It’s been a messy week for the Seattle Seahawks. Sports Illustrated released a long, detailed story about how coach Pete Carroll’s favoritism toward quarterback Russell Wilson fractured the team and broke up what could have been a dynasty. It features a number of anonymous former and current Seahawks players talking about just how deep the locker room rift was, and how that led to the overhauled Seahawks. Carroll, though, isn’t about to be bothered by it. He told ESPN that he doesn’t care about accusations of favoritism, and wants his team to focus on what’s happening in the here and now.
Russell Wilson favoritism caused a locker room rift
The Sports Illustrated story, which echoes a story published by ESPN last year, pulls out one specific example of how Carroll supposedly treated Wilson differently than other players, holding him to a different set of standards. After Richard Sherman intercepted Wilson during a 2014 practice, Carroll allegedly asked players to treat Wilson differently than they normally would.
The pick itself wasn’t as important as what happened afterward, when several players who spoke to SI said Carroll gathered his offensive and defensive leaders and told them they needed to protect Wilson, to treat him more gently than they would their other teammates.
This did not go over well with some members of the Seahawks, and went against how they treated each other. Competition is the name of the game among teammates, and it’s seen as a way to bring out the best in each other. Carroll wanted to exclude Wilson from that practice, which rubbed a number of Wilson’s teammates the wrong way.
And that’s just one example. Anonymous Seahawks sources cited numerous instances of how Wilson was praised by Carroll when some thought he was undeserving, like after throwing four interceptions during the Seahawks’ miracle comeback against the Green Bay Packers in the 2014 NFC championship game. Candid locker room discussions that happened in front of Wilson got back to Carroll. Some think that Wilson didn’t put in as much effort, and Carroll let it slide.
The rift led to the new-look Seahawks
The Seahawks’ heartbreaking loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX turned that rift into a chasm. Wilson threw an interception on the 1-yard line in the final minute of the game, and some players believed that Carroll had called that play to give Wilson a better chance of winning Super Bowl MVP. Former Seahawks defensive tackle Tony McDaniel summed up the locker room atmosphere after the Super Bowl.
“That one play changed the whole locker room,” McDaniel says. “When Pete would give a speech or try for a heart-to-heart, people just stopped responding. They didn’t know who to trust anymore.”
Things didn’t get better. Players saw Carroll’s favoritism toward Wilson get worse, and they no longer felt they were allowed to criticize him, which led to more locker room discord. Last year, Richard Sherman reportedly got into a heated locker room argument with Michael Bennett over Wilson, and the two had to be separated before it got physical.
From that discord came change. Only five players from the Seahawks Super Bowl championship team remain, with six Pro Bowlers and eight other contributors shipped out, released, or not returning. A number of coaches not named Pete Carroll were fired. The perception is that the team is building around Russell Wilson, which involves bringing in people who are friendly toward him and Carroll’s style of handling him — and moving out those who aren’t.
Pete Carroll: “I don’t care about it”
When a coach is accused of favoriting one player over others, treating him differently than everyone else, you’d imagine the first response would be that of a parent. He loves all his players equally, no one is more important than anyone else, they’re a team, yada yada. Pete Carroll went with a different approach when ESPN reached out to him for comment.
“Only that obviously I didn’t do a very good job of teaching, because one of the main principles in our teaching is that we’re not going to worry about what’s happened; all our focus goes on what’s coming right now,” he said. “And so that’s a discipline that we learn, and I just haven’t taught it well enough. Whether you win or whether your lose or whatever happens, you need to move forward and leave stuff behind and go. So other than that, I don’t care about it.”
Well that’s certainly a way to go. He didn’t specifically comment on any perceived favoritism, instead saying that he hasn’t taught his players to not focus on that stuff and instead “focus on what’s coming” and on “right now.” Of course, if it’s true that Carroll favorited Wilson over other players, that favoritism is both what’s happening “right now” and “what’s coming.” But according to Carroll, the players need to just let that stuff go. Easy, right?
Carroll also said that he’d never seen an anti-Wilson rift in the locker room. He did address the Sports Illustrated story with the players, though mostly just to take a swipe at the media for trying to find out what’s happening in locker rooms, and also for simply existing.
“I addressed it, just the media and the impact of the media and how they can factor in if you let it,” he said.
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