Pete Carroll reportedly coddled Russell Wilson, dooming the Seahawks' dynasty chances
Seattle's dominance this decade yielded just one Super Bowl title
Despite the cliche, winning does not, in fact, fix everything. At least, not when we're talking about the Seattle Seahawks, one of the NFL's best teams for much of this decade. Reports of friction between defensive standouts and the franchise quarterback are nothing new, but a story published Friday on SI.com by Greg Bishop and Robert Klemko offers previously unknown details of coach Pete Carroll's attempt to protect Russell Wilson from his teammates and how it slowly tore the Seahawks apart.
Wilson, a 2012 third-round pick, won the starting job as a rookie and hasn't missed a game since. In seven seasons he's helped the Seahawks to a 65-30-1 regular-season record, and an 8-4 mark in the playoffs that includes two Super Bowl appearances and a Lombardi Trophy. It's hard to find the problem.
But the Seahawks, who missed the playoffs last season for the first time since Wilson arrived, barely resemble those dominant teams. Save an unhappy Earl Thomas, the Legion of Boom is no more and the familiar names that haunted the rest of the NFC West -- Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, DeShawn Shead and Jeremy Lane just to name a few -- are all gone. But Wilson remains and the departed are left to wonder what could have been.
Last summer, Sherman confirmed an incident from 2014 when he intercepted Wilson at practice, tossed the ball back to the quarterback and yelled, "You f------ suck!" According to ESPN's Seth Wickersham, Wilson seemed stunned.
What happened next, according to several players who spoke with SI.com: Carroll called his offensive and defensive leaders into his office and told them they needed to protect Wilson and treat him with kid gloves compared to other teammates.
Those same players had been indoctrinated into the NFL the exact way they were trying to teach Wilson, with merciless competition as the way to bring out the best in each other, by never letting a lapse slide, by talking s--- after interceptions, even in practice. In the meeting, they told Carroll exactly that. "This is making him one of our own," one player said, while several others nodded, according to two who were in the room. "He's got to go through the process."
Carroll disagreed when it came to Wilson.
"He protected him," one Seahawk told SI.com. "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?"
Things got worse from there. In the NFC Championship Game victory over the Packers in January 2015, Wilson was 14 of 29 for 209 yards with 4 interceptions. Wilson also completed consecutive 35-yard passes to win the game in overtime, but was undeserving of all the credit heap upon him afterwards by Carroll, according to some players.
"That's when guys really started to notice the lack of accountability," a one former player said. "Before that, if guys made mistakes or we lost games, guys took responsibility for it, for good or for bad. We started losing that."
This was before Wilson's interception from the 1-yard line in Super Bowl XLIX against the Patriots that robbed the team of back-to-back titles. Some players speculated that Carroll called a pass play -- even with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield -- to insure Wilson won Super Bowl MVP honors.
"That's when some guys started to openly question whether [Carroll] believed in his philosophy," said Avril. "Guys started to be like, do you even believe what you're saying?"
Former defensive tackle Tony McDaniel added: "That one play changed the whole locker room. When Pete would give a speech or try for a heart-to-heart, people just stopped responding. They didn't know who to trust anymore."
The Seahawks are days away from their regular-season opener and the usual on-field questions remain: Can a suspect offensive line protect Wilson? But unlike years' past, the defense is neither established or dominant, which means even more responsibility falls on the quarterback. Given the upheaval and subsequent uncertainty, it's not unreasonable to think that this team could find itself near the bottom of the division by the end of the season.
"When you start losing, people feel like they're losing control of the team," Avril said. "Or they feel like they're losing control of people on the team. You get away with that when you're winning."
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