His first season as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks was a success, as the team won an NFC West Division title and a playoff game despite going just 7-9 in the regular season.
Now, the challenge to repeat has been made even tougher after an abbreviated offseason because of the NFL lockout. Add in the loss of three key veterans – quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and safety Lawyer Milloy – and Carroll’s Seahawks will be a much different squad in this Sunday’s opener than the one that took the field last season.
Carroll sat down for an interview with each of the reporters who 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. We ran excerpt of that conversation in the newspaper this morning, but here’s the full version of the interview.
Q: What are your thoughts on your first year in Seattle? Were you surprised by the fact you had that much success and reached the playoffs in your first year, albeit with a 7-9 record? And what did you learn from last year that you are bringing with you as you start year two?
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Carroll: Well, we set our sights on owning the division. And we didn’t want to wait years to do that; we wanted to start last year. We talked about having an opportunity to play for that thing right from the first time that we talked, and fortunately in the last game of the year we still had an opportunity.
And so it was kind of how we had planned in a sense, and hoped that it would come out. And when given that opportunity we played really well and won a good football game over the Rams with the backup quarterback in the game. So that was a big accomplishment for us.
I wanted to come back and do this offseason – and had hoped we would have an offseason to work with – and get our minds to the point where that’s normal. That’s what our expectations are. Last year guys might have been thinking all kinds of things. Let’s just have a winning record or whatever. But I thought we could be division champions right away, and hoped that I would talk like that in the months leading up to the season.
So in my mind that was absolutely a necessity so we could stay on course. And we had a chance to do it, and we did it. And we won a big playoff game, too. And we saw that we could have gone the next week and played real well too after that, but we didn’t play well in Chicago. But all kinds of stuff happened and it didn’t work out the way we wanted.
But I didn’t expect anything less than that. I was hoping we’d be able to do that. That it would kick start us and let us go, and it’s happened. So here we are.
Q: Has that success last year given you more credibility when you talk to your players this year, the fact that you can look back to last year and say, ‘Hey, this works’?
Carroll: (laughs) I don’t know, you’d have to ask some of the people around here Q: But do you feel that?
Carroll: I feel like the message is much clearer for the players – and we still have new guys and new coaches, and you’re always teaching – but I feel like the message is much clearer. And it’s always, when you’re talking about what you could be and then now you are, it makes everything stronger. I have refused to waiver. I’m going to stick with it, and stay with what we believe in. And bring these guys to believe in it as well hopefully. And give us a mindset that helps us perform at a high level.
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.” I don’t buy into that. That’s not okay because we can lead for them.
But 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. It will fluctuate a little bit for the next, couple years because we will see the emergence of some of the young guys. I think Earl (Thomas) and Kam (Chancellor) – guys like that are coming up.
And then some of the other guys on offense coming in. There’s no question that Tarvaris (Jackson is one of those guys. There’s no question that Sidney (Rice) is one of those guys. Zach (Miller) is one of those guys, and they’re just coming in. Robert Gallery brings us instant credibility and toughness, and a good head on his shoulders. And the running backs are a terrific group. Marshawn, Justin, Leon and Mike Rob (Michael Robinson) are fantastic guys. So we don’t lack for that at all. It’s a natural question to ask, and we love the guys that were here. But I think the transition will go rather quickly and we’ll be fine.
Q: So do you see this as a natural transition: You went from having one of the oldest teams in the league to one of the youngest?
Carroll: John (Seahawks general manager John Schneider) was the one that made it clear to me when we were first putting this together our ideas and stuff the benefits of being young. And if we worked it, we could strive for that, and we could be a very young, up-and-coming team always – that through the draft and through your acquisitions that you could keep a young crew. That doesn’t mean that you don’t covet the older guys. It just means that you continue to upgrade with young guys and speed and athleticism, and that way you make your team more competitive.
Q: That’s interesting, because I think the thought process is you win with experience in pro sports. You need those older guys that have been there and done that. It sound like your philosophy is the mixture is important, but you need the young guys driving it?
Carroll: Yeah, I think just the energy of the young guys plays such a big role in so many aspects of your team – on special teams and in supporting roles and all of that. And it’s marvelous if your older guys do a good job of directing. And they don’t have to be 10-year or 12-year veteran to be those kinds of guys.
Chris Clemons is a good leader on this football team. And Heater (David Hawthorne), who had been the middle linebacker a couple yeas ago, steps right back into that role, and he has no problem being out in front and all of that.
So we’ll find out. I think an illustration of that is the Packers. The Packers were the second or third-youngest team in the league last year. And if you have the experience in the right spots – which is really the quarterback spot – then you’re okay.
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.
And the sense of urgency, understanding how short this could possibly be, which is exactly how it turned out to be, I just felt like it changed the landscape of the decision. And so with an opportunity to get a guy who had been in the system for years, and who could bring athleticism and play experience, too, it changed things.
We would have had to start all over again. We wouldn’t have started all over at the first day of camp, we would have had to start all over again about 10 or 11days into camp (Carroll is referring to the fact that free agents could not practice with teams until Aug. 4). And I didn’t think that was in the best interest of this club.
So that changed. We thought differently earlier.
Q: How did that evolve? Because you said Matt was a priority to bring back right after the season was over.
Carroll: Yes, absolutely. That was the first guy we went after. 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. Fortunately, the move we made on Charlie (Whitehurst) last year looks terrific right now. Charlie is playing his tail off. And he’s going to compete to be a starter on this club almost immediately, and sooner than we thought. And that’s great for us.
