Darrell Bevell had a bit of trepidation about the new job opportunity presented to him in January of 2011.
The Seahawks wanted Bevell to be their new offensive coordinator, but they also had just added Tom Cable to the coaching staff, giving him not just the title of offensive line coach, but also that of assistant head coach. In Seattle, Bevell would be the coordinator, but it wouldn't be his offense as much as it would be their offense. Bevell wasn't hesitant because of his ego, he just wasn't sure how this would all work out.
But in an organization that a year earlier had successfully created a non-traditional head coach/general manager collaboration, Pete Carroll was confident a collaboration between two offensive coaches, one similar to how he had structured things at times during his tenure at USC, could pay off for his offense.
"I did (wonder how it would work)," Bevell said. "I really have to give coach (Carroll) credit. He sat us down and he kind of came in and told me what he expected of me, then he grabbed Tom, said what he expected of Tom. Then he grabbed us together and brought us both in and said 'OK, here's what I told him; here's what I told him.' I think that's really unique as well. He laid it out in no uncertain terms and it's been a great relationship."
The relationship Carroll laid out to both Cable and Bevell has paid dividends for the Seahawks during what has been the most successful run in franchise history. Yes, the Seahawks have been best known for their defense in recent years, but Bevell and Cable's offense has also been a big part of two NFC championships and a Super Bowl victory as well. The Seahawks, who last year led the league in rushing with a franchise record 2762 yards, are again leading the NFL in rushing at 146.2 yards per game, but they're not a one-sided offense. Russell Wilson has a real shot to become the first 4,000-yard passer in franchise history this season, and the Seahawks currently rank second in the NFL in passing yards-per-attempt at 8.5. That would be the best yards-per-attempt number in franchise history, and the top three after that don't come from the Mike Holmgren/Matt Hasselbeck era; they came in the past three seasons. The Seahawks also led the NFL in explosive plays last season—runs of 12 or more yards and passes of 16 or more—and are sixth this year with 99.
"It's really important," Carroll said of the collaborative effort between Cable and Bevell. "Matter of fact, when we first put it together there was a series of meetings with myself and Darrell, and myself with Tom, and then Darrell and Tom and myself, to keep working out and massaging the way it's going to fit together. So who was going to do the talking when, who was going to make the decisions here and there. I've done it this way before, and it takes a really good start to do this right. You can get screwed up if you don't set the ground rules of how it's going to go and all that, but I like the way it goes because we get everybody's input. Everybody's involved, and the cooperation, these guys are perfectly in sync with what's going on. Tom will help with the running game thoughts during the game. They're ahead of the plays always, they're ahead of the series always, and they work back and forth, and protections, all of that stuff. So there's wide open communication that has been fostered through a lot of care and concern for the communication and the respect that's necessary, and then to carry out the plan and represent us right. They do a great job together."
Carroll's reason for doing things this way rather than just having one coordinator is a simple one in theory—"to use all of the brain power that we can get," he says—but getting two people to work this well together in the high-stakes world of professional football is a lot easier said than done.
"Get everybody's input that's available to us so we're as smart as we can possibly be, as global as we can possibly be, and utilize all that," Carroll said. "Everybody's got a lot to add, but you have to develop the habits of communicating at the right times and in the right manner to complement what has to be done. It's most difficult for the play-caller, because he has to be out there and he's got to function well with that stuff. Darrell is chilled, he's so cool about it, and he's got his big plays and his big calls when he has to make them in his back pocket. I just think he does a great job of it."
The dual-offensive coaching dynamic in Seattle is often characterized as Cable heading up the running game and Bevell handling the passing game and play-calling duties, but it's a lot more nuanced than that. The two plan almost everything together during the week, with Cable chiming in on passing-game ideas and Bevell contributing to the running game. Then on gameday, Bevell is the play-caller, but listens to feedback between series from Cable, Carroll and quarterbacks coach Carl Smith. It's a dynamic that could easily blow up if either Cable or Bevell was concerned with being seen as the brains behind Seattle's offense.
"Our relationship is really cool," Cable said. "We have a blast together. We talk about pretty much everything together, whether it's run, protection or whatever, and he has just done a fantastic job the hole time he has been here, so a lot of credit to him in terms of being open and allowing some input in all those things.
"Any relationship takes time, but we hit it off right from the beginning, and that's a credit to Pete getting us together: 'Here's the plan, here's what we want to do.' We both had had experience doing those kinds of things, so it has really just been a blast."
Added Bevell: "I think it's unique. For me, it's a really cool relationship that we have. We get to collaborate all week as we're preparing for the game plan. We communicate during the week, we have to communicate on the runs, we have to communicate on the protections and make sure that's all squared away, and then we do a great job on gameday. I really feel like when there's no egos involved and nobody cares who gets the credit, then you're able to do great things. That's the way both Tom and I are, and we work together at a really high level. It's easy for me to talk to him and communicate and say, 'Hey, what are you thinking? What kind of runs are you thinking right now?' We talk between series, then I call the series and then I'll come back to him and say, 'What are you thinking now? Go back to this, do this?' There's always that talking going back and forth. It's really set up in the preparation during the week. I have a really good feel going in of what he's thinking."
As for notion of settling disagreements on gameday between Bevell, Cable or Carroll, Carroll says the key to avoiding that is preparation during the week. As Carroll learned while studying under Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh, if you cover every contingency during the week, everyone will be on the same page when a particular situation arises, allowing Bevell to make a call all parties can agree upon.
"We go through everything beforehand, so the special situations are all thought out and dealt with beforehand, and then there's always a few that you couldn't account for in every game," Carroll said. "That was a good thing, I learned that from Coach Walsh a long time ago. He's documented and written about that, about having your contingency plans already laid out, so you know where you want to go and you know what you want to do, and then you're still going to get faced with things that you have to decide on the spot. So we go about those kinds of situations with confidence. We feel, 'OK, we're going to make good decisions here,' and we go and make the choices we have to. But for the most part, we've been together a long time, we know how we think and how we want to present our team, and we see eye-to-eye."
Cable, who previously was the head coach in Oakland before coming to Seattle, said one of the things that attracted him most to Seattle is the way Carroll built a program around everyone helping each other maximize their talents while working together. So like his head coach, Cable doesn't look at a particular situation in a game wondering if Bevell will make a call he likes, but rather he trusts that the work they did all week will lead to the best call for the team.
"We plan ahead," Cable said. "We talk a lot about it during the week, then again on Saturday and Sunday morning so we both have a plan as to what we're going to do. So we have an idea of where (Bevell) is going and have an idea of what we want, and we've done all that ahead of time, so there's no real discussions or debates when it happens. There's a plan for it.
"We talk a lot between series. If I'm thinking something, if I see something, I set it out there, then whatever happens from there happens… Having guys who have multiple experiences that way, it's better so one guy doesn't feel like, 'I have to do everything.' And we're unique here too because our whole program is about depending on each other and leaning on each other; this is just another example of that."