Here at Field Gulls you'll often hear Davis Hsu and I refer to the marriage between Pete Carroll's Win Forever and John Schneider's Forever Young ideals. We all know about Carroll's Win Forever philosophy, more or less, and it can be encapsulated in Carroll's book of that title:
"I noticed for the first time all of Buffalo's division championship banners on display- and it dawned on me that, while we had just won a great game, since Coach Levy had been there, they had put up winning season after winning season, division championship after division championship...it hit me: Now that's success. Those guys had shown that they had what it took to continue to win year after year, in an almost permanent state of winning."
While Carroll's catch phrase is famous, John Schneider's Green Bay-borne methodology for maintaining a competitive and hungry roster isn't as well known, at least nationally.
"If you asked Tod [Leiweke], that's the primary reason he brought [Pete and me] together," said Schneider, referring to the melding of philosophies. "Because he felt what we did in Green Bay -- acquiring as young a team as we did there -- and then Pete having played all the young people he played at USC, I think he felt we were a good mix."
Schneider believes in fielding a 'consistent championship-caliber team' -- he always uses that exact language -- and the cliffnotes to his philosophy in doing that is to build out, develop, then eventually pay an elite cadre of players (generally acquired through the Draft, but Schneider has dipped into free agency and trades for this as well), while sustaining the rest of the roster with young, competitive, athletic chip-on-shoulder first-contract role-players.
"We want this to be a consistent championship-caliber team," said Schneider after the Super Bowl, "and not a team where the fans feel like we're just kind of cruise in and cruise out for one year - where there's a solid base and we have to make tough decisions every year."
These tough decisions relate to releasing/trading over-paid fan-favorites or even highly talented contributors for the health of the salary cap, eschewing sentimentality for the sake of the long-term retention of your elite corps of players.
Earning a second contract with this franchise, in the culture Carroll and Schneider have fostered, is considered one of the ultimate honors. Kam Chancellor became a 'made man' last offseason. Earl Thomas is up for those honors this offseason. Golden Tate is up for his, Richard Sherman soon to follow, and Russell Wilson will have to be taken care of next year at some point.
Of course, to do this in the salary cap era, teams must release or trade key contributors. This will be apparent during the upcoming offseason when Sidney Rice, Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, Zach Miller and others face uphill battles (to put it nicely) to keep their current salaries intact. This ability ... no, willingness ... to be necessarily callous, meshes extremely well with Pete Carroll's philosophy on trusting young players to overtake and surpass incumbents.
While Carroll built and maintained a dynasty at USC - including seven straight Pac-10 Championships and two National Championships, 33 straight weeks at #1 - he always made one powerful promise to potential recruits, telling them that he would be giving them "an extraordinary opportunity to compete for a position from the moment they arrived on campus."
As Carroll relates in Win Forever,
"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."
No rest for the weary. No complacency for the established. Creating an ecosystem where only the strong survive. A microcosm for natural selection.
Carroll's competitive cauldron fits with Schneider's scouting and personnel management experience. Specifically, it fits perfectly with Schneider's methodology of grading college players and pro personnel against the team, not against the NFL.
"We've been on the same page enough and been through this enough with the coaches where we know when we're putting our board together and we're choosing players, we're selecting players for the coaches that we know will fit the coaches' philosophy at each position and have a legitimate chance to compete," Schneider said just following last year's draft. "That's all you can ask for a coaching staff - guys that are willing to teach and let guys compete."
Schneider continued, and this is important: "We grade for our team; we don't grade for the league. Our board basically represents that, if that makes sense to you. We grade a guy based on whether we think he can compete with Bruce Irvin, or Malcolm Smith, or Bobby Wagner, and that's the way our board falls."
"I can't speak for other organizations," he continued, "but as for our group, we know our coaches have trust in us as far as acquiring players that fit what they're looking for, or fit a certain position. They're going to compete, and obviously for them to do that, the trust in the coaches to teach, work, and develop those players. And Pete's main philosophy is all about competition. So, he opens that door, and you have a chance to play."
