Seven years later, Pete Carroll is still fired up about the challenges that face him as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks.
When Carroll was named the head coach of the Seahawks in 2010, he opened his introductory press conference by saying, "I'm so fired up to be here today," then he kept talking for nearly 12 minutes before fielding a question. Seven seasons, six postseason berths, nine playoff victories, one Lombardi Trophy and numerous of ups and downs later, Carroll is as encouraged and energetic as ever, even after his team missed the postseason for just the second time in his and general manager John Schneider's tenure in Seattle. And after perhaps his lengthiest opening monologue since that introductory press conference seven years earlier, Carroll concluded a more than 10-minute retrospective on the 2017 season by saying, once again, he remains fired up.
"I'm fired up about all the challenges," Carroll said. "It's going to be hard. It's always going to be hard. It's never not, and we're ready for it."
Carroll is excited about the challenges that lie ahead, but he was also disappointed that his team went 9-7 this year, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
"This season ended too early," he said. "We're not accustomed to being done by now. It's frustrating for us and disappointing that here we are talking about a football season and we should, in our minds, still be playing. But we didn't get the job done to get that done… Unfortunately it's just too soon. Frustrations of that, they dig deep. Sometimes, as much as you hate to learn the hard way, you've heard me say it, I hate to learn the hard way, but sometimes you've got to."
In addition to a few injury updates, here are five takeaways from Carroll's press conference:
1. When it comes to the running game, the Seahawks are "not losing the essence of who we are."
Of all the things that bothered Carroll about his team's play in 2017, he might have been most upset by his team's inability to run the ball the way they have in past seasons. Carroll has long maintained that a strong running game is key to success, and this year only reinforced that idea, with nine of the top 10 teams in rushing yards making the playoffs.
"We have a real formula for how we win, and we've been unable to incorporate a major aspect of that, and that's to run the football the way we want," Carroll said. "There are tremendous examples around the league of teams that have turned their fortunes around, and they've turned it around with a formula that should sound familiar to you: teams running the football, teams playing good defense and doing the kicking game thing. That's the formula that has proven historically the best in this game. We have been committed to that from the start, but unfortunately we have not been able to recapture it the way we have in years past. Last year Russell (Wilson) was banged up all year long and couldn't contribute the way he normally did. Look what he did this year—he ran for 500 yards and was a huge factor throughout the year. We needed that 500 last year to go along with what he had and we might have had different fortunes. This year we weren't able to compliment the other end of it like we want to, for some obvious reasons, but we're also disappointed we weren't able to pull it off."
One of those obvious reasons was the team's lack of health at running back. Rookie Chris Carson was one of the pleasant surprises in training camp and won the starting job heading into the season, but he went on injured reserve after sustaining a leg injury in Week 4. C.J. Prosise, meanwhile, was expected to be a big part of the offense as well as a versatile back capable of making plays in the running game and as a pass-catcher, but he managed to play only five games before eventually landing on IR. The Seahawks expect those two to be a part of the future, but will also look to add competition to the group this offseason.
"The return of guys to our team are going to be really crucial as we watch what happens," Carroll said. "The critical guys, I think, are the runners. I think the runners need to come back to life to us. That's Chris Carson and C.J. and Mike (Davis) coming back and whoever else can be a part of that—J.D. McKissic was a really good, positive aspect of our team this year, and we need to make that position more competitive. That's going to be one that we're focused on, because of the durability issues that we've faced for the last two seasons, it's been really trying for us… That will be a really interesting position to watch and a big focal point.''
But for as much as the Seahawks got away from the running game this season, that isn't a formula Carroll plans to stick with in the future.
"We're not losing the essence of who we are, what we are trying to become, and the formula that is championship," Carroll said. "I can't give you more evidence than just look around the league, look at what's just happened, look at Philly, look at the Rams, look at the teams that have just turned this thing around and done so many good things, it's there, it's really clear. There's no secret there. It's a great formula there that a lot of people understand.''
2. Carroll said Seattle's penalty issues were "probably my biggest regret."
The Seahawks were the most penalized team in the NFL in 2017, and unlike in past seasons when the Seahawks were able to thrive even while being at or near the top of the league in penalties, those flags caught up to them this season, including in their season-ending loss to Arizona. Carroll plans to make changes, starting this spring, to fix those issues.
"A major issue, probably my biggest regret this season, is how the penalties factored into our season," he said. "We've been in this situation before and we've been able to overcome the issues, and our style of play, it didn't affect us dramatically, but this year it was more of a factor. Our margin (for error) wasn't as such that we could endure it as well, and that's a major aspect of us to change. I'm clear on how I'm going to go about that, and it's going to start way back with the first day, April 16. We'll make a change there and it has to happen. Because I don't know that our margins are going to be as big as they've been in years past. I don't know. Maybe they will maybe they won't.
