People like to say sports teams take on the personality of the head coach.
Under Mike Holmgren, you could say the Seahawks had a workmanlike personality, never saying or doing anything to intentionally draw attention to themselves. They simply went about their business week after week, seemingly content to stay hidden in the Pacific Northwest with the journalists and bloggers talking about everyone else.
Under Pete Carroll, there’s been a transformation of the Seahawks’ personality. Suddenly, they don’t seem quite so content with being the National Football League’s afterthought. They have chips on their shoulders, and they aren’t afraid to talk about them.
While these two identities couldn’t be more different, they do have one thing in common. They reflect the personality of their head coaches. Holmgren was a proven winner with a formula he saw bring the Lombardi Trophy to Green Bay. So upon arriving in Seattle following the 1998 season, there wasn’t a need for a bunch of fanfare and self-promotion. He saw what he had done, and most importantly, he knew everyone else had seen it too.
Carroll was a proven winner upon coming to Seattle as well. But not a Super Bowl winner. Sure, he had led USC to two Associated Press national championships. Sure, he had dominated the entire land of college football for the better part of a decade. But he hadn’t proven he could win in the NFL, and had actually failed the last time he was given an opportunity. Anyone who thinks Carroll doesn’t coach with a chip on his shoulder couldn’t be more clueless.
Enter Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers. Before Harbaugh took over as head coach prior to the 2011 season, the 49ers were the type of team everyone knew was talented, but just couldn’t find a way to consistently prove it. A lot like the Arizona Cardinals prior to Ken Whisenhunt. As the last two years have passed, with San Francisco winning back-to-back NFC West championships and playing in last year’s Super Bowl, the 49ers have finally proven it. Confidence has been a huge part of that. Harbaugh has that confidence, and now San Francisco has it as well.
Harbaugh, however, has another personality characteristic that isn’t so endearing. And if he’s not careful, it could ultimately be what keeps him from ever winning a Super Bowl.
There’s an unwritten rule that you don’t talk about issues surrounding other teams in the league. You talk about your team, and your team alone. Harbaugh broke from that code this week when he mused to the media about the Seahawks’ recent performance-enhancing drugs problem.
“I’ve definitely noticed it,” Harbaugh told reporters, responding to a question about the Seahawks’ PED issue. He could have ended it right there. Said it was an issue the Seahawks had to deal with and left it at that. No more comment. But Harbaugh, never one to let a good taunting opportunity go by the wayside, kept going.
“You don’t know what it is,” he continued. “Even when people say what it is, you don’t know that’s what it is. … But the NFL doesn’t release what it actually is. So you have no idea. You’re taking somebody at their word, that I don’t know that you can take them at their word, understanding the circumstances.”
Okay. He got the jab in. Wait, he still wasn’t finished?
“Play by the rules,” he went on. “And you always want to be above reproach. Especially when you’re good, because you don’t want people to come back and say they’re winning because they’re cheating. … So we want to be above reproach in everything and do everything by the rules. Because if you cheat to win, then you’ve already lost.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what Harbaugh was saying. You can’t trust the Seahawks to say and do the right thing and they’re a bunch of cheaters.
Reporters all too eager to see the comments escalate into a full-blown media circus asked Carroll what he thought of what Harbaugh said. Carroll squashed the story for the most part, but did allow that he wasn’t sure about talking about someone else’s team.
I suspect Carroll will let his team do the talking on Sept. 15. My guess is the 49ers are going to come to loathe playing Sunday Night Football games in Seattle.
You’d think Harbaugh would have learned his lesson last year after allegedly taunting Seahawks’ players following the 49ers’ 13-6 victory over Seattle in San Francisco. The Seahawks repaid him with a 42-13 beatdown for the whole country to see in December on Sunday Night Football. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman made sure to get in a shot of his own afterward by declaring it as a birthday present for Harbaugh, who had just turned 49 that day. Sherman actually prodded Coach Carroll to score another touchdown and go for two to give the Seahawks 50 (a gesture dripping with irony since it was Harbaugh’s Stanford team — which included Sherman — that pulled that trick against Carroll while at USC), but Carroll declined, saying that’s not what he’s about.
These shenanigans aren’t anything new for anyone who has followed Harbaugh and what he has done in the past though. Aside from going for two just to get to 50 against USC, Harbaugh continued his taunting after the game as he was walking out to midfield to shake Carroll’s hand. “Look at them all running in,” Harbaugh was heard mockingly saying as the Trojans’ players ran toward the tunnel. Then, at Washington the following year, Harbaugh was heard in the tunnel shouting at his players following a 41-0 Cardinal pasting of the Huskies.
“Dominating!” he reportedly said. “We kicked their ass every which way! One hell of a job on both sides of the line! Dominant, dominant! What are you guys, 5-1, 6-1 against that group? That’s the highest-paid coaching staff around!”
Could have left that for the locker room, but I guess he had to make sure the Huskies fans heard it.
There’s no question certain Seahawks are undisciplined. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have PED issues. Sherman wouldn’t say he’s better at life than ESPN’s Skip Bayless and goat Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White. But these are individual players and each individual has his own unique personality. Not everyone on the Seahawks’ roster goes around taking banned substances and talking garbage.
But for a head coach to engage in such childish antics? When it’s been shown that teams take on the personality of the head coach, it’s a problem when that head coach has a personality like Harbaugh’s. How can Harbaugh expect his team to be disciplined if he isn’t himself?
Some will brush off this notion because of the success Harbaugh enjoyed at Stanford, and has enjoyed at San Francisco. But I would caution those people; he’s only been with the 49ers for two years. And a lot of his most successful players were ones he had no hand in putting on the team. It will be interesting to see going forward, the more the players actually become Harbaugh’s own hand-picked players, whether they start to show the same lack of discipline, either on or off the field. I wonder if we’ll ever see one of his players punch a member of the media for calling him out.
One thing’s for sure though. If he wanted to give the Seahawks yet another chip on their shoulders, he succeeded. And we can agree, Sept. 15 can’t come soon enough.