How Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll formed the quintessential QB-coach relationship

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Russell Wilson is twenty-eight years old. He is 5’11, 215 pounds. Wilson was a 2012 third-round pick, selection No. 75. He is the Seattle Seahawks’ franchise quarterback.

Wilson started all 16 games as a rookie in 2012, and threw 26 touchdown passes. He won Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014, and returned for an encore appearance the following season in a loss to Tom Brady’s Patriots. His 46 victories in his first four seasons are the most any quarterback has amassed in an opening four-year span in NFL history. He is also the second-highest-rated passer in NFL history, trailing only Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.

His leadership skills are strong. So is his communication and his reflection of Seattle head coach Pete Carroll, winner of Super Bowl XLVIII. Wilson exudes confidence.


Carroll first met Wilson at the 2012 Senior Bowl.

“He had a baseball background. I loved that; just more versatility. Someone had warned me that when I met him to be prepared that things he would say he totally believed. To not take it the wrong way. It’s just his confidence, his way. So, he walks into our hotel room for a visit and says he is going to be All-Pro. Win the Super Bowl. I didn’t say OK, sure, but just, OK, OK, OK. He was really confident and bold with a big-picture outlook. He allowed himself to be inspired.”

Carroll immediately realized they shared “an outlook of optimism.” That, when the games are long and tough, they both believe those games can be won.

But that Wilson confidence which was explained to Carroll before their first meeting, the way that Carroll prepped for it, did not flow that easily for Wilson’s teammates in their earliest phases with him. They initially saw Wilson as “a different kind of cat,”.

There was a confidence about him, yet, he was too easily, too naturally of a self-aggrandizing nature, other teammates said. The Seahawks initially produced too much team success cloaked into Wilson, where the players were beginning to feel like they were the “Russell Wilsons” instead of the Seattle Seahawks.

Too much marketing of his brand sometimes at the expense of their own. Too much “Russell being Russell.”

“Early on I talked to him,” Carroll said. “I talked to other quarterbacks I’ve had, to Matt Leinartand Carson Palmer and all the others. That you and I must represent this team. Be connected in our understanding and our language. That I’m counting on you. We give each other great support. We operate in concert. He has totally bought in. It’s expected. We both have so many opportunities to represent the team. We sort of do as one.

“When our program first started here in Seattle, a lot of our guys were the same age. All of them were in one or two years of each other. A lot of elite players in the league. A lot happening all of the time. Going through changes. A lot of people blossoming at different times. The quarterback is going to get a lot of the focus. And Russell did. There was some stuff to work out, because the really good quarterbacks are unique. They have their own way of doing things. They are not always clicking with everybody. They have so much going on in the way they are overwhelmingly involved. Maybe one day they blow through the locker room with a hundred things on their minds. And maybe they didn’t say hello to someone. So much on their minds, yet, scrutinized. Favre, Peyton, Brady, they’re all like that.

“I was in the quarterback room before Russell came to his first minicamp. I told the guys not to expect this guy to be one of the fellas. He’s on a destiny trip. He may surprise you. Give it some time to figure it out. I want everyone here to be themselves. Now, Russell is older. The younger guys on the team see him much differently from the guys he grew up with here. The younger guys grew up watching him on TV. He had a date with destiny in his mind. I hoped it was real. One practice and he showed command. He was just centered, extraordinary. We said yeah, we can see how it happened at Wisconsin with him.”

Carroll insists that the NFL is, first and foremost, a relationship business. And that is his philosophy in Seattle. It is just who the Seahawks are, he says. He said his coaches coach with development principles in mind. He tells them all to celebrate uniqueness. He tells them everyone finds their best when they learn how to deal with each other.

“We went through his rookie preseason evaluating him and Matt Flynn. It was a structured, competitive format. The fourth preseason game, against Kansas City, I think he scored five out of the first six times we had the ball. I remember telling our coaches: ‘It looks like we are going to do it. We got a rookie starter.’ [General Manager] John [Schneider] wanted to ease into the situation. He thought it might be too much too soon for Russell. But we compete. He won the competition. He’s the starter.”

Carroll turns sixty-six on September 15. He is thirty-seven-plus years older than Russell, and the league’s oldest head coach. He had already coached football for fifteen years when Russell was born.

This was never more apparent than in their Super Bowl XLIX loss to New England. The stupefying game where they were close to the winning score in the final seconds and then Wilson was intercepted by Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler.

Adversity in the NFL can destroy bonds. It can also strengthen them. It can reveal just how much symmetry exits between a quarterback and his head coach. Because after that play, Wilson walked to the sideline directly in front of Carroll. No words were exchanged.

Carroll said that night: “We just looked at each other trying to realize the gravity of what we just witnessed.”

This is how Carroll describes it now: “Before I even looked up, a flash of an instant, I sensed a real clarity for me what that moment was. There was nothing hopeful. Just a couple of snaps left. A real test. Here comes Russell. He knows there was nothing that could be said. We have talked extensively about it since. Real. This is the real test. We practiced that a ton. That’s why we threw it. Next play would have been a run. We were going to use all four plays.

“But there was also the Super Bowl win. We were winning big early but Russell did not celebrate in that game early. He stayed right on it. He kept telling everyone to focus. Our classic way. But I think I might have had a little more fun with it. He was actually doing the job better than me.”

Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll look back and see how things have blown by so fast. The future for both optimists looks good. This is what they preach. This is who they are.

“I really look forward to seeing how Russell’s game grows,” Carroll said. “He is five years old in the NFL compared to guys who did it a long time, like Peyton and Brady and Roethlisberger. This [2017] season will be his sixth season. Some of those guys have ten years on him. The maturity and the command, I look forward to that. And it will all naturally take place. It will happen. I think about how far we have already come. He still wants it so badly. He can be one of the real greats.”

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