Sports

'Perfect partnership' paves way to Super Bowl | COMMENTARY

By John Boyle
jboyle@heraldnet.com

The first time Pete Carroll and John Schneider met, Carroll was the coach of a college juggernaut and Schneider was a young scout trying to get information on USC players.

As is so often the case in those situations, the coach wasn’t that eager to open the doors of his program to an outsider, especially one interested in scrutinizing the lives of the team’s best players.

“I give him crud that he gave me the college-head-coaching handshake,” Schneider said, “You know, ‘Hey did you get everything you need today? OK.’ No, I didn’t get (anything).’”

Neither could have possibly known it at the time, but that would mark the informal beginning of a partnership that has turned the Seahawks into a Super Bowl team four years after the two took over a franchise that had gone 9-23 over the previous two seasons.

When then Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke brought Carroll and Schneider together, he described it as a “fantastic collaboration” that, quite frankly, sounded a little unrealistic in the cutthroat world of the NFL. While most NFL franchises have a coach who answers to a general manager, who in turn answers to an owner, the Seahawks hired Carroll first, gave him the most power, then let the coach help hire the GM. That was the only way Carroll, who essentially had all the power at USC, was going to return to the NFL, and Seahawks owner Paul Allen and Leiweke accepted his terms.

That structure led to plenty of people thinking Schneider, who was 38 at the time of his hiring, would be something of an, um, “Underling?” he interrupts with a laugh. “Not that I remember reading that or anything.”

But instead, it became the perfect partnership that Leiweke envisioned. Prior to the Seahawks overhauling things after the 2009 season, there was, as Leiweke described it, dysfunction in a franchise that didn’t have a coach and front office always seeing eye-to-eye. Mike Holmgren was originally hired as Seattle’s head coach and general manager, then later lost the GM title and ended up in something of an arranged marriage with Tim Ruskell. Holmgren won’t speak poorly of that setup — though Leiweke later would — but the former coach doesn’t deny the importance of a front office where everyone is on the same page.

“It’s absolutely essential if you want to get to the Super Bowl,” said Holmgren, who now works as an analyst for Sports Radio 950 KJR. “I suppose you can do it, but you’re battling things you shouldn’t have to battle. When you have a straight line running from your owner to the president through the general manager through the head coach, and everyone’s pointing in the same direction, and everyone’s rowing the boat in the same direction, you have a tremendous advantage over a lot of teams. ... When you don’t have that, when too many people are worried about who gets the credit or who takes the blame — who drafted that player, he was my player — you have problems. You can see it every year around the league, and those teams just don’t have much of a chance.”

By letting Carroll hand-pick Schneider, a person he could work with to rebuild the Seahawks around his football philosophies, Allen and Leiweke helped create what has turned into the perfect front-office structure for the Seahawks.

“I think it’s absolutely the most crucial relationship and aspect of our program,” Carroll said of his partnership with Schneider. “All of the decisions that we make, we make together, and the fact that we communicate so well and we trust one another so much, it’s helped us throughout.

“We’ve done a lot of stuff, we haven’t just been quietly going through with it, we’ve been very active and we’ll always be that way.”

As Carroll notes, the Seahawks have “done a lot of stuff” since he and Schneider took over in 2010. Between the time they were hired to the end of the 2010 season, the Seahawks made 284 roster transactions. They kept going in 2011, and now, four years into what became almost a complete rebuild, the Seahawks will play in Super Bowl XLVIII with just four players who were on the roster Carroll and Schneider inherited: defensive end Red Bryant, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, center Max Unger and punter Jon Ryan.

Reaching the Super Bowl is a huge accomplishment for any NFL franchise, but doing so four years into the process of so thoroughly tearing things down and building them back up is quite remarkable. Schneider and Carroll both believed this was possible, but also knew it was far from a given that their approach and the somewhat unorthodox structure at the top would produce a Super Bowl appearance.

“I think we believed we could do it, but this league, it’s so hard to win one game,” Schneider said. “... I think we just have a ton of respect for the league and how hard it is to get to where we are right now.”

Yet while Sunday’s Super Bowl is validation of the work Carroll and Schneider have done, it’s hardly the end game. This marriage, as Carroll has described it, is one that both expect to last.

Said Schneider: “We’re trying to get better every single day beyond this game because we want this to be a consistent championship-caliber team.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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