But 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.
Are we clear on that?Q: You mean the reason you brought Tarvaris in?
Carroll: Yes, I want to be as clear as I can on that, because really I kind flipped the competitive thing here in the sense that 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.
Take today’s practice. Tarvaris took 80 percent of the reps at least in that practice just to get ready. And we’re still racing with a new team. So if we were dividing those reps, then where are we going to for the sake of competition?
So 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 then in time that factor won’t be as big of an issue, and then we’ll see how things are going, just as we always do.
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. We haven’t played as well up front as we need to, but it’s on the come. It’s there for us.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’s got a look about him and a way about him showing that he’s really grown up in this thing. And I think he waited a little bit to see what was going on, and he kind of poured it on. And it’s really cool that he’s done that.
He could have done more in the offseason. He couldn’t have done too much more scheme-wise, but he could have done more in the offseason. With that thought, I think he had to wait and see how it all fitted 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: You parted ways with several guys that you coached at USC – Lawrence Jackson, LenDale White, Lofa Tatupu among them – how do separate those personal relationship you had with those players versus the business aspect of running a team?
Carroll: I love those guys and they are all tough decisions. But those tough decisions I’m more than willing to make. I got no problem with it. I’ve got to do it, and we just weigh things out.
The relationship will never change. It’s just too deep. Lofa and our background just goes too deep. There will be a whole life after football that I’m sure we’ll be associated with in some fashion and in some way, you know? But you have to make the choices that are right for the club, and the players know that. They don’t like it personally some times, but they know that. And I know it, too.
But on the other side of it, I like having our guys around. Look at what Malcolm (Smith) has done in this camp. He’s a great example of taking advantage of the years that we’ve spent together, the relationships that we’ve had and Kenny’s (linebackers coach Ken Norton) background. And he’s come in flying around as a rookie and a seventh-round draft choice. He’s had a great camp for us.
And Dominique Byrd coming back to life, and Mike (Williams) coming back to life. There’s some benefits to the relationships, but somewhere it ends.
Q: And not only the USC guys, but you have used your relationship and evaluations of other L.A. area players like Brandon Browner to your advantage.
Carroll: Yeah, certainly Brandon Browner because we knew about him as a kid and played against him in college. All I need to do is see that time he ran out here (Browner ran a 4.53 40-yard-dash on his workout for Seattle), when he came in here on a cold day and ran that time in the 40, I said to myself, ‘Whoa Lord, this is really a special opportunity.’ Because he’s a monster at playing the techniques we like to play, and the style we like to play. He’s had a fantastic camp.
Q: What been the differences that you’ve noticed in working with college players and pro athletes? Or is there a difference?
Carroll: They develop a little more of an opinion, that’s all (laughs).
Q: And they can express it?
Carroll: Sometimes (laughs). What’s really exciting as a coach is to coach guys that love the game, and really love being a part of it. Love studying it. These guys are all like that, and so that level of depth that you get to reach to is really special.
I remember sitting at N.C. State one day in Spring football, and we were in a meeting with some players. And those kids had no idea what we were talking about, and they were half asleep getting ready for a hot practice in the spring time.
And I never forgot that thought compared to being at camps at Buffalo in my first year in the league. And the guys were into learning and they wanted to know what was going on and they had questions. And it was such a deeper relationship that you had, because they cared so much and it was important to them. It’s a job, and they love the game and they’ve gone that far and they are those kinds of people.
So you appreciate that relationship with a professional athlete, because it’s so important to them. And the college guys are still trying to figure it out. They’ve got college. They’ve got school – everything. They’re growing up, so there’s a million things out there to distract them, and they’re more scattered.
I would like to think at SC we got really close to guys and it was important to them, but it’s not the same. For these guys, it means more to them. So its’ a deeper, richer relationship that you have with these guys. I don’t think people often tell you that, but that’s what I’ve experienced with these guys. You want to be great, and you want guys that want to be great, and you’re trying to really go someplace special. It’s very unique.
Q: So your players have to be of that same mindset?
Carroll: Yeah. I think people on the outside would think it’s the other way – that guys don’t care that much and they just want the money and then they hit the road. These guys care – the guys we’ve brought in. The guys that we are assembling here and that we continue to try and find are those kinds of people. And we think that’s what it takes to take it as far as we can take it and win a championship.
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. And right from the outset I wanted to do everything I could to make this a special relationship so we could communicate, care for one another and do the right thing. And that’s what has happened, and that’s made it even better than I thought it could be.
I never ever wanted to be in the NFL unless you could have a chance to have that kind of relationship. And it worked out great. I mean, think of all the things we’ve been able to pull it together. John just said it today, ‘Can you believe all the decisions we’ve made?’ And we were kind of laughing about it, and we were working on something this morning. So that’s been awesome.
I think our ability to dynamically change so quickly has surprised me. And I didn’t think we’d be able to change this much this fast, and have a connection already with these guys. I mean, how could all of that happen this fast? But it feels like it has. And so we have a chance to be really good, and there’s not anybody in this building that doesn’t feel that. And so I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s not that far off.
So I most grateful to have that relationship with John, so we can do all of the things we’ve had to do. Because I remember clearly what it was like to not have this relationship and to try and operate in this business, and this is great stuff.
Q: So you need a guy in there that 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 decision 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 somebody says something, you need to know what they’re talking about.
And John and I have worked our way so we can relate really well. 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 makes you quick, 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.