When it comes to explaining the often-fraught relationships between pro coaches/managers and their players, baseball sage Casey Stengel was the most honest man in sporting history.
The secret of successful managing,” he once said, “is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the four guys who haven’t made up their minds.”
Many sports fans indulge the reverie that teams most of the time share an overarching camaraderie and purpose. That’s often true. But it’s just about as often that managers and laborers would be thrilled to step out into the street and settle things.
Jay Buhner couldn’t stand his Mariners manager, Jim Lefebvre, who was fired (for other reasons). Another Mariners manager, Mike Hargrove, shared with Ichiro a mutual contempt, and Hargrove quit mid-season. Somehow Bill Belichick and Tom Brady made it through 20 years with the Patriots without tossing each other over the top rope and onto the press table, but that ended clumsily too.
Long-ago Sonics fans (is there another kind?) may recall that Gary Payton got his coach fired. Paul Westphal, stuck with a roster that included a drunk Vin Baker and an NBA-decrepit Patrick Ewing, was fired a few days after earlier suspending the All-Star guard for about half a day for talking back to him (teammates had to drag Payton off the team bus in San Antonio to keep him from clocking the coach).
The history is offered to help gain a little perspective on the latest contretemps involving Russell Wilson, who is drawing controversy to him like Quint drew a shark in Jaws.
This one is different.
This time, Wilson, according to anonymous league sources talking to The Athletic, after the 2021 season went over the heads of coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider to owner Jody Allen seeking to have them fired.
The disclosure sizzled around the NFL, the most hierarchical of all pro team sports. In the tsunami of subsequent reaction, a point overlooked was that, unlike most coach vs. superstar collisions where the athlete seeks a trade, Wilson presumably had the audacity to believe that his teammates would go along with his idea of flushing Carroll, Schneider, their assistants and most of the management team and replacing them with strangers who owed their new gigs to Wilson.
For anyone needing a topical example of the messiah complex, insert Wilson’s photo here. Fercripesakes. Wilson just retired the team-sport trophy for selfishness. But apparently that good-teammate thing is not important.
Bad as was that disclosure, worse was the kerfuffle around the set-up with his new team, the Broncos, where he was dispatched after his hostile takeover of the Seahawks failed. Showing he had learned nothing from being cashiered in Seattle, Wilson demanded and received second-floor office space in the team headquarters building, a place normally reserved for coaches and executives.
A former Broncos coach, who was there last season and moved on, told The Athletic: “The players were always on the first floor; they never really came up to the second floor. If you came up to the second floor as a player, it honestly wasn’t a good thing because you were probably getting released.”
Wilson was as oblivious about his place in his new job as he was in his old job. But the Broncos had new ownership looking for splash, and a rookie head coach looking for credibility, so Wilson became an ad-hoc partner, not a player — for up to $245 million if he fulfills all of his contract. Then he failed miserably in his first year as a player, as did the 5-12 Broncos.
And crypto investors thought they had a bad year.
A lawyer for Wilson sent a letter to The Athletic, saying the story was “entirely fabricated.” Wilson also tweeted his denial of the Carroll/Schneider fracture:
The Seahawks stayed silent until Tuesday in Indianapolis, where all teams gather annually to prod and poke players eligible for the draft in April. At scheduled press briefings, Carroll and Schneider were well-rehearsed: No confirmation or denial of the story, no scorn of Wilson, no hint of indignation or outrage. No snickering.
Schneider called it “water under the bridge,” and Carroll engaged in a cagey soliloquy about his eternal embrace of former players regardless of how untidy their departures.
“My response to that is a similar response that it’s always been with, with the guys that I’ve coached, that I’m always going to hang with them,” he said. “I’m never going to leave ’em, and I’m going to be there at the end, (for) all of the good stuff and all of the bad stuff. I’m going to still be there. And so that’s it, you know? I’m hanging.
“And it doesn’t matter who the guy is . . . regardless of what has taken place or the things that have been said. If you hang with them, it all comes back around. I’d like to demonstrate that faith in the relationship and the depth of what we did together, and hang through whatever the growth challenges bring to us along the way.”
Cynics will say there goes Pete, all airy-fairy again. But the remarks are a sincere expression of his thinking. Absent documentary evidence about the takeover allegation, the judgment by many regarding this story will rest on authenticity. It’s not hard to guess the verdict. My sincere hope for Wilson is that new Broncos coach Sean Payton has an assistant who coaches authenticity.
Which is not to say that for last season’s home opener against Wilson and the Broncos, Carroll wasn’t wrapped way too tight around the axle. He loaded up the sidelines with ex-players and hinted what he wanted from aggrieved Seahawks fans. The subsequent 17-16 win carried no great football significance, but it drained the Seahawks sufficiently that they played next week probably their worst game of the season against San Francisco, a 27-7 magnum stinker whose only Seattle score was a blocked field goal return.
Carroll wanted payback against Wilson, more probably than anyone knew, and paid a little price. So what? He kept the guys who hadn’t made up their minds on his side.