"When we're selecting players, we're giving the coaches players who are legitimate competitors at each position. Rather than having a head coach who has his mind made up and he's not going to change and be flexible, Pete is very flexible in terms of the players that we can provide."
"Pete and his staff have done a great job of telling us what exactly they're looking for," Fitterer notes. "And then some guys just have such a unique skill set that our coaches are great at adapting and letting players come in. If they think they can make plays, they'll figure out a role for them. They'll create a role if they have to. The flexibility of this staff is incredible that way."
Every player is graded as compared to other players currently on the Seahawks' roster. It's not, 'oh, this guy is really good', it's 'this guy could compete with and take so-and-so's job'.
As Davis pointed out in his series on the Green Bay Model of Roster Building:
"Every year, Schneider is trying to haul in a ton of draft picks and another big batch of undrafted rookies. These players are not training camp fodder, this whole class of rookies is given the chance to knock out 13 or so current players. Drafted players in Year 2 and Year 3 will lose their jobs every year to younger players that outperform them.
"With Win Forever - your roster never gets old. If you keep drafting well every year and are willing to make hard decisions by moving on from good players - you can, in theory, "Win Forever". The roster stays at a magical average of 25-26 years old. Younger players are probably less injury prone and are, in general, faster. They may not be smarter and they may not be in their peak, but that's where coaching comes in."
So, how has Seattle done with fielding a consistent Championship-Caliber team while maintaining what John Schneider believes is an integral component: staying young?
Based on Chase Stuart and Pro Football Reference's AV-weighted age per team (in other words, how old the main contributing players are), the Seahawks had the youngest roster in the NFL in both 2011 (25.7 years old) and 2012 (26.1 years old).
2011 was a rough, but necessary building year, then 2012 was a whirlwind. After a slow start, Seattle finished the year red-hot, compiled an 11-5 record with historical scoring binges and a league-best scoring defense, bounced the Redskins from the Playoffs in their place, and very nearly succeeded at closing out one of the great comebacks in NFL Playoffs history before falling to Atlanta.
The 2012 Seahawks (26.1 years old on per AV-weighted average) went 11-5, finished #1 in Football Outsiders' DVOA and in the top-10 for all-time best DVOA marks.
The 2013 Seahawks (26.0 years old on per AV-weighted average) went 13-3, and again finished #1 in Football Outsiders' DVOA -- the first team to do that since the 1996-97 Packers, of which John Schneider was a scout -- and again finished in the top-10 for all time best DVOA marks.
As FO pointed out, "the Seahawks [were] the first team since the 2004-2005 Pittsburgh Steelers to rank in the top ten for all three units in consecutive seasons. Only two other teams have accomplished this feat: the 1990-1991 Kansas City Chiefs and the 1996-1997 Green Bay Packers." John Schneider's Packers, again (technically, he was a scout for Green Bay from 1993-1996 then left for the Redskins in 1997 as a 26-year old Director of Pro Personnel (holy shit)).
Of course, the 2013 Seahawks were the Super Bowl Champions, and were the 2nd youngest Super Bowl Champion teams of all time.
As Football Perspective's Chase Stuart tells us, the Seahawks had the 2nd youngest AV-weighted team in the NFL in 2013, including "the youngest offense in the NFL, and all of that unit's contributors were under the age of 28. Russell Wilson (24.8), Marshawn Lynch (27.4), Max Unger(27.4), Golden Tate (25.1), Doug Baldwin (24.9), and J.R. Sweezy (24.4) form a young core that should compete for years. The only long-term questions for the offense are figuring out how to keep Percy Harvin healthy (he doesn't turn 26 until May) and making sure that Robert Turbin (23.7) or Christine Michael (22.8) can handle the load when Lynch declines. As Doug Farrar notes, Seattle is the second youngest Super Bowl team ever, and positioned to make 2013 the start of a dynasty."
Seems like Pete and John's plan -- their marriage of Win Forever and Forever Young, or Win Forever Young™ -- has some merit.
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