Can Pete Carroll wield the stick?
We’re about to find out because no sooner had the 2017 season ended that the Seahawks coach was vowing to cut down the number of penalties committed by his team.
“That’s a major aspect of us to change,” he said. “I’m clear on how I’m going to go about that. It’s going to start way back to the first day, April 16. We’ll make a change there. It has to happen.”
That sure sounds like a sneak preview of Carroll’s starring role in “The Disciplinarian,” in which an endlessly positive coach is tasked with reforming a group of emotional and aggressive young men who have a tendency to color outside the lines of the NFL rulebook.
The Seahawks were penalized 148 times in 2017, most ever for the franchise. They were docked 1,342 yards, which was the second-most penalty yards levied against any team in NFL history. No sooner had the season ended that Carroll expressed remorse over that trend.
“Probably my biggest regret of the season is how the penalties factored into our season,” he said.
That sounds good and all. It’s certainly what you’d expect a coach to say.
But the penalties aren’t exactly new for Seattle. Seattle has ranked among the 10 most-penalized teams in the league for each of the past seven seasons. They’ve led the league in penalties in three of those years, including both seasons in which they went to the Super Bowl.
I’ve come to see the penalties not as the result of a particularly lawless brand of coaching, but more as an indirect result of Carroll’s desire to get his team playing at a certain emotional pitch. He wants his team emotional. He wants it aggressive, and when you get the motors revving that high, there’s an increased likelihood that someone is going to boil over. Or jump offsides. Or grab and hold.
We tend to characterize penalties as being the result of stupidity or carelessness and that’s wrong. A guy doesn’t jump offsides because he’s aloof or unfocused. He jumps offsides because he’s trying to get a headstart on his opponent. A player doesn’t hold because he doesn’t care. He holds because he doesn’t want his opponent to beat him.
Penalties were the cost of doing business the way Carroll wanted his team to play, and for years, the Seahawks have been able to succeed in spite of those penalties. In 2017?
“This year it was more of a factor,” Carroll said. “Our margin wasn’t such that we could endure it as well.”
Now, Carroll will set about trying to curb the penalties. Instead of a carrot, Carroll must wield the stick. He must teach restraint, and while there’s plenty of discipline required to play for the Seahawks whether it’s fulfilling assignments on defense or running the correct pattern on offense, the desire to curb penalties will show a different side of Carroll as a coach.
Instead of cutting it loose, Seattle’s boundlessly energetic coach is going to be telling his players to rein it in.