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Clayton: We’re watching Pete Carroll’s best season as Seahawks coach

Pete Carroll's Seahawks could win 10 games in a year they weren't expected to be over .500. (AP)

Tuesday’s hot topic started in the morning with the debate about whether this was Pete Carroll’s best coaching season since coming to the Seahawks.

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When we opened up the phone lines on 710 ESPN Seattle, the reaction was detailed and great. Calls spilled into a second segment with most callers leaning toward this present season being Carroll’s best rather than 2012, when Carroll rode a rookie quarterback (Russell Wilson) into the second round of the playoffs and opened up a five-year stretch of going at least two rounds into the NFC playoffs.

To be honest, I’ve been back and forth on the subject. Carroll’s job this year merits consideration for being the NFL Coach of the Year. He might lose it to Matt Nagy of the Chicago Bears, but turning a re-set roster into a playoff contender creates a strong case for the honor. After listening to the callers and thinking about the subject on a plane coming back from the Monday night game between Houston and Tennessee, I came to a conclusion:

This is Carroll’s best coaching year.

Let’s break it down.

The 2012 season was the culmination of three years of building the roster. A core group was coming together on defense that came to be known as the Legion of Boom. Wilson, a third-round draft pick, beat out veteran Matt Flynn for the starting job and went 11-5. Wilson’s job was made simple because he could depend on running back Marshall Lynch to get yards on the ground. Good running yards set up play-action pass. Play-action passes create explosive plays. Explosive plays help win games, and it goes back to that good running attack, which wears down defenses by the fourth quarter.

This year Carroll didn’t have the luxury of a three-year build-up of the roster. The defense ended up losing five Pro Bowl starters, six if you include linebacker K.J. Wright, who has missed most of the season with a knee injury. The offense lost tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Paul Richardson. Special teams made changes at kicker and punter.

What is the least-told story is the changes on the coaching staff.

By 2012, Carroll assembled what he wanted in his staff. There was stability. This season he brought in six new coaches, including Brian Schottenheimer at offensive coordinator and Ken Norton Jr. at defensive coordinator. He replaced Tom Cable, the offensive line coach he felt strong enough to be his assistant head coach and his possible successor should Carroll retire.

Those outside the organization looked at the departures of the Pro Bowl players and turnover on the coaching staff, and that led them to write off the Seahawks as a four- or five-win team.

Carroll didn’t buy into it.

Last year, Carroll and general manager John Schneider felt they could squeeze out one or two more Super Bowl runs out of the core group that got them to two previous Super Bowls. Kam Chancellor got a contract extension to give the Legion of Boom the idea that their time wasn’t going to be ending and Carroll stuck by his coaching staff.

Behind the scenes, though, things were working against them. Considering all the playoff games the core group sacrificed their bodies to, the players were theoretically a year or two older than their biological age. Because they had been together so long, some players felt Carroll’s method of motivation was becoming stale to their ears. Confidence waned among because they sensed the Super Bowl years were in the past.

Carroll changed all of that.

He went to younger players he could teach. He went back to the running offense for simplicity and re-created a mentality built on power. And while his defensive scheme is the same, the hiring of Norton gave Carroll a motivator of mental toughness on defense and ability to plug in linebackers when necessary.

Norton had made the linebacking core great when he was the Seahawks’ linebackers coach from 2010-14. Now he’s exceeded expectations on how quickly the defense – though not always consistent – has played a decent level in the most troubling year NFL defenses have ever faced with the escalation of offense around the league.

Yes, at 6-5 and with an outside chance of getting to 10 wins and returning to the playoffs, Carroll is having his best coaching season yet in Seattle.

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John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
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