One of the hooks upon which Pete Carroll’s detractors like to hang some contempt was his 2009 public disagreement about whether his quarterback, Mark Sanchez, should turn pro after his junior season at USC. Since Sanchez is quarterbacking the 9-3 Philadelphia Eagles, who host the Seahawks Sunday, the matter has come up for review.
The outcome: Sanchez still likes Carroll. Carroll still likes Sanchez. And by Sunday afternoon, one friend is going to be pissed at the other. Again. For a bit.
“I love Coach Carroll — always have and I always will,” said Sanchez in a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “I think he’s one of the best, not just coaches, but people I’ve been around.”
Said Carroll: “We just had a difference of opinion. He was awesome for us. I was very close to his family at the time. I was representing an opinion that was coming out of the household. They could see reasons for him to stay. He was very determined.
“It had nothing to do with our relationship. I love Mark. He’s a great kid. I’m close to him, follow him and root for him.”
So much for trying to ignite another Jim Harbaugh-style rivalry from Carroll’s college past. The wood is too damp.
“We just disagreed and it became something that seemed bigger than it really was,” Sanchez said. “We just disagreed about one thing, and that’s OK. We disagreed about a lot of stuff over the years, and that’s fine. There were never any hard feelings.
“He never wished me ill will or hoped I’d play poorly. He just expressed his opinion. I made up my mind and knew what I wanted to do and that was it.”
In his sixth pro season, a final football judgment can’t be rendered on Sanchez’s decision, although financially it was a no-brainer.
Going pro early looked very wise early. The New York Jets traded up to take him fifth in the first round of the 2009 draft, one pick behind the Seahawks, who considered taking Sanchez to succeed Matt Hasselbeck. But then-GM Tim Ruskell opted for a can’t-miss linebacker from Wake Forest, Aaron Curry.
The Jets reached the AFC championship in each of the first two seasons with Sanchez as starter. He became only the second rookie QB in NFL history to win two playoff games.
But after a playoff record of 4-2 as a starter, his star began to fade. The Jets finished 8-8 and 6-9 in his starts the next two seasons. Sanchez (known as “The Sanchize”), took much criticism.
In the 2013 preseason, the Jets put him in a game behind a second-string O-line. He injured his shoulder sufficiently to require surgery that ended his season. The Jets drafted QB Geno Smith and thought so little of Sanchez that they released him in March, signing instead ex-Eagles QB Michael Vick to back up Smith. That hasn’t worked so well for the 2-10 Jets.
The Eagles picked up Sanchez as cheap insurance for Nick Foles, the former University of Arizona quarterback who had come to be the darling of coach Chip Kelly’s innovative offense he adapted from his days as king of the Oregon Ducks empire.
But Foles broke his collarbone in week 9 against Houston. Sanchez jumped in and helped beat the Texans 31-21. Then on Monday Night Football in his first start since 2012, Sanchez threw for 332 yards and two TDs as the Eagles beat Carolina 45-21, the first of three wins in his four starts.
But Sanchez, 28, hasn’t faced a defense playing as well as Seattle’s, one that has succeeded before against the up-tempo style that Kelly loves, as well as against the read-option, which the Seahawks pick at every week in practice. The Seahawks’ goal is to slow the Eagles’ running game sufficiently to put the game in the hands of Carroll’s former star.
Via Carroll and via TV, Sanchez knows the Seahawks’ nature well. At a family gathering, he watched the Super Bowl.
“I remember in the first quarter, I looked at my dad when we were watching that game and said, ‘Dad, (the Seahawks) are going to blow the doors off of this game,'” he said. “They might rout (the Broncos). It’s going to get ugly.
“Sure enough, my dad said, ‘No, they’re going to come back, it’s going to be a tight one down the stretch.’ I said, ‘I don’t know, man. They’re too excited, they’re too energetic, they’re having too much fun, and they’re too prepared — they’re just going to go bananas.’”
Bananas, they went. Bananas, they hope to go again. With two wins in five days over NFC West teams with questionable quarterbacking, the 8-4 Seahawks’ defense has rediscovered their power to pressure. Getting to Sanchez will be the matchup of the game.
However it turns out, it seems unlikely to dent the admiration Sanchez has for Carroll. In the Jan. 1, 2oo9, Rose Bowl, Sanchez’s last game as a Trojan, he threw for 413 yards and five touchdowns in a 38-24 win over Penn State. He was the game’s MVP. What he remembers was a timeout at the sideline.
“Pete grabbed me and told to me to kind of take a second and step back and look around,” Sanchez said. “(He said) this is everything we talked about when we recruited you, is it not? Is this awesome or what? Is this one of the coolest things ever?’ I was in the middle of a drive, in the middle of a timeout, we’re trying to convert a third down and I’m like, ‘Coach, we have to go! Man, what are you talking about?’
“This guy is crazy, but that’s Pete. I mean, that’s the way he is. He truly enjoys it. He wants you to be successful and he loves to teach you how to do it. It was just so much fun.”
The Seahawks under Carroll know about fun stuff. But the plan Sunday is to create some disagreement, again, between Carroll and Sanchez.