Pete Carroll has already stated his primary goal to get his fallen Seahawks back soaring in 2018: Run the ball, like his teams always used to.
So will he make perhaps his biggest move to do that, replacing fired Darrell Bevell as Seattle’s new offensive coordinator, by hiring a coach who’s done it for him, his way, before?
Two NFL coordinators have executed Carroll’s philosophy in the past: Steve Sarkisian of the Atlanta Falcons and John Morton with the New York Jets.
Will they next do it for him in Seattle?
On Wednesday, the day Carroll fired Bevell after seven seasons as his Seahawks play caller, Falcons coach Dan Quinn attempted to head off immediate speculation Sarkisian would be reuniting with Carroll. Quinn, Carroll’s defensive coordinator with the Seahawks through the 2014 season, told reporters in Georgia there is “zero chance” Sarkisian leaves the Falcons to join the Seahawks’ staff.
That could either be definitive, or mathematically incorrect. Quinn, Sarkisian and the Falcons are preparing to play an NFC playoff game at Philadelphia Saturday. Quinn absolutely could, and should, be compartmentalizing a potential issue while Atlanta’s season plays on. Don’t be so sure the Seahawks and Carroll have stopped thinking about Sarkisian as a candidate, merely because of Quinn’s words.
And don’t be sure Carroll and Sarkisian haven’t discussed the Seahawks’ opening--or, before Wednesday, potential opening. They have been in constant contact since Sarkisian left being Carroll’s coordinator at USC in 2009 to take the University of Washington head job.
Carroll gave Sarkisian his first coaching gig, as an offensive assistant at USC from 2001-04 on Carroll’s first Trojans staff. Sarkisian was Carroll’s offensive coordinator at USC before Sarkisian became a first-time head coach at UW in 2009. Carroll followed him to Seattle to take over the Seahawks a year later. Again, the two have remained in contact through Sarkisian’s tumultuous time since.
In February 2016 at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, months before Sarkisian returned from help for alcohol abuse to become an offensive assistant at the University of Alabama, Carroll said this of his former USC play caller: “I’ve always thought of real highly of his coaching ability.”
I asked Carroll that day if he would someday like to put Sarkisian on his Seahawks staff.
“I’m not going to go there right now,” Carroll said then.
Will he go there now?
Morton, 48, just finished his first season as the Jets coordinator. His offense was so talent-deficient in so many areas, an accurate coaching assessment may be difficult.
This link, though, is not hard to assess: Morton was Carroll’s final offensive coordinator at USC. Carroll promoted him from the Trojans’ receivers coach to succeeded Sarkisian as play caller, when Sarkisian left for UW. Carroll then left a year later, in 2010, to take over the Seahawks. Morton’s lone season calling plays for Carroll and SC was 2009, quarterback Matt Barkley’s freshman season. Those Trojans began the season ranked third in the nation, then got upset by Sarkisian’s Huskies in Seattle and eventually finished 9-4 with a win in the Emerald Bowl.
Morton first called plays for Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego in 2005. He and Harbaugh left the Oakland Raiders’ staff for Harbaugh’s initial head-coaching job at USD.
A large reason Carroll promoted Morton to replace Sarkisian as USC’s play caller in 2009 was because of Morton’s background and belief in Carroll’s balanced offense, one that always has featured the run as much or more than the pass. At least it had, until the last two seasons. The Seahawks’ malfunctioning offensive line and ineffective, injured running backs made consistently rushing the way Carroll wanted in 2016 and ‘17 not just inefficient but darn near impossible.
“There's a certain blueprint, a certain philosophy that they've had here for years," Morton told the Los Angeles Times in late 2008 of Carroll’s system, then at USC. “They've been successful doing it. I've learned it. And there's no reason to change anything.”
That same blueprint is what Carroll is intending to reestablish in the Seahawks’ offense this year.
Another one-time Jets coordinator is reportedly a candidate for the Seahawks’ job: Brian Schottenheimer.
Schottenheimer, 44, is the son of former Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer. Brian was the St. Louis Rams’ offensive coordinator in 2012-14 and the Jets’ from 2006-11. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport wrote the Colts’ quarterback coach the last two seasons “will be among the names in the mix.”
