DANNY ONEIL

Pete Carroll’s approach works for Seahawks, but Richard Sherman still undermined him with criticism

Dec 16, 2016, 10:34 AM | Updated: 2:07 pm
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The Seahawks led the NFL in penalties. Pete Carroll is taking it upon himself to fix the issue. (AP)
(AP)

Richard Sherman had every right to express his opinion about his team passing on the 1-yard line.

He was wrong to do it. At least he was if you care anything about the dynamics of a team. Wrong when he began to shout on the sidelines after the offense threw a pass from the opponent’s 1-yard line, and even more wrong as he sat in front of his locker and did everything up to and including a reference to the most painful loss in the franchise’s history to express his dislike of the decision to throw a pass at an opponent’s goal line.

That’s the easy part, though, drawing a line in the sand that most people understand intuitively. Pointing out the mistakes of others is toxic to a team environment. It is divisive. It makes others defensive. It invites someone to point out that while that goal-line interception was Seattle’s final offensive play in the Super Bowl loss to New England, Sherman was on the field for a defense that allowed Tom Brady to complete 14 of 16 passes in the fourth quarter for two touchdowns of that game.

See, it’s kind of dicey, right? The problem when you a point a finger on a team is that three fingers will be pointing right back at you.

O’Neil: Ability for Seahawks to criticize is part of their identity

The tough part is what to do now. Specifically, what Pete Carroll does now. Not just with Sherman specifically, but how he keeps a headstrong player within the confines of a team. Because it’s not just Sherman. It was Marshawn Lynch last season, and it will be the next player who feels emboldened enough within the environment that Carroll has created in Seattle’s locker room to challenge the structure of the team.

That’s what Sherman did. He insisted he knew better than the coaches. He did it first on the sidelines, which is more understandable when you consider the emotions of the game in general and a player like Sherman specifically. And then Sherman did it again in the locker room after the game, openly and calmly discussing his belief that the team should not throw the ball when at the opponent’s 1-yard line.

“I’m upset about us throwing from the 1,” Sherman said after the game. “I’d rather do what most teams would do and make a conscientious decision to run the ball straight up the middle.”

This is the tradeoff for Carroll’s approach. He has cultivated an atmosphere in which players are encouraged to express themselves. They are empowered, and this is not because of lax discipline or being a players’ coach or anything like that. It’s because Carroll believes that allowing players to express themselves and embracing their personalities you get more out of that player.

You know what? He’s right. His nine years at USC speak to that. So do five straight playoff berths in Seattle. In fact, Sherman’s pro career speaks to the power of Carroll’s approach. Sherman has blossomed here in Seattle, becoming a better player in the NFL than he ever was at Stanford. Seattle got four Pro Bowl seasons from Lynch, who had so thoroughly antagonized his previous employer that the Bills gave him away for two late draft picks.

The question isn’t whether Carroll’s approach works. It does.

But the flip side is that when you empower players to express themselves, you can’t always control how, when and where they express it, let alone how they choose to convey that message.

And that’s how you get Lynch turning toward Seattle’s bench as he lined up for a play, extending his middle finger after the team called a pass at the goal line. We laughed at that one.

Or Doug Baldwin celebrating a touchdown in the Super Bowl by miming a bowel movement. We all cringed there.

And on Thursday night’s prime-time game you had Sherman not only yelling at the head coach on the sideline to express his preference that the team not risk an interception at the goal line, but saying he had every right to do so after the game.

Don’t expect Carroll to come out with any line-in-the-sand type statements. He’s not going to suspend Sherman, and he probably won’t go too far in publicly criticizing him.
Carroll doesn’t coach that way. He doesn’t govern through fear, enforcing rules to emphasize his control.

But he does have rules, the first of which is to protect the team, something that was undermined by Sherman’s actions during the game and his words after it.

This is Carroll’s challenge. Not just with Sherman, but going forward. In college, those emboldened players naturally cycle out. They graduate. They enter the draft early.

In the NFL, you have to find ways to keep those players within the team structure. That is Carroll’s challenge going forward not just with Sherman, but with the next player who feels emboldened by success and achievement and ego to not just think he knows best, but to say he does.

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Pete Carroll’s approach works for Seahawks, but Richard Sherman still undermined him with criticism