The deep hole Pete Carroll is stepping into.
Out of the mouths of Sanchezes ...
After the Jets' playoff win in Cincinnati, former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, smiling, said this about USC coach Pete Carroll's imminent decision to coach the Seahawks: "Speaking of coach Carroll, I just want everyone to know I completely disagree with his decision to go to the NFL. Statistics show it's not a good choice.'' Obviously referencing Carroll's press conference last winter when the junior announced he was leaving USC early, Sanchez said he was just kidding. But he's right.
Statistics show even the most celebrated college coach make terrible NFL coaches. Or at least go to terrible situations, with players they can't reach the same way they reached in college. As Tony Dungy said on NBC Saturday night: "Most college coaches find out it's a lot harder to coach rich 25-year-olds than it is poor 19-year-olds."
With the exception of Jimmy Johnson's foray into pro football 20 years ago, the record of owners dipping into the college ranks for coaches in recent years can be summed up in two words: abject failure. In the last two decades, 10 NFL owners have hired a coach from a major-college program to be the head coach of an NFL team. (I don't include Barry Switzer or Tom Coughlin here -- Switzer because he'd been out of football for six years, unemployed, and Coughlin because he was a seven-year NFL assistant with a career goal of being an NFL head coach before taking a three-year detour to Boston College.)
This chart is about the 10 established college coaches who built their résumé in college football, then went to the pros. Johnson's the only one who won a playoff game in his career. He won two Super Bowls in his five-year run with the Cowboys.
Looking at the tough road Carroll has to travel with the 10 hires from college football since 1989:
Totals: 10 hires.
Think of it this way: In the past 10 years, four of the biggest college hires in the league were Butch Davis, Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino. They coached nine seasons, with a combined record of 29 games below .500.
There's one other factor in the failures of so many of these coaches: the lack of a top quarterback where they landed. Spurrier thought he could win with Shane Matthews or Danny Wuerffel. Saban chose the wrong quarterback -- Daunte Culpepper over Drew Brees -- in free-agency in 2006. Petrino bolted when he found it hopeless after Michael Vick's dogfighting ban left the Falcons grasping for a quarterback. And on, and on. The only quality quarterback any of these coaches inherited or acquired in their first year: Troy Aikman, the first draft choice in Johnson's tenure in Dallas.
Other than the big paycheck Carroll will collect, there's not a lot to envy about his decision. He always said if he was going to go back to the NFL, he'd want full control over the 53-man roster. Yet in Seattle, owner Paul Allen doesn't want to give one man that control. Can the situation be tenable with the right man in the GM chair? Of course. But it bears watching. When the Ravens' director of player personnel, Eric DeCosta, called the Seahawks last week to inform them he was turning down an invitation to interview for the GM job, he was told there would be a major surprise in the coming days. Seattle's ideal seems to be a separation of church-and-state in the front office that Washington (Bobby Beathard/Joe Gibbs), the Giants (George Young/Bill Parcells) and Green Bay (Ron Wolf/Mike Holmgren) made work so well in recent years.
History says Carroll will build a team with great defensive energy. He has a few good defensive players to start with -- linebacker Aaron Curry, cornerback Josh Wilson and defensive linemen Brandon Mebane and Lawrence Jackson (a Carroll product from USC) -- but overall the talent on the team befits one that's gone 9-23 in the last two years. Matt Hasselbeck turns 35 in September, and his career is in decline. Carroll will have many tasks early on -- replacing a franchise left tackle in Walter Jones, developing some semblance of a pass-rush, building a running game -- but none as daunting as finding an heir to Hasselbeck.
The quarterback is always the hardest puzzle piece to find. Just ask the nine teams who got so little out of such big hires.
The Pete Carroll Affair.
Remember when Charlie Weis last month said Carroll, the married father of three, was "living with a grad student in Malibu?'' Carroll, furious, said it was "untrue, irresponsible ... and incredible that he'd be talking about me like that.''
Aah, the wonders of the NFL schedule, which has AFC teams visiting NFC teams once every four years, and vice versa:
Kansas City (Weis' new employer) at Seattle, date TBA, next fall, Qwest Field.
That'll be an interesting pregame conversation on the field between the new Kansas City offensive coordinator and the new Seattle head coach.
Drew Brees and Ted Williams, Chapter II
I wrote last week about Drew Brees sitting in Week 17 and setting the NFL record for the most accurate passing season (70.62 percent, beating Ken Anderson's 70.55 percent in 1982), which was mindful to some of the 1941 baseball season. Ted Williams was batting .399955 (.400, because the average would have been rounded up) entering a doubleheader on the last day of the season, and his manager gave him the option of sitting, and Williams said he'd play, and he went 6-for-8 in the doubleheader and finished with a .406 average. It's the last time a player ever hit .400.
I was with Brees in New Orleans Thursday night and asked him about it, and a pained expression came over his face. He wears number 9 because he grew up idolizing Ted Williams. When he was drafted by the Chargers, he moved into his first house because it was on Ted Williams Way. I can tell you he's still conflicted about setting the record the way he did -- but understands he couldn't have done anything about it.
Turns out that on the day after Minnesota lost to Chicago in Week 16, clinching home-field advantage for the Saints, Sean Payton called Brees into his office and told him he wasn't going to play in the season's final game at Carolina. You know -- it's the whole thing about resting starters, avoiding injury, giving other guys a chance to play. Later that day, doing a media interview, Brees was told that, though he and Anderson were both at 70.6, if the figure were taken out to the next decimal place, Brees' number was better, and thus he was ahead of Anderson.
Brees didn't want to spill the beans about Payton's lineup plan, so he said nothing. But he said he got a terrible feeling right then.
"I immediate thought of Ted Williams going into the last day of the '41 season batting .399995, or whatever it was,'' Brees said, "and I thought, 'If I don't play, I'm letting Teddy down.' ''
Most players aren't students of sports history. What was so rare about Brees' knowledge, obviously, is it was about a guy from a different sport.
"When I was growing up in Austin [Texas], every Sunday morning before my brother and I went to church, we popped in a video called 'The Golden Greats of Baseball.' It was like a religious thing between me and my brother. We loved baseball. All the great players -- Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Cobb, and Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter -- were on it, and I identified with Ted. I was a left-handed hitter. He was a left-handed hitter. They called him the purest hitter of all time, and that's what I wanted to be -- the purest hitter of all-time.
"Everything about him was great. The hitting, the fact that he left baseball twice to serve in two wars. So when Sean told me, 'You're not playing, and it's not up for discussion,' that was tough. On the one hand, I don't want to set the record by sitting. On the other hand, if I say I want to play because I don't want to set a record this way, it's selfish. So I didn't say anything.''
The obvious question: What would Williams have thought of Brees sitting and breaking the record?
"Well, the next day, Ted Williams has nothing to do but go marlin-fishing,'' said Brees. "They're not in the World Series. And I've got playoff games to play. The sports are different. The risks are different. Apples and oranges.''
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