Probably the most complicated relationship over the past 25 years in Seattle sports after George Karl and Gary Payton is Pete Carroll and Richard Sherman. Both relationships were notably responsible for great team success, but the tension between coach and the genius talent eventually wore out each side.
Asked once how Karl, the over-wrought Sonics coach, managed to keep the train on the tracks with his volatile All-NBA point guard, assistant coach Dwane Casey grinned.
“Gary actually thinks,” said Casey, “George is crazy enough to kill him.”
As you may have guessed, that is not the same approach Carroll has with Sherman. Carroll prefers to kill Sherman with kindness.
Carroll spent a good chunk of his Wednesday presser at team HQ answering questions about his relationship with Sherman, who returns to the Clink Sunday (1:25 p.m., FOX) with his new team, the 2-9 San Francisco 49ers.
When he thought the questions had ended, Carroll, in his first extensive conversation about why in March he fired injured his All-Pro cornerback and one of America’s most high-profile athletes, offered self-analysis of his performance.
So,” he said, smiling. “Pretty good love fest for Sherm.”
Indeed, Carroll took a high road worthy of the Himalayas. He offered admiration for Sherman’s talent and intellect, respect for his candor and independence and certainty that Seahawks fans will offer Sunday the same affection for Sherman that he was offering.
Somewhere, Karl just threw up.
And probably a lot of people around the Seahawks felt a little something in the back of their throats.
There’s no way a coach of Carroll’s achievement lets go for nothing a player of Sherman’s game-changing talent unless he finds him incorrigible and irredeemable.
At the same time, Carroll has a game to win Sunday.
The mere thought of the dissolving 49ers, who have lost nine in a row to Seattle, pulling off the upset, perhaps including a Sherman pick-six of his former locker-room rival, Russell Wilson, likely has Carroll soaking the nightly sheets more than any other game this season.
A 49ers win would topple everything Carroll has been building with his re-made roster and coaching staff. Worse, it would help validate Sherman’s post-waiver claim that the Seahawks “lost their way” in terms of talent evaluation, and that Carroll’s message among veterans had worn thin.
It would also renew more scrutiny of Wilson, whom Sherman and a few others contended was not as accountable for his errors, thereby discrediting Carroll’s big fundamental that says pure competition is the only thing that determines opportunity with the Seahawks.
There’s no way that Carroll was going to add to Sherman’s fire by offering an honest assessment. Instead, he used words such as “brilliant . . . amazing . . . beautiful” to describe Sherman.
Except there was one answer that offered something more than a threat of tooth decay.
Asked how much is too much, Carroll said, “With an individual player, when it’s no longer about the team. When the team is no longer the essence, then it’s time to move on. That’s where the limitations come in. They (no longer can be) about the cause, the brotherhood. There’s a time you have to move on.”
Then he paused and said, “I’m not saying that’s what happened with Sherman at all. (But) that’s when I draw the line. As long as we’re all in this together, we’re good.”
Although Sherman will not see it the same way, his increasingly selfish actions were a breach with which Carroll no longer cared to contend. Sherman’s nationally televised sideline blowups over coaching decisions, his threat to have a reporter’s credentials revoked, and his skepticism about Wilson’s accountability all were episodes that suggested Sherman believed himself bigger than the team.
Asked about Sherman’s “losing their way” comment, Carroll deftly dismissed it.
“Sherm had to do what he had to do,” he said. “He had to change allegiance and get tuned into his new team. Whatever took place was OK. I know him way differently than you guys probably think you do. I think the world of him.
“When he was here, he might have said things that I didn’t agree with, and had to work through. He’s his own man, a stud of a guy when he was here. Whatever came out in the transition, came out. I could care less.”
I tend to think Carroll does think the world of Sherman the person. I also think he will like him more after their careers are done. Hey, Karl and Payton get along now.
Asked what he’s learned about handling superstar players, Carroll said, “Everybody deserves everything I got when they’re here: To help them, see them, understand them, to learn them, to love ’em up, kick ’em in the ass. Whatever it takes to help them be the best they can be. I don’t know any other way to do it.
“When a guy has that much to offer, the exchange was rich. Creativity, being strong and true. I don’t see it like (giving slack) at all. I just give the guy space to be who he is. If you do that, you get a chance to find their greatness. If you don’t, you come up short.”
It would have been easier in Seattle had Sherman offered up a little humility to go along with the aggression. Longtime teammate and Sherman friend Bobby Wagner was asked whether he could recall Sherman being wrong.
“No,” he said sardonically. “He’s not wrong. If he says the sky is purple, it’s purple.”
Sherman is out to prove he was right about the Seahawks losing their way. And Carroll is just as determined, for once, to prove him wrong.
If you were considering Sunday’s game against a hind-end team was something of a given, you may want to re-consider. Two of the strongest personalities in Seattle sports history are about to have it out.