, between his thoughts, words, and actions. After the Seahawks’ Sunday Night Football victory over the Patriots, however, Carroll had the chance to again display his commitment to player safety and he did just that. Asked about Quandre Diggs’ hit on N’Keal Harry, which led to an ejection, Carroll did not hesitate in defending the decision of the officials, saying Diggs had to do more to take his helmet out of the play. On Monday morning, Carroll again stressed it was on Diggs to avoid leading with his head, saying “he needs to do a better job,” when asked about the ejection.
In a massive primetime game against an opponent who had previously fired him and defeated him in a Super Bowl, Carroll saw the most important position on his defense forced into a change after an early ejection. New England would then attack the middle of the field relentlessly, finding a ton of joy in Diggs’ vacated territory. It would have been incredibly easy and frankly, understandable, for Carroll to lament the decision and place blame elsewhere.
Carroll did not do that, instead, taking another opportunity to prove his commitment to changing the sport of football for the better, emphasizing the importance of keeping the head out of tackling. Wins like Sunday night are fleeting, so too are all-time defenses. The legacy Carroll has built and continues to do build, however, will last forever.