Between the tears and thank-you’s, the jokes and trips down memory lane, Pete Carroll sent a message: He was fired.
The 14-year head coach of the Seattle Seahawks spoke publicly less than two hours after the franchise released a statement about its future. Carroll’s remarks were mostly light and respectful but also did not bow to the party line the club had released.
“After thoughtful meetings and careful consideration for the best interest of the franchise,” the Seahawks said in a statement Wednesday, “we have amicably agreed with Pete Carroll that his role will evolve from Head Coach to remain with the organization as an advisor.”
Carroll’s remarks called into question the team’s definition of “amicably,” “agreed” and “evolve.”
Perhaps the Seahawks deserve credit for showing deference, positioning the coach who spearheaded more than a decade of success to exit on his own terms. Carroll won 10 playoff games, two NFC titles and a Super Bowl title during his Seattle tenure. He coached a top-10 scoring defense for six straight years, including four straight seasons with the No. 1 scoring defense in the league. The Legion of Boom was formidable, and Carroll’s culture earned points with players.
But four years after the Seahawks’ last playoff win and on the heels of their second missed postseason in three years, Seattle decided to transition from Carroll’s competitive but no longer top-of-the-league tenure.
As they begin their coaching search, it’s worth asking whether the Seahawks’ blurred relationship with Carroll is in either party’s best interest — and what, if anything, his adviser role will entail. The answer should impact where they go next.
Did Pete Carroll want to stop coaching?
In his opening remarks, Carroll was subtle.
“Following my season-ending meetings with ownership and the planning sessions, it’s clear and for a variety of reasons, we have mutually agreed to set a new course and for the club to take on new leadership,” Carroll said in what felt like a combination of coach speak and lawyer-approved language.
Then he dropped his first hint: “For all my guys, I think you know how much I probably competed for our perspective and our standpoint and all of that. I freaking didn’t back up for an instant.”
At that point, it still seemed plausible that Carroll was ready to hand over the reins. He’s 72 years old. He coached the Seahawks for 14 years. He has collected 27 total seasons as a head coach at the NFL or FBS level, with previous stints at USC, the New England Patriots and the New York Jets. The Seahawks traded away Russell Wilson two seasons ago, won with quarterback Geno Smith to advance to the playoffs last year, then missed the playoffs with a 9-8 2023 bend.
Maybe it was simply time for a smoother step?
“I’m freaking jacked,” Caroll said, dispelling that. “I’m fired up. I’m not tired. I’m not worn down.”
As he fielded questions, the franchise’s story slipped further.
By his second response, Carroll no longer said vaguely that he was competing for his guys. “I competed pretty hard to be the coach,” he admitted, before he eventually “went along with their intentions.”
Carroll confirmed that he did not expect this when he addressed the media Sunday and Monday, nor when he addressed his players Monday. He conceded that his club lost its edge in recent years but also flashed the competitive fire that he has not yet quenched. Teaching football and developing young men still energizes him. “Competing to help each other be great” remains his M.O.
“There’s never enough wins,” Carroll said. “There’s just never enough. … It’s a curse, but it’s also the blessing because it drives you.”
So where will Carroll’s coaching passion drive him next?
If Carroll leaves Seattle, where would he go?
It’s unclear how Carroll’s arrangement with the Seahawks impacts his flexibility to meet with suitors. But Carroll’s comments did not strike the tone of a man who had signed away his coaching rights. When asked about other coaching opportunities, he did not dismiss them.
“Today is about today,” he said. “I don’t know that.”
Carroll also acknowledged that the structure of his new role is unclear.
“We’re gonna figure that out,” he said. “We don’t really know right now. But I’m grateful for the intention that the organization has to try to find something that makes sense.”
The “intention” to “try” sounded like something far from a done deal. It called into question whether that “something that makes sense” will indeed materialize or the Seahawks will instead send their legendary coach on his way to a stop where he can serve in the role he wants.
For Carroll, those opportunities could be broad. Three days after the NFL regular-season finale, the Seahawks are the seventh team to move on from their head coach.
The Carolina Panthers, Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders, Atlanta Falcons, Washington Commanders and Tennessee Titans also need head coaches. Might one, if not more, be interested in interviewing Carroll at the very least?
Then there are defensive coordinator openings. Multiple teams have already requested to interview Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who coordinated Carroll’s Legion of Boom defenses during their consecutive Super Bowl appearances. Might Quinn consider Carroll for a staff?
And how about the crop of young, talented offensive coaches who might be more ready for the schematic element of their promotion than the CEO functions? Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay demonstrated the value of hiring an experienced coordinator when he brought Wade Phillips on board. A coach such as the Detroit Lions’ Ben Johnson or Houston Texans’ Bobby Slowik might stand to similarly benefit from a partner-in-crime who knows the ropes.
Sure, the Seahawks could still benefit from Carroll’s wisdom, experience and perspective. But if they’re intentionally removing him from a head-coaching search and he’s adamant about general manager John Schneider running the team without him (Carroll’s comments about Schneider taking over after 14 years gave the impression of a coach whose hand was heavy in personnel moves), Seattle might be better off paving the way for a landing spot where Carroll’s voice adds rather than disrupts.
And Carroll might be better off pursuing that.
“What’s coming, I don’t know,” he said. “I got no idea. And I really don’t care right now. But I’m excited about it because there’s a lot to learn. There’s a lot to study.
“There’s some great discoveries that are gonna come our way.”
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