RENTON — Pete Carroll had no answers. No good ones, anyway.
He talked and explained. He defended and spun the news. He seemed nonchalant at times and passionate on occasion. But mostly the coach’s words came across as tired Tuesday as he discussed the Seahawks’ latest wave of drug suspensions.
They’re tired because change is lacking. The Seahawks are in Year 3 of a problem that is starting to feel more like a crisis. The NFL announced Walter Thurmond’s four-game suspension Tuesday for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Reports are that repeat offender Brandon Browner, who apparently can’t obey any of the NFL’s drug policies, is facing a one-year suspension for breaking the same rule.
Add these sins to the Seahawks’ rash of performance-enhancing drugs suspensions, and the franchise is up to seven drug cases, involving six players, since 2011. That doesn’t count Richard Sherman’s positive test last season, which was thrown out upon appeal.
Carroll said he was “disappointed” several times after practice, but he also babbled about taking chances on players and giving them multiple opportunities to rehabilitate. Those were his emptiest remarks of the day.
Said Carroll: “Over the years, I’ve always found myself looking for guys that maybe other people don’t see something special in, and maybe we take a chance on a guy here or there that needs some extra consideration and care. And sometimes guys, they have issues, and things pop up.”
It’s fine that the Seahawks are judging character in a much more nuanced manner than they did under former personnel boss Tim Ruskell, who was so rigid in his philosophy that he produced a team full of nice guys with marginal talent. Football is a roughneck sport that sometimes requires bringing in players with troubled reputations. But it’s not just the bad eggs that are getting suspended. To characterize the issue as merely the flip side of taking a chance is far too dismissive an explanation.
Carroll is in the middle of a 10-1 season, and he’s focusing on moving on and preparing his team to play well without Thurmond and Browner. So he’s making more excuses than he did in the offseason, when he addressed this issue in a much stronger way. It’s clear he must send a more powerful message if he really wants to stop the drug suspensions.
“Something’s off with the culture, the accountability,” former Seahawks linebacker Chad Brown said. “Something is off in the locker room and somewhere in the organization. When these things keep cropping up, it’s an indicator that something’s not right.”
Carroll scoffs at that thought.
“No,” he said when asked if the Seahawks’ culture is problematic. “We’ll always look to do it better, but we’re on it. Because somebody slips, that doesn’t mean that we’re not on track. I think we’re on a tremendous track right now.”
I don’t think the Seahawks are a loosely-run organization full of undisciplined players, but if others think that way, how can they really defend themselves? Seven suspensions in three years? Ridiculous doesn’t cover it.
Carroll preaches three things: Always protect the team, no excuses and be early. When Bruce Irvin received a four-game suspension during the offseason, the players met and the leaders talked about the personal accountability required to help the team reach its lofty goals. They thought the message had been received. But in a locker room of 60 players, counting the practice squad, you can never take anything for granted.
Carroll addressed his team again Tuesday. He says he’ll keep reinforcing the message. But if the problem persists, he will have to make an example out of a prominent player.
“You can’t expect to have perfection, but when things keep repeating themselves, that’s no longer an aberration,” Brown said. “That’s a trend. That’s something we can look at and say, ‘How come we haven’t fixed this yet?’ Leadership, at some point, has to step in and demand a zero-tolerance kind of thing. At this point, it’s jeopardizing a season that has Super Bowl written on it.”
Carroll would like us to believe the Seahawks aren’t just building a great team; they’re building a model for a way to succeed in life. Sometimes, you can see his idealistic dream coming to life. And then some dope gets busted for dope.
You can only rationalize the action for so long. At some point, a reaction is necessary, and in the Seahawks’ case, it needs to be forceful and punitive.