Of the nine offenses Schottenheimer has coordinated, two have finished in the top five in the NFL in rushing. That is what Carroll’s Seahawks teams did from 2012-15 while going to two Super Bowls. Those two top-five rushing offenses Schottenheimer had were in 2009 and ‘10. His Jets played in the AFC championship game each of those seasons, behind Thomas Jones’ 1,400 yards rushing in 2009 and LaDainian Tomlinson’s 914 yards with Shonn Greene’s 766 a year later. Schottenheimer’s offense ran it a whopping 607 times in 2009, the most in the league. The only other NFL team in the last 31 years to run the ball 600 times in a season is the 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers (618 rushes).
The Seahawks have never in their 42 years of existence rushed 600 times in a season. Not even when “Ground” Chuck Knox was their coach in the 1980s.
Schottenheimer’s quarterback those two, top seasons of 2009 and ‘10 with the Jets? Mark Sanchez. Sanchez was Carroll’s quarterback at USC from 2006-08.
One available NFL coordinator who has featured the run--and in a similar way to how the Seahawks did during their five consecutive seasons in the playoffs that ended two weeks ago: Mike Shula. The Panthers’ fired him as their offensive coordinator this week.
For five seasons the 55-year-old son of Hall of Fame Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Colts coach Don Shula called read-option plays for running and passing quarterback Cam Newton in Carolina, including in Super Bowl 50 two seasons ago. Those read-option plays are what Russell Wilson used to run, such as for 849 yards and six touchdowns in 2014. Those remain Seattle rushing records for a quarterback. That season remains the last time the Seahawks played in the Super Bowl.
That year, Seattle played as Carroll wants to again in 2018. The offense controlled games with a punishing running attack that was No. 1 in the NFL in rushing at 173 yards per game. Marshawn Lynch was the key. His inside runs made Wilson’s read-option plays far more dangerous and difficult for defenses to read. Those runs set up Wilson’s play-action passes for 3,475 yards in the air. And the Seahawks came within 1 yard in the final seconds of Super Bowl 49 against New England of winning a second consecutive NFL championship.
Shula and the Panthers got to the Super Bowl the year after that, with the league’s second-ranked rushing offense. Jonathan Stewart of Lacey and Timberline High School led Carolina’s inside running game with 989 yards. That set up Newton to rush outside and all around for another 636 yards and 10 touchdowns. Newton also threw for 3,837 yards and 35 touchdowns, and the Panthers beat Seattle 31-24 in the playoffs on their way to Super Bowl 50.
One potentially coveted coordinator Seattle can apparently strike from its list of candidates: Gary Kubiak, the coach that beat Shula and the Panthers in that Super Bowl. On Thursday I wrote about Broncos executive vice president John Elway in the last couple weeks sweetening Kubiak’s role as an advisor to him with Denver.
“John Elway formalized his role far beyond what it had been. And I don’t know that there is going to be any going back on that,” CBS Sports’ national NFL writer Jason La Canfora told me when I talked to him on Seattle’s KJR-AM radio Thursday.
La Canfora wrote in November Kubiak may have wanted to return to coaching in 2018 after a year away to be an NFL coordinator in 2018.
Carroll’s last two coordinator hires were younger assistants. He promoted Kris Richard to defensive coordinator before the 2015 season when Richard was the 35, the youngest defensive coordinator in the league. And seven years ago he hired the then-41-year-old Bevell. With no apparent candidates current on his Seattle staff, don’t rule out Carroll going young and off the radar with a another first-time coordinator.
Younger Philadelphia quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is a chic coordinator candidate because of what he’s done the last two seasons in developing Carson Wentz into a NFL MVP candidate in 2017 who led the Eagles to the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, before Wentz’s season-ending knee injury last month. DeFilippo, a 39-year-old native of Youngstown, Ohio, is reportedly at the end of his Eagles contract. He is so coveted he has interviewed with Arizona about its vacant head-coaching job, but Minnesota coordinator Pat Shurmur is considered the Cardinals’ top choice for that.
Another NFL coordinator became available Friday when Buffalo fired Rick Dennison after the Bills made the playoffs but finished 29th in the league in offense. Like Morton, Dennison had just one season in his most recent job. Dennison, 59, has had two tries as Denver’s offensive coordinator through 2016 and one with Houston, mostly under the run/balance-minded Kubiak. Dennison, a linebacker for the Broncos from 1982-90, has no obvious ties to Carroll.
Get ready for all sorts of rumors and names for the Seahawks’ coaching openings at offensive coordinator and line coach, in the wake of Carroll also firing Tom Cable Wednesday. ‘Tis the season in the NFL for agents floating supposed interest in coaching clients, often to try to generate some that may or may not exist.
Given where the Seahawks have stalled and where Carroll wants to get them going again, the candidates that have run in their resumes are the ones to watch most.