Pete Carroll certainly owes Russell Wilson at least a high five.
The Seattle Seahawks are the team to beat in the NFL. They are 11-1 and primed for a deep playoff run. Their ‘Legion of Boom’ defense and record setting “Twelfth Man” have been the talk of the league. Yet the real story is about how an overlooked and undersized quarterback, Russell Wilson, has saved Pete Carrol’s job and his reputation.
It is easy to forget that Carroll was a washout with both the New England Patriots and New York Jets because it was so long ago. Surprisingly it’s even easier to forget that Carroll entered last season with back to back 7-9 records as the Seahawks coach. He employed an aging Matt Hasselbeck and Tavares Jackson as quarterbacks and rolled the dice on Charlie Whitehurst and Matt Flynn becoming future superstars.
With all the different quarterbacks Carroll looked to as his potential starter, Wilson was a mere afterthought as a third round draft pick by the team. Flash forward 18 months, and Carroll’s mismanagement of quarterbacks and struggles in the northeast are all but forgotten and he has Wilson to thank.
The NFL has become such a quarterback-centric league that having a good one can cover up just about any blemish. Matt Ryan makes people forget how bad the Falcons have been this year. Ben Roethlisberger gives Steelers’ fans hope no matter what happens. Aaron Rodgers is able to make up for the fact that his team has no run game, no offensive line and no defense. Wilson is the perfect cover up for Carroll.
Carroll has long been heralded as a college coach, which is not a bad thing by any means. His nine years at USC were nothing short of dominant. No matter how good he could be in the NCAA, he was always told he was not good enough for the NFL. Either he was simply a “recruiting guy” and not an “X’s and O’s guy”, or he was too easy going, or he lacked a workaholic mindset like Bill Belichick or Bill Parcells. After two years with the Seahawks he was well on his way to proving everyone right once again. Only one thing changed: Russell Wilson showed up.
The argument can be made that the best decision that Carroll made in his life was to hold an open competition for the starting quarterback job in 2012. It would have made sense to hand the reins immediately over to the prized off-season signing in Flynn. In fact, the Seattle media was critical for even thinking that Carroll would try to do otherwise. The critics got even louder when Carroll choose Wilson as his opening day starter for 2012. A decision that would go on to save Carroll’s reputation as an NFL head coach.
Anyone watching Wilson play last pre-season could see that he had some semblance of talent. To see what makes him elite takes a closer examination. Wilson has a small stature for a quarterback, standing at only 5’11. He does not have amazing athleticism. He is fast, but not like Robert Griffin III or Michael Vick. He has a strong arm, but it pales in comparison to Joe Flacco or Matthew Stafford. Wilson’s greatest weapon is his mind. He makes proper reads, he knows when to run and when to stay put, he can shift around the pocket seamlessly, or make a decision to throw the ball away when all is lost.
These are not exactly eye-popping traits. In fact the only place one can see that Wilson possesses an above average mind is in his interviews. He knows all the right things to say and comes off with a maturity well beyond his years, something Griffin III and Carolina’s Cam Newton have yet to learn. It may not look sexy, but his abilities have turned the Seahawks, and their coach, from mediocre to monster.
Seattle may very well be the most feared team in the league. A 34-7 destruction of the NFC’s second best team, the New Orleans Saints, certainly has convinced a few people. Yet Carroll’s coaching style is not any different than it was at USC, or New York, or even than it was 2 years ago in the northwest. The difference is Wilson. He has turned Carroll’s reputation from friendly old frat boy into that of a mad scientist who has engineered the best team in the league. The numbers add up:
Carroll’s NFL record before Wilson: 47-49
Carroll’s NFL record with Wilson: 22-6
Those numbers indicate that Carroll and Wilson could be on their way to becoming one of the great coach-quarterback combinations in the league. Which would be a good route to take after saving Carroll’s job in year one and his reputation in year two. They’re on pace to become another Brady-Belichick or Brees-Payton. Going through all the great teams in league history those combinations are obvious:, Starr-Lombardi, Noll-Bradshaw, Montana-Walsh. Could Carroll-Wilson be added to that list someday? Only time will tell, but rest assured that this great pair is anchored by the player, not the coach.
By James Hadley