Asked for an example from his past that illustrates the disconnect in some organizations between scouting and coaching, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll didn't have to think long before coming up with the name Chris Canty.
Canty was the New England Patriots' first-round pick (29th overall) in 1997. A 5-foot-9 cornerback out of Kansas State, he possessed none of the characteristics for which Carroll looked. Canty lasted two seasons with the team, and Googling his name now leads to various results about the Patriots' worst draft picks of all time.
"It was when I first got there, and I hadn’t been very involved in the draft," Carroll said last week at the owners' meetings. "I wasn’t part of the discussions and all that stuff. I’m not blaming... that was my fault for not getting more involved. Because we took a guy, we took a corner that wasn’t very fast, that had short arms, that was about 5-9. That ain’t the kind of guy that I like. It couldn’t be farther and more obvious that that was not representative of the way I coach. I wanted big guys back then. I was coaching that way in college. That was a great indicator of not being connected to it, and he didn’t play very well. It wasn’t his fault. We picked him. But that’s a good indication."
Carroll spent a chunk of his hour-long media session discussing the Seattle Seahawks' organizational structure -- how he works with general manager John Schneider, why it's important for the head coach to have an influence on the draft, and what's different from his previous stops with the Patriots and the New York Jets.
The conversation steered toward arguably the most important relationship in the NFL -- the one between coach and GM. The partnership can lead to sustained success or overwhelming failure. It's one that the Seahawks have gotten right.
In the past four years, the organization has won 46 regular-season games, tops in the NFC. The Seahawks have made it to at least the divisional round four straight seasons. They've been to the Super Bowl twice and won it once.
Carroll and Schneider are entering the final years of their contracts. Both have downplayed questions suggesting their relationship might come to an end. They also explained factors that ensure harmony between the coaching staff and scouting department.
"No ego. Ego is the enemy," Schneider said. "And it’s being able to communicate, being able to communicate in a clear, concise fashion and make decisions as quickly as you possibly can. But knowing that, first and foremost, we’re looking out for the organization number one, what’s best for the organization."
Added Carroll: "John and I are really connected in every aspect of what we’re doing. I think he’s the best general manager in football. I think he’s the best guy to work with. He does everything he can, one effort-wise and intensity-wise, to take advantage of every opportunity to add to our roster. He’s great at that. And his guys do a great job of evaluating and working through every opportunity. They compete like crazy to get that done."
Virtually every organization in the NFL preaches collaboration. For some, words hold weight; for others, actions don't back up the words.
Next to Carroll's table at the owner's meetings was a huge crowd surrounding Chip Kelly, now with the San Francisco 49ers. In Philadelphia, Kelly wrested personnel control away from general manager Howie Roseman after his second season. He proceeded to make questionable roster decisions and was fired before season three was over.
There is no perfect structure or formula. Schneider, in the past, has pointed to the Baltimore Ravens as an organization that does a great job with building its roster. There, general manager Ozzie Newsome calls the shots. In New England, though, it's coach Bill Belichick.
Given his past in New England and New York, Carroll understands the value of having Schneider. But he is adamant the coach has to be a big part of the evaluation process.
"We’ve got to coach these guys," Carroll said. "Our whole process is to help guys figure out how they can be the best they can be. As we’re involved in the draft, we’re looking for guys that have qualities and style that we think we can really make the most of. And so for us to be part of it is in part directing our focus to get guys that we think we can enhance their play.
"In those formats before, it never utilized what I could bring. I was just one of the chips on the table. I didn’t have a part of it. And I’ve got to coach these guys. I’ve got to figure out how to connect with these guys, communicate with them and motivate them and inspire them to play this game. Without the connection, I think that I was just... I wasn’t utilized. And I couldn’t add to what might uniquely help them be part of our team."
When Carroll went back to coach in the college ranks at USC, he realized the value in being able to make the final decisions. He was the coach, the GM, the last stop in the program.
"I just found that was the best way to be the most accurate in acquiring talent and then utilizing that," he said. "I can’t see where there’s a better way to do that. I think that’s the best way to do it because ultimately it comes down to the game and coaching guys and getting them fitted together. And so the coach has to be part of that to do that."
According to Carroll, the first three or four months together with Schneider in 2010 were critical. They basically "lived together" and hammered out their philosophies on every aspect of the organization. The goal was to make sure their visions were aligned and differences ironed out.
Still, there have been times when they disagree. Carroll and Schneider are not robots. While they might share similar philosophies, individual evaluations may differ. The same goes for scouts, assistant coaches and other members of the organization.
"We talk about no walls at our place, so we include our coaches in the draft and in free agency, and they have buy-in," Schneider said. "If they are recruiting a free agent and they don’t get him, they feel bad about it. But if they get him and they have their hands on him, they know that player is going to be coached up and taught. That’s the biggest part of it.’"
Added Carroll, "We work our way to the point where we agree on everything, and that’s through give and take and really great conversation and respect for one another. ... We get to the point where we agree on where we are going with something. And so I think it’s a marvelous part of our relationship with John and I, and that’s absolutely by intent. I anticipated the value that John brings and how extraordinary a factor he is in this process."
The Seahawks have been far from perfect in personnel decisions, and they're not afraid to take gambles as they've shown with players such as Percy Harvin and Jimmy Graham. Last offseason, the team gave cornerback Cary Williams $7 million in guarantees, and he made 10 starts before being released.
The organization drew criticism for selecting Frank Clark in the 2015 draft. And it's fair to wonder what the plan is going forward on the offensive line.
But in terms of the coach and general manager being on the same page, Carroll and Schneider are continuing to grow together. They have their quarterback in place with Russell Wilson, and the defense has allowed the fewest points in the NFL for four straight seasons, despite having three different coordinators since 2012.
The team has only one first-round pick (Earl Thomas) on the roster, yet if the season began today, the Seahawks would be among a handful of Super Bowl favorites.
"In any relationship, you’ve got to serve the relationship," Carroll said. "You’ve got to give everything you can to it to make it the most it can possibly be, and that’s what we’ve done. I don’t think it’s any different than your marriage or relationship with your children or people you work with or play with. It’s putting the other person first and trying to work tirelessly to understand them, to serve them, to help them be the best they can be in hopes that they will do the same so that you can expedite and facilitate the whole relationship. And it’s all based on respect -- the regard that you hold the other person in and then how you act and treat them."