Seattle Culture

Clarity: Pete Carroll’s Quirky, Lasting Legacy

We won't see another NFL coach like him again

By Danny O’Neil June 4, 2024

A coach in a navy hoodie and green armband, reminiscent of Pete Carroll's quirky legacy, walks on the football field while players in white and blue uniforms stand in the background.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

I’m sad that Pete Carroll is no longer the Seahawks coach, a feeling that has caught me by surprise.

I covered sports for more than 20 years in this city, and I should know better than catching feelings for a coach. Besides, the most unusual thing about Carroll’s firing is that he lasted this long. Pete may not have been able to win forever, as his book proclaimed, but lasting 14 years is closer than almost everyone thought he’d come when he took the job.

I don’t even necessarily disagree with the team’s decision to move on. For as much as the Seahawks won under Carroll, they had settled onto a fairly frustrating plateau in which they were good enough to make the playoffs two out of every three years, but weren’t getting any closer to being great again. In Carroll’s first seven seasons as coach, the Seahawks won nine playoff games. In his second seven seasons as coach, they won one.

So, I get it. I understand why Carroll is out, and Mike Macdonald is in.

But still, I’m sad, and while that’s probably not the most professional assessment, it does reflect just how much fun Pete’s Seahawks truly were. It wasn’t just that they won under Carroll, though that certainly was part of it. It was how they won, which was by being themselves in unabashed, unapologetic and — at times — utterly unruly ways.

He wanted his Seahawks to play with emotion. It was the wind in the team’s sails, and he was willing to deal with the blowback that would come from the occasional outbursts that we experienced.

It wasn’t always pretty. There were holdouts, and hurt feelings, and two separate occasions in which a player turned toward the team’s bench during a game and extended a middle finger in the direction of a coach.

It was, however, beautifully human. There was the defiant running back, the incessantly loud cornerback, and the quarterback who was preternaturally positive and very focused on his brand.

That all happened because of Pete. Not who they were, but the freedom they were allowed to be themselves, and I don’t expect we’re going to see anything like that anytime soon. I’m not sure we’re going to see a coach quite like Pete anytime soon unless another team hires him next year.

The NFL is a league that tries to force conformity. This is reflected in everything from the salary cap to the draft order — two things that are structured to pull the good teams back to the pack, and to give the bad teams a fighting chance. It’s reflected in the tight-lipped coaches who seem to actively avoid saying anything interesting. Don’t be too big, too bold, because when you lose — and everyone is going to lose eventually — those bold statements will come back to haunt you.

A lot of people say that they don’t really care what other people think of them. Most of them are lying. Pete actually doesn’t. Or at least he doesn’t bother himself with the opinions that so many of the other people in pro football tend to be fixated on.

I’m old enough to remember how thoroughly skeptical the rest of the league was when he took over as Seattle’s coach in 2010. The collective eye rolls at the fact he played music during practice, or failed to raise holy hell because Golden Tate was caught swiping a maple bar from Top Pot Doughnuts.

Hell, I was skeptical. I remember the first off-season practice I covered that year and thinking this was going to be too hokey to work. Specifically, there was a drill where the players ran across an obstacle course of blocking pads, raising their knees high to keep from tripping as coaches yelled at them. It’s called running bags, and it’s a drill that’s so elementary, most high school teams don’t do it.

Yet here were grown men — many of them making millions of dollars — who were doing just that. And it worked.

Seattle went out and didn’t just win, but won in a way that resonated in this community and beyond. Seahawks fans followed the team on the road, chanting behind the NFL Network set after a Thursday night win in Arizona.

We’re a city with a well-earned reputation for being a little passive-aggressive. The kind of place where we motion for the other person to go first at the traffic circle, and then grumble beneath our breath when they do.

Carroll’s Seahawks weren’t like that. At all. They made no bones about their intention to be the very best team in the league, and then they went and did just that. The rest of the nation wasn’t sure how to take Richard Sherman when he punctuated the conference championship by proclaiming himself to be the best corner in the game, and that when you try him, with a sorry receiver like Michael Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get. Don’t ever talk about the best.

Who was talking about him?

Everyone. And it was exceptionally, incredibly fun even for someone like me who was just watching, and writing, and talking about what this team did. It made me believe that if you could just get over yourself, and stop thinking so much about how things looked, if you let go of your cynicism and inhibitions and the too-cool-for-school reluctance to buy in, that it not only gave you the best chance at success, but you could also succeed but maybe even more important, stop caring so much what anyone else thought.

Now, it didn’t last. Nothing in sports ever does. The Seahawks were a play away from becoming the first team in a decade to win back-to-back titles. They came up short. And then came Kam Chancellor’s holdout and two seasons in which the Seahawks tried to keep the band together for one more run at the top, but could never get past the second round of the playoffs.

And maybe it’s good it ended now before a string of losing seasons and years of discussion about whether Pete had lost his fastball. But while I’m truly intrigued to see what happens next as the Seahawks go from having the oldest coach in the league in Carroll to having the youngest in Macdonald, I’m going to miss seeing Carroll on the sidelines, looking like Willy Wonka in a pair of khakis as he chomps on that big wad of gum and throws his challenge flag when he really shouldn’t.

I don’t know if he could have ever gotten the Seahawks back to the Super Bowl, but man, I enjoyed watching him try, and whatever happens next, I know that it’s not going to be the same without him.

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