Rost: What will it take for Seahawks’ Pete Carroll to win Coach of the Year?

Jul 7, 2023, 9:50 AM

Seattle Seahawks Pete Carroll...

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll celebrates a touchdown against the Chargers. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

That Pete Carroll has never won NFL Coach of the Year isn’t news to Seattle Seahawks fans, who have long decried perceived (or real) snubs from a national audience.

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That he wasn’t at least a nominee for 2022 is a bit surprising considering Seattle’s preseason expectations – don’t forget most critics had this team not only finishing last in the division but as one of the worst teams in the league. Instead they went to the playoffs and saw a Pro Bowl season from their new quarterback, Geno Smith, who had been long written off by critics.

Is this the year Carroll finally gets the nod?

If part of winning Coach of the Year is accomplishments and the other narrative, then Carroll most certainly needs two things, and potentially a third.

Win the West

Seattle has won the NFC West five times under Carroll, the most recent in 2020. But with the 49ers as one of the two most dominant teams in the conference and a favorite to repeat in the West, beating San Francisco is the biggest step forward on the field for Seattle. And for an award that’s so heavily based on year-over-year improvement, it’ll take no less than a division title to earn accolades for a team that last year still finished with a winning record and made the playoffs.

That’ll take not just major improvements on the defensive side of the ball (more on that in a moment) but also another Pro Bowl-type season from Smith and continued consistency from their top two receivers, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Turning to the passing offense might feel counterintuitive when the two best teams in your conference boast the league’s two best pass rushes, but it’s also fighting strength with a strength. Even with second-half struggles, Seattle finished as a top-10 scoring offense last year, and two of their best (and most expensive) players are pass catchers.

Improve the Seattle Seahawks’ defense

A recent Pro Football Focus ranking had Carroll just outside the top 10 coaches in the league. The reason, according to the writer, is that Carroll as a defensive coach hasn’t put together a top defense since the final years of the Legion of Boom, and it’s an area Seattle has especially struggled over the past three seasons.

Sure, it feels like moving the goalposts a little. But there’s also some credit to the idea that Carroll’s defenses since 2019 haven’t ranked better than 20th in yards allowed, and unfortunately for him and the Seahawks, it’s been a factor – among others – that’s cost them a return trip to the NFC Championship game. This is despite moving through three defensive coordinators and five years of draft classes. And while Carroll’s teams have finished outside the top 10 in offensive points scored per game just once during that same time frame, former Hawks QB Russell Wilson has received the bulk of the credit for that feat (more on that later).

Last year, Seattle was 30th against the run and 25th in scoring. It’ll be a massive leap to finish top five in either category, but there’s reason to think Seattle can at least improve. Bobby Wagner, who excelled against the run with the Rams last season, returns to hold down the middle of the defense (and even an older Wagner is an improvement for this linebacker group and run defense). The entire defensive line saw a facelift; none of last year’s starters will return and two new free agents, headlined by Dre Jones, have been brought in to bolster the front seven. On the back end, fifth-overall pick Devon Witherspoon will start alongside Tariq Woolen, who last year earned a Pro Bowl nod and was a nominee for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Rewrite the narrative

If this award was solely about winning, Bill Belichick would’ve earned it five more times (though he did win it for the Pats’ undefeated regular season). Instead, this is an award about improvement and story, with the latter being far less obvious but still important.

Brian Daboll won the award last year not just for the improvement we all saw from New York, but because he helped lead the Giants to the postseason for the first time since 2016 – and because he was the fourth Giants head coach in that same timeframe.

If Sean Payton takes the Broncos to the playoffs this year, he’ll undoubtedly be the front runner. But that wouldn’t only be because of Denver’s postseason drought; it would also be because making the postseason with Wilson under center would mean finding a resurgence for Wilson’s career in his first year as Broncos coach, adding to his own legend and legacy as a QB-savvy offensive mind.

Carroll has been the winningest coach in Seahawks history, one of the winningest coaches over the last decade in the NFL, and has brought this team fairly consistently to the postseason. That deserves more recognition. But fair or not, he’s not always gotten that credit, and that’s in part due to a defensive coach having a Hall of Fame quarterback for 10 years.

Say what you will about Wilson now, but he’s the most prolific passer in franchise history, and the version Seattle saw for 10 years was far superior to the one Denver and the rest of the NFL was treated to last season. For years, Wilson’s accomplishments superseded Carroll’s – rather than Carroll receiving credit for his program’s stability, the popular story instead became that Carroll’s offensive philosophy was holding Wilson and the team back. It was a narrative so convincing that even Wilson seemed to believe it, eventually moving on to another team where his philosophy could win out.

Wilson struggling last season in Denver certainly dispelled some of that narrative. Carroll succeeded not only without Wilson, but Wilson failed without Carroll. But to cement Carroll as a candidate in 2023, that story needs to take another step forward: Yes, Carroll needs to prove that his coaching – his philosophy, his program, his players – can return the Seahawks to a dominant team. But it sure would help his case if Wilson didn’t find his way back to dominance without his former head coach.

For more on this argument, check out the conversation from Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy in the podcast at this link or the video near the top of this post.

More on the Seattle Seahawks

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Rost’s Seahawks Q&A: Adams’ impact, Eagles comparison, more
Bumpus: Where Seattle Seahawks must play younger players
Bumpus: The formation the Seahawks should use on offense in ’23
Which OLB is Seattle Seahawks’ long-term future opposite Nwosu?

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