New Seahawks Coach Brings No Culture With Him. Good.


If the NFL held a draft to expunge words from the football vocabulary, my first-round choice would be “culture.” Football fans think they know what it is, but no one can explain it beyond some vague vibe around the head coach. Some ascribe much virtue to it. My guess is that Don Shula, Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry won a lot of games without knowing what the hell it was.

Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll probably are hip to the term. Yet they won a lot of games seemingly by pursuing “culture” from opposite directions. Belichick’s infrequent smile had all the warmth of the first scratch on a new car. Carroll’s occasional interpretations of Daffy Duck had the capacity to scare small children.

Was either way right? Or wrong? Both gents were successful, yet both appear to have insufficient qualities, including their opposing approaches to culture, to appeal to any of the eight teams that had coaching vacancies this off-season.

Fortunately for me, I won’t have to indulge flagrant over-use of culture regarding the Seahawks. In hiring Mike Macdonald Wednesday, they have a head coach with no culture — of the NFL variety — because he’s never been a head coach, at any level, in his relatively brief tenure upon the planet.

The point came to mind as the first Seahawks coaching search in 14 years meandered through three weeks since Carroll was surprisingly gang-planked.  At his lone press conference since then, general manager John Schneider said something that called for scrutiny. He was asked whether Jody Allen, chair of her late brother Paul’s trust and thus the Seahawks’ decider who fired Carroll, gave directions to Schneider as he was handed the football reins of an NFL franchise.

“It’s clear, it’s concise,” Schneider said. “We want to keep our positive culture, everything that’s been created here.”

Well . . . bleah. 

What franchise wants another kind? Is there even a choice in sports?  Does it matter? Belichick was a curmudgeonly crank, but with six Super Bowl wins and 31 playoff-game wins, it didn’t seem to be a career impediment.

Carroll’s high-energy enthusiasm was a unique personality trait that endeared him to fans, media, players, coaches and employees. But did the creation of a funhouse lead to more football success than some other version?

I’m dubious. What is easier to discern is that the Seahawks weren’t succeeding. Since the last Super Bowl appearance nine years ago, the Seahawks have three playoff wins and have missed the post-season in two of the past three seasons.

In 2023, the Seahawks were 6-1 against non-playoff teams and 3-7 against playoff teams, including 0-4 against the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams, division rivals who outscored the Seahawks by a cumulative 106-48. The three wins against good teams? A harrowing survival in OT at Detroit, and two final-minute home dramas, 24-20 over Cleveland and 20-17 over the down-spiraling Eagles. Getting to the final 9-8 record required Geno Smith to set a single-season NFL quarterback record with five final-minute, game-winning drives. Good on Geno. But the Seahawks were one failed play away in each of three games from 6-11.

Carroll could argue that the Seahawks would have been 11-6 had they finished off properly against the Cowboys (41-35) and the second Rams game (17-16). But beyond this typical if-then parlor exercise endured after every season that disappoints is this key conclusion at the end of Carroll’s 14th season in Seattle: Despite consecutive solid drafts, the Seahawks were nowhere near championship caliber.

Where Carroll had been consistently successful was in managing up. A vastly underrated but critical feature in his 14 years was that, regarding major franchise decisions, no daylight appeared between Carroll and Schneider, and Carroll and ownership. Never did any story leak about conflicts between the two on personnel matters. Glance around the NFL and you will see frequent coach/GM disagreements that end up dividing staffs and scouts, producing stories of disarray and dysfunction that often lead to job loss.

That isn’t to say it was all yippee-skippee between the Seahawks leaders. But Carroll averted the potential for public conflicts by dictating terms before he agreed in 2010 to leave USC for a third try in the NFL: He insisted on final say on all football-personnel matters. That very unusual stipulation by a coach was accepted only because then-CEO Tod Leiweke insisted Carroll choose the GM from a list of four executives Leiweke had researched. Carroll interviewed all four and chose Schneider, who had never been a GM.

Leiweke wanted to avoid cronyism. The slick maneuver created a coherent partnership that produced way more hits than misses, helping elevate the Seahawks to one of the NFL’s more highly regarded franchises.

Seven months after Leiweke hired Carroll, he left the Seahawks for the NHL and Tampa Bay, where he was the top executive and a part-owner. Then he moved on to be COO of the NFL, second in command to commissioner Roger Goodell. Now he’s back in town with the NHL and helped make the expansion Kraken a success, housed in a state of art arena at Seattle Center that was privately funded.