3. Two big trades showed the Seahawks are "trying to go for it every time we go."
The Seahawks made a pair of big trades in 2017 that cost them substantial draft capital, acquiring defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson just before the start of the season and left tackle Duane Brown midway through the year. While those were aggressive moves, Carroll pushed back at the notion that they were anything more than examples of the Seahawks competing to have the best roster they can, something they do every season. Carroll also noted that both moves were pretty direct responses to injuries at those positions.
"I know also you looked at this season and you guys have questioned this season about 'Did we take our shot because of the status of our roster? Did we make drastic measures to get guys outside of our roster during the season because this was our shot?'" Carroll said. "No. We were competing. We had some really clear thoughts about how our roster was going to come together and one of our guys (Malik McDowell) that we drafted very high wasn't able to play. So we made a big move and found a fairly young guy in Sheldon Richardson to fill that void right there. George Fant went down; we expected George to make extraordinary progress, and when we lost George, we got a little bit out of balance. John immediately went after it and found a guy who we think is an instrumental factor, not just in what he's affected already in the short-term but the leadership and the expertise that Duane Brown brings to us is extraordinary, and we need it. That's going to be a positive for the future. But those were moves that weren't any more drastic than the moves we're going to make this year. We're trying to go for it every time we go. There's not a year where it's 'OK, let's sit back and wait until next year.' There's not a week, there's not a day, there's not a moment that we think like that."
Brown will be back next season and the Seahawks hope he will be an even bigger factor with a whole offseason under his belt, not just because he'll have more experience in Seattle's offense, but also because he'll make a difference as a veteran leader.
"I'm so excited to have the leadership that Duane brings," Carroll said. "That's something that we haven't had, a guy that's been around and been through it all. Tough, smart, physical, the whole thing. He'll be a big factor and he'll take on a lot of responsibility. He was not able to really shoulder that this time around. He was just scrambling to just catch up with us this year, but I think through an offseason and all that, he will have a big impact on Justin (Britt) and the other guys, (Germain) Ifedi and those guys as we return."
Richardson, meanwhile, is a free agent, but Carroll said, "If we could be fortunate enough to get Sheldon back, that would be huge for us."
4. Carroll sees a "young nucleus" forming.
When Carroll talked to the team for the final time on Monday, he said that in a way it was similar to addressing some of his earliest teams in Seattle. While this team is different than those teams from five or six years ago because they have more veteran, Pro Bowl-caliber players coming back, Carroll does see a new, young nucleus developing to add to what those veterans have provided for so long.
"I was really able, in the meeting room on our last meeting here (Monday), to talk to these guys like I talked to guys five and six years ago. There is a young nucleus and a new nucleus, guys that have come to us. I don't want to miss that, Bradley McDougald coming to us and Dion (Jordan) coming to us and Duane coming to us, (Terence) Garvin and all those guys that came to us, they're a part of that new class as well and the class from last year, these are good groups of guys now. So we're very optimistic about the roster. We talk about roster depth all year, it's because of those guys, well now those guys are going to be experienced. They all had, for the most part, had a chance to play and contribute where they could grow. (Amara) Darboh, you saw David Moore finally got in a game, those guys are going to be factors. They're going to be factors, they're legitimate factors on this team as we move forward, and they'll compete for more playing time and all that. That's part of what's fueling all of the energy that we have about this looking forward. This is a terrific looking group. (Ethan) Pocic coming in, (Jordan) Roos getting a chance to play, Duane's emergence, Ifedi will be a second-year tackle for the first time. There's a lot of stuff there. Nick Vannett made a really good jump there for us, too. So there's a lot of stuff here, and that's part of why we're so pumped."
5. Carroll "couldn't feel more optimistic" about the future.
A lot of issues, ranging from injuries to a lack of a consistent running game to penalties caused the Seahawks to fall short of their goals this season, but even though things didn't go as planned in 2017, and even though some turnover is inevitable, Carroll has very high hopes for his team in 2018 and beyond.
"I'm encouraged about future and where we can go and what we can do," Carroll said. "I hope that was conveyed because I couldn't feel more optimistic about our chances to be really good again. I think there is a championship team sitting in this meeting room right here. Everybody has got to do their work. The challenge went out. The challenge went out. If this is going to be a great team, we need to have a great offseason. Each guy has to contribute a great offseason in his own right. That means he has to come back stronger and faster than ever. And they have to be committed to it. And they have to stay connected. And if we do those things we'll give ourselves a chance to really put it together. And then, as like the Boomer says, that's why you play the games. You've got to go out and play and we'll see what happens."
Team photographer Rod Mar shares exclusive behind-the-scenes images from the Seahawks' 26-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals during Week 17 to finish the season at CenturyLink Field.