Given the energy with which Pete Carroll has operated throughout his long career as a coach, it wasn't like he needed anything to give him more juice in 2018. Yet somehow, at 67, Carroll seemed more energetic than ever in his ninth season as Seattle's head coach, and when asked Monday if he felt rejuvenated by the 2018 season, he didn't hesitate to confirm that there was something special about the season.
"Yeah, I had more fun," said Carroll who signed a contract extension that runs through the 2021 season last month. "… This season was just kind of the tip of it with so much more. There's so much more out there, so it's a blast."
And many of the elements of the 2018 season that allowed Carroll to have so much fun in 2018 are also what have him so optimistic about 2019 and beyond as the Seahawks head into the offseason earlier than they had hoped. It wasn't just that the Seahawks turned a 4-5 start into a 10-6 season and the seventh playoff berth in nine years under Carroll and general manager John Schneider, it's also the way the Seahawks went about winning and turning things around. On the field, the Seahawks got back to their formula of having a balanced, physical and explosive offense, and while a young defense that went through a ton of change in the offseason had its share of hiccups, it got better as the year went along and played some of its best football over the final month of the season. And off the field, the team built a level of chemistry that players and coaches repeatedly pointed to as a big part of their success.
Yes, that final loss in Dallas was disappointing to be sure, but for a team that exceeded almost all outside expectations after parting ways with a number of big-name veterans last offseason, the future suddenly looks very bright.
"The season was a season of growth, progress and proving and coming to grips with who we are and what we can do, in a great fashion," Carroll said. "It was a marvelous season of work with our guys. It was so much fun to see these guys grow and to see them see the future and go for it and not take a step back at any time as far as how they went about it and took to the challenges. We come out of here with a great feeling about our future. Our guys are excited about it. They know that they can do some damage in the playoffs. They know we can go a long ways, and they know they have a lot of work ahead of them too. All the indications when you come up short, there's enough of them, there's enough lessons that we've learned. I love this team, I love where we're going, and it's going to be more competitive than ever. The roster will continue to be built and constructed to be competitive and bring out the best in our guys. I think that it's evident to me that we made a connection with our fans, they can feel our team and they can feel our future with us. It's exciting. We actually leave here on a positive in that we know there's a lot of work to be done, but there's so much out there for us."
As much as the Seahawks did well on the field from leading the NFL in rushing to posting the league's best turnover differential, there was a less quantifiable element of the team that also made a difference, which is a big part of Carroll and his players' optimism about the future.
"With the leadership we had, with the direction we're all on, the chemistry we have, I think it's expected that we'll grow a lot," Carroll said. "… That connection that they have to what we are asking them to do, and the willingness to practice that on a regular basis, and to bring their attitude and bring their energy all the time, that's rare. It's special. That's what gives me the thought—I can go back a few years, I said the same thing four, five, six years ago, whenever it was. You can tell that the nucleus and the core of the team that you need to have a championship club is here. Maybe they've got their own build on it. I couldn't be more adamant about that right now. That's where we are.
"We took a big jump this year. I think we have a real clear understanding of what we are trying to get done, and how we are going to go about it."
Of course, having a nucleus doesn't mean there won't be change this offseason. Free agency, the draft and the league's salary cap ensures that teams don't stay the same from year to year, but the Seahawks won't head into the offseason feeling like they're desperate to make moves at any specific position.
"We're pleased with the progress that we've made with the guys we have, so we know that we're adding to it," Carroll said. "We don't feel like there's big voids and big holes, so we're going to add too. To make this roster more competitive across the board is really the intent and make guys have to work harder to hold their spots and have to get better to do that. That's right at the heart of what we're all about, so we're really looking forward to that."
For Carroll, his coaches and all the returning players, and especially the veteran leaders, making sure that chemistry and work ethic that led to a strong finish in 2018 carries over to 2019 will be a huge part of the equation this spring and summer when players return for offseason workouts and training camp.
"I want the culture of this building to be obvious," Carroll said. "When you walk in here, you can tell that something's going on here. That's part of it, and that means it's an every-day, never-stop ethic. Really, it's the ethos of this place that we have to have that intact, and I've got to make sure that happens. To take on that challenge it's a life challenge I love. So that's what we've got to do and see where that leads us."
In the end, the 2018 season was both encouraging in what the Seahawks built and what that means going forward, and disappointing because once they found their way, they believed they were capable of more than a quick playoff exit, which is why when he was asked if this season met his own expectations, Carroll said, "We were approaching it. We can see the future, and that's kind of how I would say it, that we can tell where we can go. Our expectations is that we needed to further this year and keep going and keep playing, everybody feels like that. Nobody was satisfied with the outcome."
Go behind the scenes with team photographer Rod Mar as he shares moments from the Seattle Seahawks Wild Card game against the Dallas Cowboys.