Pete Carroll, whose Seahawks will face a team to be determined, at a playoff destination yet to be decided, has more urgent priorities than finishing first in a popularity contest.
But it can’t hurt him to know that he’s respected.
A CBSSports.com poll on Saturday listed six NFL Coach of the Year candidates: Atlanta’s Mike Smith; Denver’s John Fox; Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy; Indianapolis’ Bruce Arians; Washington’s Mike Shanahan and Carroll.
The leader, by a margin we can call a landslide, was Carroll, who received 41 percent of 76,000 votes. Arians, with 25 percent, was the only coach remotely close to Carroll in the fan balloting.
Don’t expect the fans’ support of Carroll to be duplicated by the 50-member Associated Press media panel that owns a more pertinent vote. When the award is announced in February, it will go to Arians, the esteemed offensive coordinator who served as the Colts’ interim boss while coach Chuck Pagano was undergoing treatments for leukemia.
Indianapolis was 1-2 and looking at a massive rebuilding project when Arians took over. When Pagano returned, the Colts were 10-5 and looking at the playoffs. Arians, with a roster showing 35 new players from the 2-14 Colts of 2011, oversaw seven fourth-quarter comebacks during his 12-game stint in charge.
Arians might not be a household name, but the job he did in remaking the Colts ranks as the most inspired story of a 2012 NFL season that hasn’t been associated with many inspired stories.
And yet, according to at least one ballot, Carroll is the people’s choice, and not by a little: He got more votes than Smith, Fox, McCarthy and Shanahan got as a group.
Which is surprising because despite Carroll’s inclination to accentuate the positive – is there another football coach who uses a non-traditional football adjective such as “beautiful” to describe a blocked kick? – he tends to polarize fans. His advocates are behind him full-tilt; he can do no wrong. His detractors are no less opinionated; he can do no right.
If I walk into a bar tonight in, say, Boston, and I tout Pete Carroll’s credentials as coach of the year, I’m expecting a conversation that devolves into an argument. If I walk into the same place and mention Mike Smith, or John Fox, or Mike McCarthy, I’m getting a blank look from a customer not inclined to activate his search engine.
“Mike Smith? Name don’t ring a bell. Maybe he stops in here during the day.”
Carroll’s name pushes the same hot button that San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh, his college and NFC West rival, pushes. Harbaugh, by the way, won the AP’s 2011 Coach of the Year award in a runaway. He finished with 45 of 50 votes. The other five went to McCarthy (three) and Fox (two).
Like any other award, the NFL Coach of the Year loses some credibility when evaluated from afar, in hindsight. The 1966 Grammy Award for Best Rock and Roll Recording wasn’t presented to the Beatles (for “Eleanor Rigby”), or the Beach Boys (for “Good Vibrations”). It was presented to the New Vaudeville Band, for “Winchester Cathedral.”
The selection was wretched, almost as wretched as the 1941 Best Picture Oscar that snubbed “Citizen Kane.” The award went to “How Green Was My Valley.”
When it comes to absurd results, the Grammies and Oscars have nothing on the AP Coach of the Year. Dick Jauron, Jim Haslett, Jim Fassel and Wayne Fontes each won the award once, which puts them in the same category as Tom Landry, Bill Walsh and Vince Lombardi.
During the 1960s, when the Packers’ Lombardi was asserting himself as the most effective coach in NFL history, he twice was beaten out for coach of the year honors by the Giants’ Allie Sherman.
At least Lombardi won the AP award, which is more than can be said of Mike Holmgren, John Madden and Marv Levy. Chuck Knox was a three-time recipient – once with the 1984 Seahawks – and while Knox is remembered as an elite coach, it’s difficult to fathom that he won three more coach of the year awards than the Steelers’ Chuck Noll.
Feel free to presume Noll’s four Super Bowl rings mitigated his zero coach of the year trophies.
As for Carroll in 2012? If I were a voter – and I’m not – I’d consider his bold decision to devote the exhibition season into a starting-quarterback competition between veteran Tarvaris Jackson, free agent Matt Flynn and rookie Russell Wilson. I’d consider how he’s maximized Wilson’s talent with an ever-evolving playbook that flummoxes the conventional thinking of opposing defensive coordinators.
I’d consider how Carroll has rallied the Seahawks from middle-of-the-pack contenders at the halfway point of the season to a playoff-bound juggernaut dynamic in three phases – offense, defense, and special teams – and determined to go places.
I’d consider all that, and I’d vote for Bruce Arians.
So would Pete Carroll. When Arians is announced as the AP Coach of the Year – bank on this – Carroll will smile as he extols the virtues of the assistant coach who gave the Colts a jump-start of hope, and rode that hope all the way into the playoffs. Carroll will use about 2,000 words summing up Arians’ effort. One of those words will be perfect.