The Seahawks never filled the position held by Leiweke, the best executive in Seattle sports history. All senior execs since have been business-side, not football-side. When Paul Allen’s death in 2018 elevated his sister to estate chair, she kept Bert Kolde, her brother’s bestie from college, as vice chair.

Allen and Kolde were referred to by Carroll in a report that quoted him saying “non-football people” fired him, implying they didn’t understand the game. That was a rare bit of foolishness by Carroll — most franchises are owned by non-football people, who paid for the right to fire anyone they want. One team owned by an ex-player, the Dallas Cowboys, has been a house afire for a quarter-century thanks to the nincompoopery of Jerry Jones.

Absent any “football people” oversight in Seattle, Schneider is for the first time in full charge of the Seahawks. Rather than choose either of two credible candidates who were former head coaches, Dan Quinn and Mike Vrabel, he selected the inexperienced McDonald, a highly successful defensive coordinator in two years with the Baltimore Ravens.

At 36, he is the youngest head coach in the NFL. He must also learn to manage up. When Schneider began in Seattle, he was 39. He too, brought no culture, wasn’t in full control and had to learn to manage up.

At 52, he didn’t want another Carroll. Which is good, because there isn’t one. Schneider seeks another Sean McVay, who took the Rams’ top job in 2017 at 30, and won a Super Bowl two years ago.

Culture doesn’t breed winning. Winning breeds culture. The rest is personality.

Art Thiel
Art Thiel
Art Thiel is a longtime sports columnist in Seattle, for many years at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and now as founding editor at


  1. Art, I thought your first round pick for words to expunge from the football vocabulary would be ‘must-win’, but I completely understand if you want to elevate ‘Culture’ to this spot. Your last line certainly has it right; “Culture doesn’t breed winning. Winning breeds culture.” I’d advance that losing also breeds culture, but in either case culture is the consequence, not the starting point. There will eventually be a Macdonald ‘culture’. Hopefully it’s a winning one. Jimmy Lake is still too fresh of a memory for me. I really don’t want to see another successful DC doing a face-plant as the Head Coach. This is, of course, the big risk that John Schneider is taking by going for the young, inexperienced, promising coach vs someone with a successful track record in the job (Quinn / Vrabel).

    Facetiously speaking of which…are we going to be seeing an age discrimination lawsuit from Belichick or Carroll? Obviously, these guys are about as much a lock for winning as anyone, but haven’t gotten much consideration. Its hard not to say that age has been a deciding factor for owners. What’s also obvious is that both Belichick and Carroll were shown the door in large part because of their failure to maintain a high quality, winning staff. -Particularly at the OC and DC spots. Maybe it exists behind the scenes, but you sure don’t see the level of evaluation, stack ranking, draft order etc. for coaches that you do for the players. Given the level of churn in these jobs, you’d think that building a great staff of coaches would get as much ongoing attention as building the roster. This is the big challenge now for Mike and John.

    • If I could trade lower picks to get back into the first round, must-win is definitely a must-go.

      Regarding avoiding Belichick and Carroll, something I wanted to mention in the column had nothing to do with age. Both had final say in all personnel/coaching decisions. I doubt either would take another job absent that asset, and I doubt any team would offer such power to a 70-something coach.

  2. There will no doubt be a much different look on the sidelines then the gum poppin’ energetic Carroll.
    Kind of ironic, but this looks like a good hire and could be a long run with this organization.

    • It is a good hire. Macdonald is well-known in coaching circles, and well-regarded. I’ve read one source saying there was a bidding war for his services, and Seattle won.

  3. I’m somewhat surprised that the club hired a candidate with only 2 years experience as an NFL coordinator as well as being the youngest head coach in the league. During the Allen era the club fired Dennis Erickson who had no prior NFL experience when he was hired by the previous owner (though he won a national championship at Miami admittedly with Jimmy Johnson’s recruits) then hired the best head coach with Mike Holmgren and after a cup of tea with Jim Mora hired the best available football coach with Pete Carroll. The Mike McDonald hire is very much outside the Seahawks usual modus operandi. Is it a desperate move or one borne of insight that is needed to succeed? Based on recent hires of first year coaches ( Nathaniel Hackett for one ) growing pains are to be expected. The term of his contract suggests that the Seahawks are aware of that. Will the 12s tolerate back-to-back losing seasons that include being swept by the Brock Purdy Victory Tour? How will a rookie coach deal with a DK Metcalf tantrum? All Pro Bobby Wagner being continuously beat in coverage? The constant injuries to Jamal Adams? And a starting QB controversy? Can the team compete at the start of the season or are they on a 3-6 year rebuild plan?

