Salk: What’s source of tension between Seahawks’ Wilson and Carroll? It may hint at path forward

Jan 6, 2022, 12:09 AM | Updated: 1:02 pm
Seahawks Russell Wilson...
Injured Seahawks QB Russell Wilson participates in warmups in front of Pete Carroll in October. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

I have seen messy situations where ego, misunderstanding, power struggles and differences of opinion break apart successful partnerships long before they should be ready to end.

The great Seahawks and Russell Wilson debate: Salk and Heaps face off

I covered Theo Epstein’s initial departure from the Red Sox (in a gorilla suit, no less), before he eventually returned, won another title and then left for good. The battles he had with team president Larry Lucchino were legendary, and ultimately their disagreements over credit (and blame) led to acrimony and divorce. Throw in big personalities (and talents) like Manny Ramírez, Johnny Damon and Pedro Martínez, and I witnessed some really messy breakups!

No one seems to know whether the Seahawks are headed to a separation of that magnitude, but it certainly appears to be an option. And while only Seahawks chair Jody Allen really knows what she wants to do, that hasn’t stopped everyone with a source and a soapbox from offering an opinion (myself included).

Russ stays and Pete goes.

Pete stays and Russ goes.

Pete moves to another role.

Everyone stays!

And when you hear an opinion, often you can surmise which character in the drama has been talking to whom.

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As the Seahawks’ season draws to a close this weekend, I can confidently say that I don’t know what will happen next. But I’ve sure heard plenty of “educated” guesses, both on and off the record.

But what is the crux of the issue? Is it as simple as accountability?

We’ve heard that word often as it relates to Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson. For years, Doug Baldwin and Richard Sherman told anyone who would listen that Russ needed to be held more accountable. Doug tried to do it himself. Sherm tried to tell the media.

So does this stem from Pete believing that Russ couldn’t handle criticism so he shielded him from it? They aren’t likely to talk to me about it, but I think the Stanford Seahawks might agree.

But when has Pete really held anyone accountable?

That was the question Brock Huard asked me Wednesday, and I don’t have a good answer. Certainly not Sherman when he threw a tantrum on the field or on the sideline, or after he publicly criticized the coaching staff for its Super Bowl decision making. As Brock said, accountability hasn’t exactly been the hallmark of the Pete Carroll School of Parenting. He called it more of a Montessori approach.

I think there is some legitimacy to the question of Russ and accountability, though, because twice he was unable to handle it this season.

After a Week 2 overtime loss to Tennessee, Carroll said he would have liked to have seen his quarterback take the checkdowns that were available to him on the final drive.

“I thought Russ took advantage of the game well, until that last sequence we just, we had a play-action pass and I wish we could have controlled the ball and checked the ball down there,” Carroll told me on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Pete Carroll Show. “So, that sequence was the one. I wish Russ could’ve helped us there and just made the completions for us. We needed to just move the ball there and change the field position, at least, in overtime because you’re playing (for a) field goal right there. Unfortunately, we didn’t get it done.”

The response?

“I think what I agree with is trying to find a way to win the game,” Wilson said a couple days later.

He also mentioned that the offense had scored 30 points, the implication being that the loss wasn’t on him or the final drive. Yikes.

Then after the late December loss to the Bears, Carroll delicately said that his quarterback needed to throw the ball away on a late game sack that preceded a missed field goal. He even went so far as to say that the play calling for a three-step drop should have dictated that.

Once again, Russ bristled, saying that he was “trying to play ball like I know how to do and always do and try to move around and just try to see if we can find a touchdown there, especially down in the red zone that close. It’s one of those things that if I can run it in there, if I can slide into the left, slide to the right, boom, some guy (is) open, (it’s a) touchdown. So, that was that situation.”

Not exactly two guys on the same page.

Related: One play shows disconnect between Wilson and Carroll

So obviously accountability plays a role in the tension. But honestly, I think that is more an effect than a cause.

At the core, this stems from a difference of opinion on how to win football games when your defense is struggling.

I know, that feels like kind of a left turn. But hear me out. Here is my theory:

Pete Carroll is a defensive coach. That is in his DNA. It is one of the pillars of his coaching philosophy. He wants his offense to complement his defense. So when he gave into his quarterback and opened up the offense to begin the 2020 season and his defense gave up yards at an historic rate, he saw a connection. He didn’t see it as sustainable, especially after Russ threw seven picks in three losses over a four-game stretch.

To fix the problem, I believe Pete wanted his offense to throttle back. They ran it more, threw it less, took fewer chances, and guess what? The defense improved. You may not think those two things are connected, but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that Pete did.

But Russ likely had a different plan for overcoming the defensive warts: simply score more points! I believe he wanted to just outshoot the other team. After all, it had worked early in the year before the league adjusted and the interception tally grew. He wanted to throw it more!

Here’s the thing – Russ’s solution worked for a while. Until it didn’t. Then Pete tried it his way and it did help the defense and they went on a nice run until the loss to the Rams in the playoffs (in which they turned it over twice on a bad pick and a freak fumble).

If my theory is true, can it be overcome? Can these two who have achieved so much together find a way to continue?

Honestly, I think the best way for them to move forward would be to concentrate on what they are best at. Pete needs to fix this defense. He needs pass rushers to cause pressure that leads to turnovers. He needs an aggressive defense that can be his pride and joy, much like he had at USC and in his early years in Seattle. His philosophy requires it.

And Russ needs to be OK with more resources going to the defense. It might not help him get the gaudy numbers he needs to win awards, but it would complete the Carroll system and win more games.

That’s my theory. Or at least one of them, because there are likely other factors that go into a decade-long relationship potentially careening off the rails. Trust, accountability, ego, money, credit, perceived slights… they all play a role.

But if that fundamental disagreement is the crux of the issue, maybe identifying it could lead to a solution. Because the best outcome is still for these two to stay together and get back to focusing on what they both say they want most: to win championships.

More Seahawks coverage from 710Sports.com

Heaps: Why Wilson and Carroll’s philosophies can still mesh
Hasselbeck: Seahawks’ offensive game plan changed in 51-point outburst
Rost: 3 Seahawks who should be re-signed, 3 who might be on the way out
Heaps: Seahawks should “work hard” to bring back Rashaad Penny as lead RB
Huard: More likely Wagner, not Wilson, played final Seahawks home game

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