Friday, January 8, 2010
Sources: Carroll likely to replace Mora
By Chris Mortensen
Seattle Seahawks coach Jim Mora has been fired, the first coach in team history to be let go after one season, and league sources say longtime USC coach Pete Carroll is being targeted as Mora's replacement.
A prominent USC source close to the athletic department said Friday that Carroll joining the Seahawks was "going down."
Carroll met with Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke and other members of the organization earlier this week. The two sides are close to a five-year deal worth $7 million a year that would make Carroll both president and head coach, sources told the Los Angeles Times.
While Carroll would receive control over football operations, sources said that Leiweke still wants to be involved in selecting a general manager to preserve some system of checks and balances. However, Carroll would have final authority on personnel and will be heavily involved in the hiring of the new GM. The issue is not considered a deal-breaker, sources said.
A source close to Carroll told ESPN The Magazine's Bruce Feldman that Carroll is scheduled to meet with the Seahawks either Saturday night or Sunday.
Members of Seattle's coaching staff, the source said, also were informed Friday afternoon that the franchise now will hire a head coach before hiring a general manager, which also is consistent with Carroll's prior statements about considering any return to the NFL.
Carroll previously has said he's learned at USC that running his own operation is paramount to success and it would be a priority for him to set up his own football operation if a desirable NFL position ever became available. Carroll did not have that authority as coach of both the New York Jets and New England Patriots in the 1990s.
In a text message Friday, Carroll said, "You know I haven't responded to a NFL question in two years." But a league source said Carroll is trying to persuade USC offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates to join him in Seattle -- as opposed to Bates pursuing the same position with the Chicago Bears.
Said another source close to Carroll: "You're about to see a big headline that shakes up the major college football world," in reference to the Seahawks development. The Seahawks did not confirm but also did not deny that Carroll is a leading candidate to become coach.
"Pete's name comes out at this time every year. In the past, he hasn't commented on such reports," USC spokesman Tim Tessalone said in an e-mail, according to The Associated Press. "He was not expected in [Friday]. ... At this point, we have nothing to report."
University of Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, who left his friend Carroll and the Trojans 12 months ago for his first head-coaching job, chuckled when asked if he'd like to be a head coach in the same city as his mentor.
"That'd be kind of fun," Sarkisian told The Associated Press.
"I'm so used to hearing people talk about Pete Carroll going to the NFL, they've been saying it for the last seven years when I was with him, so it's not new to me," Sarkisian said. "It doesn't surprise me at all. Every year. You can't find a year in the last seven years where it hasn't been brought up."
Mora attended a meeting Friday morning with management, at which time he was told by Leiweke that he did not win enough games to save his job. The Seahawks ended the season on a four-game losing streak to finish 5-11.
Mora was shocked by his dismissal, believing that when he was called to Leiweke's office that he would be in a discussion about the team's vacant general manager's job, Seahawks sources said.
"This team, more importantly this community, means so much to me that it hurts not being able to see this through," Mora said in a team-issued statement. "I am disappointed I did not get the chance to complete my contract. This is a tough business that sometimes demands immediate gratification."
The Seahawks are floundering less than four years after they appeared in the Super Bowl. Seattle is 9-23 since its last playoff appearance in January 2008, after four consecutive NFC West titles, and now it's without a coach, general manager and president.
"We've made a tough decision today," Leiweke said in a statement. "It became apparent after conducting an extensive internal audit that a new direction was needed to provide an opportunity for the organization to be successful. Today's decision, while difficult, is part of the process in building a franchise with a new vision in 2010."
Seattle has spent time trying to hire a general manager after Tim Ruskell, who in 2008 picked Mora to replace coach Mike Holmgren, resigned during the season. Seattle recently spoke to Holmgren about becoming GM, but the two sides couldn't come to an agreement before the end of the regular season.
Eagles GM Tom Heckert and Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta canceled their previously scheduled interviews -- both before Carroll's name surfaced. Heckert canceled shortly after his visit to Cleveland and DeCosta canceled earlier this week.
The Seahawks plan to begin interviewing GM candidates next week.
Mora joined the Seahawks in February 2008 on a five-year contract that called for him to transition to coach once Holmgren retired. Mora was an assistant for the 2008 season, then succeeded Holmgren.
Mora is believed to have about $12 million remaining on the final three years of his contract.
Once Mora was informed of his dismissal, the Seahawks asked Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier to interview quickly for the job but he turned them down, suspecting that the team did not have serious interest but was only trying to satisfy the Rooney Rule that requires minority candidates to be interviewed, a source said.
But Frazier changed his mind about the interview after the Seahawks agreed to travel to Minnesota. Frazier will meet with Seattle on Saturday.
The Seahawks have contacted San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera about possibly interviewing this weekend, a league source told ESPN Insider Adam Schefter. Rivera would also satisfy the Rooney Rule requirements.
Chris Mortensen is ESPN's senior NFL analyst.