By Danny O’Neil
The press conference was more like a very public hug.
“A love fest,” general manager John Schneider said.
That about sums up last week’s announcement of the extension to coach Pete Carroll’s contract with the Seahawks, which isn’t all that uncommon. After all, contracts don’t generally get extended because of hard feelings or a lack of success, and under Carroll, the Seahawks have won a playoff game in three of his four seasons in Seattle and they just claimed the first Super Bowl in franchise history.
That success doesn’t explain the tone of Friday’s press conference. Not entirely.
Just look at San Francisco. The 49ers have had no shortage of recent success. They haven’t won a Super Bowl, but they have reached the conference title game in each of Jim Harbaugh’s three seasons as head coach. Yet it was less than two months ago that there were reports the 49ers had at least listened to a trade proposal from Cleveland for their head coach.
It doesn’t really matter how close the 49ers came to shipping Harbaugh to the Browns. The significance is that things are sufficiently awkward in San Francisco to create an opening for that conversation to occur. The 49ers have a coach with two years left on his contract and a relationship with general manager Trent Baalke that has been characterized as less than completely friendly.
That’s what makes last week’s announcement in Seattle so noteworthy. Not because of how harmonious Carroll and Schneider appeared as they announced the extension, but because of how harmonious that relationship truly is.
It isn’t always this way. In fact, it seldom is when it comes to a general manager and a coach in professional sports, which is only part of the reason that the working relationship between Carroll and Schneider is so truly remarkable.
It wouldn’t have taken much to throw things off balance between the two. Just a little ego here, a pinch of resentment there. It would’ve started out subtle. It usually does. Then it could have grown into an elephant in the room, the coach simmering about the quality of players he’s being provided while the general manager wonders whether the coach is doing enough to develop the talent that has been acquired.
Reports have characterized the relationship between 49ers general manager Trent Baalke (left) and head coach Jim Harbaugh (right) as dysfunctional. (AP)
The working relationship between Carroll and Schneider could have been even more fragile than normal given the way it started. Remember, Carroll was hired first. In fact, he consulted on the hiring of the general manager, which is precisely the opposite of the way it usually works.
The day Schneider was hired, there was an underlying question of just how much control he would have over personnel. Tod Leiweke – the CEO who hired both – repeatedly said the coach and GM would work to come to a consensus on any decisions yet he conceded that in the case of an impasse, Carroll would be the tiebreaker.
Turns out the whole emphasis on who had final say was much ado over nothing given how balanced the working relationship between Carroll and Schneider has been. That has remained true even through the bumps in the road, and there have been bumps. Whether it was the quarterback transition that included the acquisitions of Charlie Whitehurst, Tarvaris Jackson and Matt Flynn before Seattle found Russell Wilson through the imperfection inherent in the draft. E.J. Wilson. Kris Durham. Jaye Howard. Chris Harper. All four players were drafted in the fourth round. None lasted to a second season with the Seahawks.
And through it all, Carroll and Schneider remained partners. That truly is the right term, each reporting up to the CEO and both working toward the same goal of sustained success in a league that seeks parity.
It wouldn’t have taken much to throw things off balance. A little ego. A pinch of resentment.
Yet last week, the two men sat side by side to announce an extension that felt more like a celebration than a news conference. You don’t need to look far to see how difficult that is. Just check second place.