    Granted missing the playoffs 2 of the past three years gets the crooked finger pointed at the coaching staff, especially with the payroll they have. And the descent of the club since the Super Bowl has been obvious. The poor drafting since then has been painful to watch. When a team wins, the more wins they have the lower the draft pick and it seems the philosophy was to gamble on certain players since they had low draft picks rather than taking the best athlete available. Easy to say after the fact but when that’s how the Super Bowl Seahawks were built as well as today’s Niners it can’t be helped but wonder if the finger truly should have been pointed at Pete Carroll.

    • It seems like Mike’s resume looks pretty good with the number one defense with the Ravens. He also was defensive coordinator at Michigan working with Jim Harbaugh.
      In the press conference, I believe that he showed a lot of humility and presented himself well.
      Sadly, there are no guarantees, and the team is or soon be up for sale.
      I tend to be bullish on this hire, as I was when Pete was picked.

  4. So many questions, John. Can’t answer all in one hire. The Paul Allen era of the big swing for big-name veteran coaches (Holmgren, Mora, Carroll) is now passe, as it is around the league. The ascensions of McVay, Shanahan and McDaniel have demonstrated that in an an increasingly data-driven sport, the young guys who grew up with analytics are a step ahead of older guys who aren’t digital natives. Carroll did his best to keep up, but it wasn’t second-nature for him.

  5. Arthur, I believe we agree on regrettable loss of Pete Carroll. That said, I did not start out as a Carroll fan. Before he came north, I read a “Vanity Fair” piece about his frat boy environment at USC that soured my opinion. After initial trepidations, However, he won me over.

    It’s a pity that 24/7 sports rant media seems to be a significant element in sacking successful coaches before their time. I doubt Tom Laundry, Bud Grant or even Don Shula would have lasted as long as they did in the current “off with their heads” environment.

    Frat boy Pete gave our self-conscious town its first major sport championship since the Sea Sonics in ’79 (I know, I know … the Storm … the Sounders). We really owed him the ability to go on his terms. I fear a return to our old blue and silver Chicken Hawks past but then I’m a Mariners fan, so I have been conditioned to expect the worse.

  6. I don’t think the sports-rant media had anything to do with the decision to fire Carroll. In this town, Carroll had a lot of media support, as he should have. He was good. But it can’t be argued that the Seahawks fell behind SF and LA, and this was Carroll’s worst year for developing solutions. Macdonald’s hire is a good one, even if the first year in the hot seat is rocky.

    • Fair enough Art. Upon reflection I tend to agree with you regarding the local media’s take on Pete. And the record does back you up on the LA/SF angle. I stand corrected.

  7. I disagree, I think teams do build cultures that aren’t necessarily engendered from winning. Sometimes it’s literal cosmetic details like the Yankees’ ban of facial hair, or strict grooming requirements of John Wooden’s UCLA and Ed Pepple’s Mercer Island basketball teams. It can show up in how much ownership spends or doesn’t spend on facilities and support (see the Cowboys and Bears for the extremes), which does affect the willingness of coaches and players to sign there.

    Culture also shows up in how loose or strict the players are watched over, like when the Arizona Diamondbacks went from Buck Showalter’s binder-sized rulebook to Bob Brenly’s two-item guidelines (be on time, and work hard). Or even how a team responds when a player gets in legal trouble, like how the Patriots and Ravens quickly cut ties with Aaron Hernandez and Ray Rice vs. Hockey Canada’s cover-up of and quick settlements over an alleged sexual assault case involving several players on a recent national team.

    The best example of culture might be Lou Lamoreillo, who’s run a very tight ship with the Devils (3 Stanley Cups), Leafs and Islanders. Lamoreillo insists on a structured defense-first style, regardless of how talented his forwards are and his coaches’ offensive instincts. He also wants his teams to tone down on flamboyance, such as no high numbers on player jerseys and resisting alternate jerseys until the NHL’s marketing department mandated them. The button-down style goes on off the ice, such as requiring coats and ties on road trips, staying at business-class hotels in Vegas suburbs when playing the Golden Knights (the Strip is an inappropriate place for business travel, apparently), and no facial hair except for playoff beards. When Lamoreillo hired Barry Trotz, fresh off a Cup win with the Capitals, to coach the Islanders, Trotz had to shave off his goatee, and even Patrick Roy, a multiple Stanley Cup and junior champion winner, had to say goodbye to his thick beard when he took the Isles’ job a couple of weeks ago.

  8. I just figured Jody Allen’s comment was code for “don’t even think about hiring Belichick or Harbaugh.” I was relieved to hear it.


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