The most significant piece of Seahawks news this week isn't that they extended the contract of general manager John Schneider or that they extended the contract of head coach Pete Carroll; it's that they extended the partnership between Carroll and Schneider—the "fantastic collaboration" that former Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke was hoping to create when he and Seahawks owner Paul Allen hired Carroll and Schneider in 2010—a partnership that has led to the most successful run in franchise history.
There is no doubt that either Carroll or Schneider could thrive on his own in a different NFL environment, but what has helped the Seahawks become one of the most successful teams in the league this decade isn't so much either of their abilities on their own, but rather the way the two have built such a unique and successful relationship that helps the other be even better at his job.
"I think it's absolutely the most crucial relationship and aspect of our program," Carroll said of his partnership with Schneider days before their team won Super Bowl XLVIII. "All of the decisions that we make, we make together, and the fact that we communicate so well and we trust one another so much, it's helped us throughout."
When Leiweke went about restructuring the Seahawks' leadership following the 2009 season, he spoke of forming a "fantastic collaboration" between coach and G.M., something he admitted the team hadn't had in recent years.
"I think, to be quite honest, there was not a harmonious relationship between (former GM) Tim (Ruskell) and (former head coach) Mike Holmgren and it's probably neither guy's fault, but we learned a lot there," Leiweke said six years ago. "Can collaboration work? It does all the time in all sorts of environments and in fact it's how I lead, and this is the model that makes sense for us… We didn't build this grand (practice) facility to win nine games in two years, and we didn't fill the stadium and our fans didn't scream their lungs out to win nine games in two years. We had to do something."
Leiweke's vision sounded ideal, but it also almost sounded too good to be true in the high-stakes, high-stress world of the NFL where an underperforming general manager can cost a coach his job, and vice versa. Hiring the head coach before the general manager is unconventional in the NFL, and the thought at the time was that doing so would make Schneider into Carroll's "Underling?" Schneider said with a laugh when discussing their relationship two years ago. "Not that I remember reading that or anything." But instead of Schneider being Carroll's "underling," the two quickly became partners, with Carroll and Schneider trusting each other completely to the point that any rare disagreements are resolved with discussions, not power plays.
Carroll came to Seattle in part because he would have the power to run the organization his way, but he never wanted to be the general manager. Instead he wanted someone he could work closely with to build a roster together, and the results have exceeded just about anyone's realistic expectations, with the Seahawks going to the playoffs five times in six years, winning one Super Bowl and playing in another along the way. And while Carroll and Schneider had little background together aside from Schneider visiting USC on an occasional scouting trip, the two hit it off almost instantly when Schneider interviewed for the job, beginning a partnership and friendship that took the Seahawks to heights never before seen by the organization.
"When we met for the first time in the interview setting, it was really obvious for me that he was different than the other guys that we had talked to," Carroll said in the days leading up to Super Bowl XLIX. "He showed a mental agility, quickness, and wit about him that I immediately took to. We were having fun right off the bat... It just seemed to mesh. It didn't mesh fast enough for him to not go back on the plane and go home, though. We didn't quite get that done. But by the time he had landed, we knew that we wanted to bring him back."
The biggest reason this partnership has worked so well, according to both Carroll and Schneider, is the lack of ego in not just their relationship but in the entire building. Schneider likes to use the phrase "no walls" when describing the relationship between the coaching staff and personnel department, which leads to open and honest discussions rather than built-up tension and eventual power struggles. Because Schneider and his scouting department know so well what Carroll and his staff look for in players, they can be better and finding the right player in the draft or via free agency. Coaches, meanwhile, trust that the personnel department will get them the right players, making it easier to develop talent when there's no thought that an acquired player is "their player" or "our player."
For Russell Wilson to have become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL while playing for the Seahawks, Schneider had to fall in love while scouting Wilson at Wisconsin, but Carroll also had to be willing to not just let a rookie third-round pick run his team's offense, but also to allow a three-man quarterback competition play itself out into the last week of August. And for Earl Thomas to become the cornerstone of Carroll's defense, Schneider had to resist the temptation to trade back in the 2010 draft to acquire valuable picks that could have helped expedite the rebuilding process, because he understood how vital free-safety play is in Carroll's defense. Those are just two of many examples of great acquisitions made by Carroll and Schneider, but it's no coincidence that Carroll and Schneider working together and understanding each other helped facilitate two of the most important acquisitions of their tenure in Seattle.
"Ego is the enemy," Schneider said Tuesday on 710 ESPN Seattle. "Knowing that we're just going to work together because we want to win championships, and we can't get caught up in that 'this is my guy, that's your guy' tug of war that goes on. If we have issues, we just know we're going to continue to work through them. We don't have the blowups, we just have long nights of communication, basically."
The Seahawks made two separate moves this week to extend the contracts of their head coach and general manager, but it was continuing a single partnership that was most important to the team's future.
With both Pete Carroll and John Schneider's contracts now extended long-term in Seattle, take a look back at the best photos of the head coach-general manager duo during their time together with the Seahawks.