What does Pete Carroll do for an encore?
His first season as coach of the Seattle Seahawks was a success, ending with an NFC West Division title and a playoff victory despite a 7-9 record in the regular season.
Now, the challenge to repeat has been made even tougher after an abbreviated offseason because of the NFL lockout. Add the loss of three key veterans – quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and safety Lawyer Milloy – and Carroll’s 2011 Sea-hawks will be a much different squad in Sunday’s opener than the one that began last season.
Carroll sat down for interviews with each of the reporters who regularly cover the team last week. He addressed the turnover in the team’s leadership, the quarterback situation and his relationship with general manager John Schneider. Here is an excerpt – edited for length and content – of that interview.
Q: You lost three core leaders from last year’s team in Matt Hasselbeck, Lofa Tatupu and Lawyer Milloy. The coach is always going to be the person steering the ship, but I imagine you want your lieutenants out there getting out the message as well. So how much more do you take on that role with those guys gone?
Carroll: Here’s the deal. If you don’t have anybody who can carry the message for you, then the coach has to do it. And the assistant coaches have to do it. And I’ve always said that. I don’t want to be a coach that says, “Well, we would have had a really good year if we had better leadership.”
There’s so many guys on this team that are great character guys that care so much about this game, it’s just a matter of just working the message and getting to the side and letting them go. So I’m not worried about it one bit.
Q: You said that Hasselbeck was a priority to bring back right after the season was over. Did you agonize over losing the quarterback who had become the face of the franchise over the last decade?
Carroll: I was really disappointed that it just didn’t happen. But we tried to communicate with him right off the bat so it could happen before the free agency thing and we got locked up. But it didn’t. And I totally understand why – it was a negotiation and all of that. But in this year, everything was up in the air, and things changed. …
We met with Matt immediately. I think we even met with him right before that press conference, or right after. And we told him what we were thinking and how we wanted to do this. But in the process they waited until the very end to let us know the answer was no, and there was no time to do anything about it. So that’s the way it went.
Q: So in a regular offseason it might have been different?
Carroll: Yeah, it could have been different. It could have been an entirely different decision. But this was a unique year. And so we made a big transition in the franchise.
Q: What was the reason you decided to name Tarvaris Jackson the starter instead of having him compete with Charlie Whitehurst for the job?
Carroll: Our commitment to Tarvaris is really a commitment to the execution of a really good plan, and to put a team together in very short order. And because of the coaching shifts there are things that made that come to the surface.
… I think it’s the best competitive thing we can do for our club to make him the quarterback right now, and not worry about an open competition and dividing reps and stuff. There’s just no time.
… It wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the team or our fans – everybody that’s following us. So that’s the point. This is the best way for us to compete to get us as far along as we can …
And I love what Tarvaris can do. I think he’s a fantastic player. I’m just hoping that we can support him properly and play good around him so he can get rolling for us, and that hasn’t quite happened yet.
Q: How do you feel Whitehurst has handled the situation?
Carroll: He’s decided to battle, and he’s done a marvelous job of it. He took full advantage of the first 10 days when he had the club to himself, and he just did a great job of applying himself and learning.
He’s really stepped up. Charlie’s different. He’s very confident, more so than before. He’s determined to show it every time he goes out. …
He could have done more in the offseason. … With that thought, I think he had to wait and see how it all fit together and all of that.
Q: So it sounds like you were a little disappointed that maybe he didn’t take on a more active role in the player-led workouts, which were led by Hasselbeck and Justin Forsett?
Carroll: We had no control over that and couldn’t talk to him. So there was no communication at all, but that’s just what it was. And there’s nothing we could do about it. It was just a mess. But we made it through it.
I just saw him shift. He’s in full gear right now, and I love seeing it.
Q: Looking back at when you first took over, is this where you thought the team would be?
Carroll: It’s only better than I thought it would be. It’s not that much different. I think the relationship that John (Schneider) and I have been able to put together and work with has been as good as you can hope. My goal was to have an extremely good relationship with the guy who was going to help me in personnel in that general manager position, and it’s been better than I thought it could be. John and I have been having a blast doing it.
That’s the first thing, because we have to make every one of these choices together and work it out. …
Q: So you need a guy in there who thinks the same way as you do?
Carroll: I think you have to be like this (Carroll puts his two fingers together.) It’s so crucial. There could be a great personnel guy and a great coach and it just doesn’t work. I mean you can work together and work it out, but to facilitate, to find the potential in your ability, and to make decisions and choices and to move, and to make it in the timely fashion that allows you to keep moving, you need trust, and an understanding. …
When I say something, I think he knows what I’m talking about. And when he says something, I know what he’s talking about. And we can anticipate each other. That all makes you quick, and fluid, flexible and agile. That’s something that we have going right now, and I’m hoping it will be a famous relationship.
Q: How would you describe that relationship – big brother/little brother?
Carroll: It’s a little bit like that because I’m so much older than he is (Carroll is 59, Schneider is 40). Then again, we’re not that far off in the way that we think. But in my mind, I set out to take responsibility for this relationship because, to me, that’s the key. Without that, you’re just going to luck out every once in a while, and you’re going to have your up-and-down stuff.
But to be really strong over a long time, that relationship needs to be rock solid. And I’m far enough in my career in that I don’t want to hear somebody telling me what to do. And I don’t do that. And so I don’t have to. We just work together. We make decisions just like we’re one person when we do it. It’s a marriage, that’s really what it is. And we’re hanging in there pretty good.
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks
SEAHAWKS’ OPPONENT THIS WEEK
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (0-0)
1:15 p.m., Sunday, Candlestick Park
Against the Seahawks: Seattle holds a 13-11 edge over San Francisco in the series. The Seahawks beat the Niners at home in last year’s season opener, 31-6, but the Seahawks lost on the road in San Francisco for the third consecutive year, 40-21, on Dec. 12.
Stats and stuff: New San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh announced that Alex Smith will be his starting quarterback Sunday against Seattle. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft is 3-5 against the Seahawks. Rookie Colin Kaepernick, the team’s second-round pick out of Nevada, is the backup, and San Francisco claimed Wisconsin rookie Scott Tolzien, released by San Diego, off the waiver wire to serve as the third quarterback. … San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis led the Niners last season in receiving with 56 catches for 914 yards and seven touchdowns, earning his second Pro Bowl berth. … There are several local ties on San Francisco’s coaching staff, including ex-Seahawks receiver Bobby Engram (offensive assistant), former Seattle offensive line coach Mike Solari (offensive line coach), ex-University of Washington defensive coordinator Ed Donatell (secondary coach) and former UW tight end Reggie Davis (tight ends coach).
Quotable: “I’m the horse here, so I’m looking forward to playing first, second and third down, because I can do it all.”
Running back Frank Gore, on his three-year, $21 million extension.
Sept. 18 Dallas
Sept. 25 at Cincinnati
Oct. 2 at Philadelphia
Oct. 9 Tampa Bay
Oct. 16 at Detroit
Oct. 23 bye
Oct. 30 Cleveland
Nov. 6 at Washington
Nov. 13 N.Y. Giants
Nov. 20 Arizona
Nov. 24 at Baltimore
Dec. 4 St. Louis
Dec. 11 at Arizona
Dec. 19 Pittsburgh
Dec. 24 at Seattle
Jan. 1 at St. Louis
Eric D. Williams, staff writer