The Seahawks were just getting back from a walk-through practice in Atlanta two years ago. A long, black limousine pulled up to meet the team’s bus in the hotel parking lot.
Then-defensive coordinator Gus Bradley walked off the bus and into the limo. Inside, executives of the Philadelphia Eagles were taking him for an interview to possibly become their next head coach.
This was the day before a Seahawks playoff game. With Bradley still needed in defensive meetings and final preparations.
That’s how serious coach Pete Carroll is about making sure his assistants get every opportunity to pursue their ultimate jobs.
The Eagles ultimately chose Oregon’s Chip Kelly. And Bradley went from that interview with the Eagles in Georgia on Jan. 12, 2012, into his first head-coaching job with the Jacksonville Jaguars five days later.
The anecdote is timely this week. Carroll confirmed Monday some of the NFL teams that have fresh head-coaching vacancies – San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta and the New York Jets – have contacted the Seahawks about talking to Dan Quinn. Carroll brought back Seattle’s former line coach from the University of Florida to be Bradley’s replacement as coordinator of the league’s top-ranked offense the last two seasons.
“Yes, we have. We have (heard from other teams concerning Quinn),” Carroll said a day after Seattle (12-4) secured its third NFC West title in five seasons and the top seed in the conference playoffs for the second consecutive January by beating St. Louis.
NFL rules allow teams doing interviews for coaching jobs to contact coaches from top-seeded playoff teams during this bye week, which the Seahawks are on through Sunday before the play their first playoff game at home Jan. 10.
Last year during this Seattle playoff bye week the Washington Redskins interviewed offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for their head job. It eventually went to Jay Gruden.
Multiple reports Monday said the 49ers have asked the Seahawks for permission to talk to Quinn; San Francisco just sent coach Jim Harbaugh away from his 2015 contract so he can coach Michigan. The New York Daily News and others reported the Jets, who just fired Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik, also asked to talk to Quinn.
Oakland is the market for yet another new coach. Many Raiders veterans still adore their former head man, Seahawks offensive-line coach Tom Cable.
Unlike some NFL head coaches, Carroll is more than happy to let anyone talk to his deputies.
“When these guys come to work here, I tell them from the moment we start talking that I’m going to help them get any job that they want and to help them achieve the goal that they have for themselves,” Carroll said. “I work really hard for our guys to get whatever it is that they’re after. … I really mean that. I want them to be the best they can possibly be and if I can help them do that then I’m going to do it.”
Even in the middle of his teams’ postseason. Or the night before a divisional playoff game.
“At times, it makes it hard at times on us, but I want the next guy coming in to know the exact same thing: If you come here, we’re going to help you be the best that you could possibly be,” Carroll said. “That doesn’t mean it comes during recommendation time. This is in the process of trying to help guys find their best manners, the best way, their best understanding of how to present their philosophy and their approach. So we work with that throughout the year.
“In my mind, everybody is going, everybody is moving on. And I’m hoping that they get those chances. So I’ve been that way for a long time and we’ve endured it, it’s worked out. It gives us a great chance to really have a great place for someone to come to, also.”
Carroll does it this way because he didn’t have it this way all the time when he was an assistant. That started with the Buffalo Bills in 1984, then the Minnesota Vikings from 1985-89, the Jets 1990-93 and 49ers ’95-96. He twice became a head coach out of defensive coordinator jobs, with New York in 1994 and with New England in ’97.
“I wish it would have been like that for me,” he said. “Sometimes it was and sometimes it wasn’t.
“I just decided a long time ago that I was going to help our guys in that manner.”
Almost from the hours his assistants arrive on the job in Seattle, Carroll begins talking to them about their career goals, and if they want to be a head coach how to get there.
“The first time I was a little surprised, just because where I’ve been it wasn’t that way,” said Bevell, who arrived onto Carroll’s staff in 2011 after having the same offensive coordinator job under noted controller Brad Childress in Minnesota. “So coming here, the first time he comes in your office and starts talking to you about it you are thinking, ‘Is he trying to get rid of me? What’s going on here? It’s kind of weird. I just got here.’
“It’s great to have someone that supports you in that kind of way.”
Throughout each season, Carroll quizzes his assistants on nuances normally the domain of a head coach. Game situations. Deciding when to go for first downs or kick it. Team scheduling. Practice routines.
All to keep their head-coaching minds sharp and ready for whenever the calls like Quinn is getting this week may come.
“We look to him as a mentor and somebody that we learn from all the time,” Quinn said. “So just being part of this organization and watching the guy interact with the team, help develop the coaches, to help develop the players, he’s been a huge impact on the philosophy — coaching wise, philosophy wise — it’s a blast working him with him. It really is.”
Quinn says “the learning never stops.”
“He’s always constantly challenging us: ‘Think of this 2-minute situation. Think of this,’” Quinn said. “And he’s often times putting us as coaches against each other in that scenario, where we do tons of 2-minute work, all the stuff that we do against each other, offensively and defensively. He’s constantly challenging us. One of the fun parts about being a coach on his staff.”
Seahawks players love Quinn for keeping the defense relatively simple in concept and allowing them to perform fast and free. Carroll thinks he could be a head coach tomorrow.
“He’s a fantastic person to work with. He’s a great communicator. He’s a gifted ball coach,” Carroll said. “He gets it, he has great sense for the game. I love working with him.
“The reason I had such a great sense for him was because of the guys he’s worked with before and guys that recommended him to me. Bill McPherson with the Niners had been with him and Bill is one of my closest confidantes in football and he swore by him—that was even before I knew Dan. I just came to know him quickly and he’s an easy guy to be around. He’s done so many things right here from handling the transition to the coordinator job, handling a bunch of guys that have a pretty good opinion about themselves (uh, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas), about what they’re capable of doing. Molding a bunch of young guys into a great unit in every phase.”
Bevell says Seahawks assistants will continue to show their appreciation for Carroll furthering their careers by striving to further his.
“We appreciate him. The key is, in return the most important thing we can do is do our job as well as we can, as long as we can,” Bevell said. “If that day never came and I was here doing this job as long as I could it would be awesome, because this is our focus.
“But on the other hand, that’s how we repay him – by doing this job the best that we can.”
EXTRA POINTS: The Seahawks will practice Wednesday and Thursday and be off Friday through Sunday. … Carroll said emerging DT Jordan Hill (knee) and SS Jeron Johnson (elbow) have “significant” injuries. But he didn’t rule them out for the Jan. 10 playoff game. … Carroll said C Max Unger, CB Tharold Simon and TE Cooper Helfet will provide a boost getting back after all missed the regular-season finale. Unger hasn’t played in six games because of his high-ankle sprain. But this bye and the fact he practiced on a limited basis last week make his return for the playoffs likely. … Carroll said WR Jermaine Kearse of Lakewood should be fine to play in the postseason. He missed last weekend’s game with a hamstring injury.