It sounds as if Pete Carroll has spent some long hours in front of the mirror.
The metaphorical mirror, that is, of introspection and self-examination.
Here’s what he saw: The 2016 Seahawks did not always act the way he wanted them to.
As head coach, he was responsible for them getting that way. And he’s responsible for them changing.
The sideline outbursts, sparring with the media and intramural bickering that arose during the season, he admitted, were distractions.
And among the messages he gave his departing players was: “To make sure we bring back the best version of ourselves when we come back in April.”
This might not be as noticeable a change as the players they pick in the draft or add via free agency, but it’s important to recapturing what was missing from the 2016 Seahawks — that sense of unity and unqualified brotherhood.
A couple times on the radio Monday morning, Carroll talked about being unable to find the “magic” the team once enjoyed. It seems obvious that it’s tough to generate the magical power of common purpose when players are flying out of control at each other and their coaches.
“The emotional side of it brought out some expressions and took us to a place that was a distraction that we had to get through,” Carroll said. “Sometimes setbacks can allow you to grow, and it did. But we don’t need those distractions. It’s hard enough to get it done when everybody is in lock step and all that.”
This is a huge admission for Carroll, who during the season reiterated his support for players being “out on the edge.”
For years, we’ve lauded his celebrations of players’ expressions of individuality. It worked for the team and contributed to the flavor of the rich stew of personalities in the locker room.
But it was different in the days when Marshawn Lynch was deemed a “quirky” locker-room personality while being an unstoppable on-field force. And Richard Sherman’s outbursts were an extension of the competitive passions that made him the best defender in the game.
Winning does that.
But when the team is inconsistent, and by most estimations, under-achieving, the margin for all this inessential “noise” grows very slender.
Carroll, at times, has said he feels a fatherly responsibility to coax the players into representing themselves in positive ways. But there’s also a responsibility of player control he feels to the franchise and ownership and the fan base that has such equity in the team.
“I think there were a couple outbursts (this season) … that took us to a place we don’t want to be, (that) we don’t want any part of. … Clearly, it’s not the way we want to be representing who we are and what we’re all about, so we have to do better at that.”
Carroll said that when a reprimand was deserved, he took action. It’s the first hint he’s given that any in-house scolding took place over player comportment. Since Sherman’s emotional detonations were the most apparent, we may presume that he was the most likely to have been sanctioned in some manner.
Carroll seems to be searching for footing along the slippery threshold between hyper-competitiveness and coming totally unglued.
How is he to reconcile his love for players who hate to lose with the inevitable player who can’t handle being squarely defeated? A fight at the end of the Super Bowl they lost to New England was an example. So were a couple of squabbles at the end of the Falcons game.
Carroll said during his radio show that he felt bad about the public seeing the Seahawks’ “dirty laundry.” During our session with him, he seemed more genuinely bothered that the laundry had gotten as dirty as it has.
Carroll has gotten a lot of mileage from his players by having their backs, and with his almost unwavering support of their behavior.
But it’s obvious he’s realized that there are crossed lines that can start eroding the culture they’ve built.
Part of it is the concern over offensive optics, sure. A 13-win team that argues and loses its poise is seen as driven by a positive competitive intensity. But a 10-win team that loses its poise so often is seen as undisciplined and out of control.
Here’s the reality that Carroll seems to be addressing. The Seahawks of the past two seasons haven’t been good enough to overcome all the distractions.
And if they expect to truly be top-flight contenders again, it has to start with their being the “best versions” of themselves again.