RENTON When it happens again -- if the Seahawks blow a coverage in its secondary again, and judging by recent seasons, they will -- Richard Sherman’s coach wants him to be better next time.
"Yeah, I would," Pete Carroll said. "Yes."
Carroll’s been coaching football since Richard Nixon was president.
Yet the 64-year-old Seahawks head man had never seen anything like the riotous scene he watched Sunday on his own sideline: Sherman screaming at his coaches and teammates over a blown coverage for a touchdown by Falcons All-Pro receiver Julio Jones; then the three-time All-Pro cornerback’s defensive mates hopping up and down and chanting en masse around him, trying with minimal success to get Sherman back with them in time for the Seahawks’ rally past Atlanta.
"No, that was a unique one," Carroll said Monday. "That was pretty unique."
A day after the big win, Washingtonians from Ritzville to Renton -- including inside team headquarters here -- were still talking about Sherman’s sideline scene. Carroll made it topic in a team meeting Monday.
At one point Earl Thomas, a co-star in Sunday’s win, grabbed behind Sherman’s ears and then his dreadlocked hair on the sideline in attempt to get his fellow defensive back refocused.
It was not a good look.
But here’s the thing: Carroll wouldn’t want it any other way.
This is the team environment he created. Players get wide leeway and autonomy -- and with it, ownership and pride -- to compete and sometimes, yes, combat, to create. And to excel, as the last four playoff seasons with two Super Bowl appearances and the franchise’s first NFL title show.
On some teams, what Sherman did would have gotten him benched, at least for a play or three, or fined. Or both.
Not on Carroll’s.
"I don’t know about the risk,” the coach said of allowing such behavior, “but the reward is you get to find a way to help guys play the best they can possibly play and that they can find stuff that they can feed off one another and that allows them to win for a really long time. It allows them to find what there reaches are for them that they can approach. I don’t see any risk at all.
"I’m fine operating like this. It gives us a chance to find out how good you can be as a group. Without it, you can still do good, but you don’t get familiar with that space and what that mentality is like. … You’re trying to find out how long can you stay on it? It takes vulnerability. It takes the openness. It takes the experience and the ability to communicate through the moments to stay there. It’s never going to be the same all the time. It was a great example (Sunday).
"It was a beautiful thing. We are stronger for that."
Following Sunday’s win the NFC West-leading Seahawks (4-1) used the same buzzword to explain Sherman’s blowup: "passionate."
In a view afforded those who come out of such turmoil as winners, the Seahawks are championing the incident as a unifying boost for the rest of this season.
"He got really emotional and he reacted really strongly. And our guys brought him back in," Carroll said. "He was just being competitive and all that and he didn't want bad things to happen, so he responded."
His coach acknowledged Monday that Sherman "went over the top" in his screaming at defensive coordinator Kris Richard, just about every player he saw -- and even inactive strong safety Kam Chancellor, the captain and usual chief communicator on the defense. For a brief moment Sherman and Chancellor, in a hoodie, were nose to nose in front of the bench.
All this happened during Sunday’s third quarter while Atlanta was outscoring Seattle 21-0 to take a 24-17 lead.
That clip was just a small part of the larger, longer roar.
It was a remarkable sight, in plain view. The Seahawks’ highest-salaried player in 2016 – Sherman is getting a guaranteed $12,569,000 million in base pay this season – upbraiding Coach Richard, the out-of-uniform Chancellor, Thomas, Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett, linebacker Bobby Wagner, fellow cornerback DeShawn Shead and everyone else in his path. The meltdown came after Jones got free and pulled Atlanta to within 17-10.
"But what was fantastic was the way our guys took care of him," Carroll said of Sherman and his teammates, not the coaches. "And they were best suited to make sure, to make sense and to get him right. And we got back. It took us a while."
At one point during the rant, Carroll went up to Sherman on the sideline and mostly listened. After a moment, the coach walked away and left Sherman to himself. Then Carroll returned to talk to Sherman calmly minutes later.
"It just wasn’t the right time. I needed maximum communication opportunities. I needed to cash in when things needed to get done," Carroll said. "I know Richard really well and we have been together through a lot of stuff, years and years we have been doing stuff together. And I love the guy and believe in him to the end. And I think I have a sense for him.
"There ain’t nothing we can’t handle. We can figure it out.’’
Carroll said he met with his players Monday and talked about the Sherman incident.
"What I told the guys today was there's going to always be things that happen and we're going to learn if we can from the experiences that we have and those that we draw from and get smarter and more aware, we're going to get better," Carroll said.
"It wound up being an extraordinary positive for our team that we could hang through the rigors and the challenges against a terrific team and find a way to win a football game."
So what exactly set Sherman ablaze?
In simplest terms from talking to him, other players on the field at the time and coaches, Sherman was in one coverage while the rest of the secondary was playing another near the goal line.
Atlanta sent two receivers to Sherman’s side, the left side of the Falcons offense. Sherman was lined up on receiver Austin Hooper outside, with fill-in strong safety Kelcie McCray lined up in the slot on Jones. At the snap Hooper slanted inside then went back out; Sherman tracked him there. Jones ran what amounted to a fade route, angling up the field beyond Hooper’s short route and outside deep down the left sideline. McCray stayed short, watching Sherman cover the far-less-dangerous Hooper. Jones ran free behind them all for the 36-yard touchdown.
Carroll would not say who was wrong on the play.
"What was supposed to happen and what I’m going to tell you that happened was, we misplayed the play," the coach said. "Game-plan stuff entered into that. We had prepared for some things to happen that happened just like we thought and we didn’t play it the way we thought we would and it didn’t come out right."
Sherman said after the game McCray, playing safety because Chancellor got a strained groin in practice Thursday, didn’t get a last-second audible to change the coverage. Sherman and Carroll both said it was a Falcons formation and a corresponding call for which the defense had prepared all last week.
"What was clear to me was that Kam is a big factor. We don’t see that stuff (with him)," Carroll said -- though a similar malfunction happened on Carolina’s winning touchdown in the final seconds of its regular-season game at Seattle last season.
"He has such a connection and the skill in communicating and all that. Kelc(ie) couldn’t have that. He hasn’t played enough with our guys. He’s been there, but it’s not the same. So we have to adapt to that. Kelc played really well. He did a nice job in the game. But still, the communication is not as good. Otherwise, it wouldn’t matter if you played together for five years. It matters."
Carroll also mentioned last week’s pregame hype of Sherman versus Jones, All-Pro versus All-Pro.
"He’s human, too," Carroll said of Sherman. "He was keyed up and he wanted to do great. He wanted us to do great and he wanted to do his part in all of that. That’s just the response that happened."