Ahead of the Super Bowl in New York, I asked TE Zach Miller, in his third year as Seahawks tight end after four seasons with the Raiders, what made the Seahawks organization seem different than what he’s seen and heard around the NFL.
“No politics,” he said. “It’s pure competition. Best man wins.”
By politics, he meant not the electoral kind but the kind that typifies most shops, businesses, institutions and sports teams, where individuals or factions vie for favor or advancement within hierarchies.
Miller was a believer in Pete Carroll’s mantra, “always compete.” But he played only three games in 2014 before an injury ended his career.
So he missed out on the unraveling.
At least, the unraveling as described in si.com’s provocative story published Friday, “The dynasty that never was.” That came after the Super Bowl loss to New England, and the Play that Cannot be Unseen.
The notion of no politics apparently evaporated, creating distrust among players.
Based on conversations with a dozen sources, most anonymous, writers Greg Bishop and Robert Klemko posit that coach Pete Carroll had a double standard regarding QB Russell Wilson, exempting him from public criticism for poor play. The change began after a 2014 practice when CB Richard Sherman intercepted a pass and screamed at Wilson, “You f—— suck.’
“He protected him,” the story quotes one player as saying. “And we hated that. Any time he f—– up, Pete would never say anything. Not in a team meeting, not publicly, never. If Russ had a terrible game, he would always talk about how resilient he was. We’re like, what the f— are you talking about?”
The episode is not new, ESPN The Magazine having reported on it earlier. What was new in the story was that Carroll called a meeting of offensive and defensive leaders and asked them to stop the verbal trash talk and abuse when it came to Wilson. Also new is a players’ claim that some of their private conversations that sometimes included Wilson wound up being reported to Carroll. In other words, they suspected he was a snitch.
Without further rehash of the story that you can read yourself, here’s two points worthy of consideration:
1. Many if not most pro sports teams have feuds among players, or between players and management. Some get reported, many are kept quiet by mutual agreement. Also regularly present is a double standard for some stars.
In the case of the Sonics, there was a double standard for Gary Payton and Ray Allen, the latter being inducted Friday in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
So too, for the mid-1990s Mariners of Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson and especially Ken Griffey Jr. , and later Ichiro. Early in his tenure as CEO, Howard Lincoln was so irked at the double standard for Griffey that he cited a famous Japanese proverb about non-conformity: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” It was a part of Lincoln’s eagerness to accept Griffey’s trade demand.
With the Seahawks, double standards existed for players other than Wilson. Both Sherman and RB Marshawn Lynch pulled stunts worthy of being defined as insubordination, but Carroll saw reasons to indulge their actions without suspensions or public rebukes.
The practice by team managements is widespread and historical, going back to Babe Ruth. What isn’t widespread was Carroll’s belief the practice could be overcome. Double standards are often the consequences of success and money. Those who get less of either tend to be jealous of those who get much of both, and managements almost always lean in favor of the stars. Carroll needs to recognize the inevitability of human nature.
In his first go-round with success as a pro coach, it appears Carroll could not talk his way around the demands of stars who wanted him to live up to his stated standard, a standard rarely even attempted (except rhetorically) elsewhere. As a partial result, Lynch and Sherman are gone, Earl Thomas could be, and Wilson remains — the guy who stood by his coach. That is the fundamental relationship for success in the NFL (see Brady and Belichick).
2. There is no coach in the NFL who would treat Wilson as anything other than a teacher’s pet. Some may confront his shortcomings more bluntly, but Wilson brings nearly all the assets necessary to be a franchise QB.
But he is not a flinty hard-ass like Aaron Rodgers, nor a bully like Brady. And maybe Wilson’s too sensitive to in-house criticism. Those are personality issues that do not preclude success, as has been seen.
But in the absence of success, which is the lot of most teams most of the time, the one thing Wilson cannot be is a snitch.
By definition in the NFL, all top quarterbacks are extensions of management. Anyone saying otherwise is naive. The NFL opportunity is at once so great and so fleeting that tensions around club personnel decisions often are nearly unbearable. Nevertheless, veteran players, many of whom have earned their right to speak up about coaches and management, want to know they can trust their leader.
It’s plain that after the tumult of the off-season, the bosses have given over the team to Wilson, which is the biggest responsibility he’s had. And he has to do it differently, which will be his greatest challenge.