Ten years ago, John Schneider boarded a flight from Seattle to Green Bay wondering if he had just landed a new job.
Back in Seattle, Pete Carroll wished he hadn't let Schneider get on that plane.
Friday evening, almost exactly 10 years later, Schneider and Carroll sat side by side in the front of a plane somewhere over Minnesota, each studying film as the Seahawks flew towards Green Bay, where they'll face the Packers on Sunday in the divisional round of the playoffs.
One of the NFL's best partnerships—one both Schneider and Carroll have likened to a marriage—and definitely the NFL's best buddy comedy, turns 10 this month, and as Sunday's date with the Packers shows, it's still going strong a decade into their partnership.
Sunday's game marks the 10th anniversary of Carroll's introductory press conference as Seattle's head coach in which he talked about high expectations and said, "I hope we can do things better than it's ever been done before around here," then spent a decade doing just that. Not long after meeting with the media, Carroll went upstairs to the second floor of the VMAC where he and then Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke interviewed Schneider for the vacant general manager position.
This wasn't how Schneider had envisioned the process going when the Seahawks initially reached out to him about the general manager job. The Packers' director of football operations at the time, Schneider was already on the list of candidates for Seattle's general manager job, which had come open during the season, before Carroll was hired. The more common structure in the NFL is for a GM to help hire a new coach, so Schneider was prepared for his interview with a list of names he would consider for the head coaching job. Instead, Seahawks owner Paul Allen and Leiweke were able to lure Carroll away from USC after a wildly successful nine-year run in L.A., which meant the head coach was helping decide on the general manager, and not the other way around. Needless to say, Schneider was a bit skeptical at the time, but it didn't take long for him and for Carroll to realize what a good fit they were together.
"I was getting ready to hire a head coach if I got the job," Schneider said. "I had head coaching candidate names, right? My opinions on those guys, the criteria of what you're looking for in a head coach. Tod Leiweke had said, 'Hey, I still really want you to come in for this interview.' Like I told you, I was shocked. I was like 'Wow, why would I leave Green Bay?'"
Leiweke's answer? "You're going to love this guy," Schneider recalled being told.
So Schneider interviewed with the Seahawks despite an unconventional setup, and then he and Carroll did indeed hit it off right away, even hugging it out after the interview. Back in Green Bay, Traci Schneider picked her husband up at the airport and the two went to dinner at Hinterland Brewery.
They talked about the possibility of leaving Green Bay, where Schneider is from, and where he had a great job. They talked about uprooting their two young children, Ben and Jack. They talked about this knowing a decision was going to have to come soon, because by the time Schneider had landed in Green Bay, Carroll and Leiweke had already called and left a message, asking him to come back to Seattle.
"It was a big decision because I grew up right there in Green Bay," Schneider said. "It's a great organization and we were winning—they won the Super Bowl the next year. On the plane ride, I was like wow. I thought it went well. I was trying to balance between what I was working on in Green Bay and then here. I landed and they called me and were like, 'Hey, can you get on a six something in the morning flight?' I was right back out of there. Traci and I went and just grabbed dinner and sat and talked for a long, long time. I was like, 'Babe, if this goes down, are you good?' It happened fairly fast."
And everything's gone fast ever since, from winning seasons to big contract decisions to franchise altering trades, to playoff runs like the one the Seahawks hope to keep going with a win on Sunday.
"No, it doesn't (feel like it has been a decade)," Carroll said. "It seems like it just flashed by, really."
Part of the reason Carroll sounds so surprised when talking about his decade-long tenure in Seattle is that he honestly didn't think he would last this long at the job. Carroll had a great run at USC, but he also came to Seattle understanding how impatient NFL teams can be having experienced it firsthand, getting fired from head coaching gigs with the Jets and Patriots earlier in his career, lasting just one year in New York and three in New England.
"I probably told you guys that I thought you guys would have me for a couple years and then kick me out of here," Carroll said. "I never dreamed that we would be here 10 years, because I've never been anywhere 10 years, so this was a first. It really has been a flash. The amazing thing to me is that we've been through a generation of players. Guys have come through the program, played their whole careers and they're on to the rest of their life. That's an amazing thing to see happen. So it's been an amazing 10 years. It's been a blast."
That blast of a decade has seen Carroll and Schneider spend the past 10 years building the Seahawks into one of the NFL's model franchises in the vision of Allen, the team's late owner. In 10 seasons together, Carroll and Schneider have led the Seahawks to eight winning seasons and eight playoff berths. This year marks the team's seventh trip to the divisional round in 10 seasons, making them one of only five teams, along with New England, Green Bay, Philadelphia and Baltimore, to reach the divisional round seven times in a 10-year span since the NFL expanded its playoff field to 12 teams in 1990. And most importantly, Schneider and Carroll helped the Seahawks win the first Super Bowl title in franchise history, a historic 2013 season that they backed up by going back to the Super Bowl the next year, making them the only team other than New England to reach consecutive Super Bowls since Denver did it in 1998 and 1999.
Sunday's game will also be Seattle's 17th postseason game since 2010, the same total the Seahawks played in the first 34 years of the franchise prior to Carroll and Schneider's arrival. Seattle's seven trips to the divisional round under Schneider and Carroll are one more than the Seahawks had in its first 34 seasons before 2010.
That sustained success, which is so hard to come by in the NFL, is something Carroll and Schneider have talked about since the beginning of their time together in Seattle. Growing up a Packers fan, Schneider remembered the tough times in that franchise' history when the Packers went to the playoffs only once in 20 seasons from 1973 to 1992. Schneider remembers worrying about late-season wins hurting draft position instead of how a result would affect playoff seeding—and yes he's still bitter about how that 1989 draft turned out—and he doesn't want Seahawks fans to ever go through the same on his watch.
"I feel really blessed and proud of that," Schneider said. "You just want the fans to know you're busting your ass and doing everything you possibly can to make it consistent, so that every year your fans are totally into it. They're not like, 'Oh great, we've only won three games. I hope we don't win any more games, so we have a chance for the first pick.' I remember being in Green Bay, the Packers beat Arizona at Arizona (in the final game of the 1988 season) and they weren't able to draft Troy Aikman. They had the second pick, so they drafted Tony Mandarich ahead of Barry Sanders, and Deion Sanders, and Derrick Thomas. I always had that in the back of my mind. You want your fans to think you're in all the time. I'm really proud and blessed. It's everybody. It's not just Pete and I."
Schneider returned to Seattle 10 years ago not long after flying home to Green Bay and having dinner with his wife, and that began an intense three-month bonding period that kicked off a second marriage of sorts for Carroll and Schneider. With Traci back in Green Bay with their boys, and with Glena Carroll back in Los Angeles, the two were bachelors of sorts for three months before their families eventually joined them in Seattle.
"We just jumped in," Schneider said. "I literally slept right here all the time. We had like three months where all of the sudden we were into free agency and getting ready for the draft. We just spent as much time as we possibly could together. To Pete's credit, we got to get to know each other as well as we possibly could so that we can make this the best marriage, the best head coach and general manager marriage in NFL history."
There was both a lot of work and fun in those first few months together, and it didn't take Schneider long to see just how competitive Carroll is in all walks of life. When the two needed a break, they'd sometimes head to the locker room to play cornhole, a game Schneider was much more familiar with. Let's just say Carroll didn't just accept that Schneider was going to be better than him a game without putting in some effort.
"At first, he wasn't very good at all and I was kicking his ass," Schneider said. "But I swear he was practicing on his own, because he would take a break and go down there and then come back up and keep working. With his competitive nature, I couldn't beat him by the time we got close to the draft. He was kicking my butt."
That relationship that began 10 years ago, a football marriage, if you will, is still going strong a decade later, and it is the biggest reason why the Seahawks are playing on Sunday with a chance to go to the NFC championship game.
"I think it is the key relationship in this whole 10 years," Carroll said. "When we first got together and we interviewed John and he took off, and we called him and told him to come back, we want to do something. From the time he got back here, we made a commitment that we were going to help each other be the best we can possibly be. I said, 'I'm going to try to make you the best general manager in professional sports and I'll do everything to support you and all that.' To initiate the relationship, that is so crucial in this setting in professional sports so that we could start with a really good premise. We would always know what we're doing. We're going to stay together. We're going to figure it out. We're going to work together. It's been a blast. John's been so much fun. John is so creative. He's a real competitor. He loves to go for it. As you've seen over the years, we've taken those kinds of shots and we've never backed off from that kind of thinking. The constant competitiveness about him has kept us in so many situations that just all of the sudden, they blossom into something good for us.
"It's really the harmony that we generate in the relationship. I think it was a great marriage. I'm hard to deal with and put up with. I love him for doing that and figuring that out and going along with all my craziness. I think that's crucial. I say that with the thought that I don't know that everybody feels that (the coach-general manager) relationship is so crucial and so important. You see teams all the time, they mix and match, and they get this guy from over here and this guy from over here. They don't have any common background. They don't have any reason that they're going to get along. You have to develop chemistry from that moment that you start. Not always does it come about. You don't always get there. I don't think that there's a more important challenge for a head coach and a guy in charge of personnel anywhere. It doesn't matter what sport it is because you have to make decisions together to do that right. You need everybody's input and everybody's expertise and all that. Then, you have to figure out how to win it when it isn't always seeing eye-to-eye. How are you going to figure it out? We've done a great job of that."