RENTON — After Sunday's victory over the Rams, Seahawks veteran linebacker Bruce Irvin offered what might be the best explanation ever given about coach Pete Carroll's ability to get his players to buy into whatever lofty vision he's selling.
"Pete has a way of getting you in here, and he looks at you with those blue eyes, and it feels like he's looking through your soul," said Irvin, who played on Seattle's Super Bowl championship team in 2013 and returned to the Seahawks for the second time this past October.
"You'll be like, 'No, I'm not doing that.' But as soon as Pete lays those blue eyes on you, you kind of melt. You're like, 'Oh, yes sir, yes sir.' "
In 2022, Carroll has done perhaps his finest coaching job. He took a little-regarded team to the playoffs in what looked to everyone but him to be a season of transition, not one of actual accomplishment. But by the time Carroll got done batting his baby blues, the Seahawks had finished with a 9-8 record and eked their way into the playoffs.
"We had higher expectations," Carroll said Monday. "That's why I couldn't go along with all the talk about rebuilding and all that stuff. It just doesn't jibe with me. I don't know why you would ever make that concession ever. I don't get it. Just go for it. And so we did."
But now, the Seahawks face an even more daunting challenge, and Carroll will have to take his already-legendary persuasive skills to a new level. If Carroll can somehow find a way to navigate the Seahawks past the 49ers on Saturday in the first round of the NFL playoffs, it would be one of the pinnacles of his career.
The 49ers are riding a 10-game winning streak, have been established as 10-point favorites and might have the NFL's deepest collection of elite talent on both sides of the ball. San Francisco has statistically the best defense in the league and ranks fifth in total offense. Down to their third starting quarterback of the year, the 49ers somehow have unearthed a gem in rookie Brock Purdy, the final pick of the 2022 NFL draft. Twice already this season, the 49ers have handled the Seahawks with ease and will be widely expected to do so again.
And yet, I get the distinct impression that Carroll absolutely loves this scenario — another chance to get his players to believe they can defy the popular wisdom. Although he professed Tuesday to not have pondered the odds or Seattle's underdog status, Carroll did say earlier in the week, speaking in general terms, that he embraces the chances to prove people wrong when they crop up.
"Yes, of course. Heck, yeah. I love doing that. I have no problem with that. I don't mind telling you that."
Carroll later used a word that's not a common one in coaching parlance to describe the challenge of taking a Seahawks team that had lost mainstays Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner in the offseason and not letting it crumble:
That's why, at age 71, Carroll was as energized as he's ever been in 2022 — and into 2023.
"I didn't think I needed a kick in the butt to get fired up," he said. "But it was a natural challenge. There's a lot more unknown. That's what the experienced guys give you, more of the known stuff. And as you transition, you have to figure it out. It's enthralling for me to try to find the ways to make sense, to put together what you've got to put together, and to match it up right and try to minimize the false steps and the miscues that get in the way."
It hasn't been a flawless job of that. Even after the playoff spot had been secured by virtue of Detroit's narrow evening win over the Packers, Carroll expressed frustration over a series of would-be wins that had gotten away from the Seahawks. As he pointed out, that's the reason that they had to sweat out the Lions-Packers game rather than sailing into the playoffs.
But now that they're safely there, Carroll can redouble his ongoing effort to reinforce the trust that he says is at the very foundation of his coaching. Truth is, it takes more than just looking soulfully into their eyes, though over time Carroll's sincerity and consistency has been his calling card.
"The trust thing, I feel like I have to prove it to them," he said. "I'm constantly proving to our guys why they can believe in this and that, and why they can believe in themselves, and why they can believe in the guy next to them. I've really been on that bent for a long time of trying to prove that they're capable of whatever we can imagine them to become. ... It's constant."
Carroll said that he loves playing close, down-to-the-wire games such as Sunday's, despite the stress it puts on fans, because it teaches his players how to handle themselves under pressure. It's a grace-under-fire tutorial that he feels pays dividends down the road.
Similarly, Carroll embraces playing a team such as the 49ers that will enter the playoffs as one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl.
"Playing the Niners, a team like this that is so freaking loaded in every direction, and they've got everything, I'm sure they have a huge vision of where they're going and all that," he said. "You have to beat teams like that. You have to. If you want to win, you have to beat teams like that. You have to beat championship teams. And so that's the challenge."
It's a daunting one for Carroll and the Seahawks, and it would take an upset of major proportions for their season to stay alive Saturday. It's a big stretch to think it will happen. But the veteran coach hopes that when he tells his players they can win this game — and how — their response will be, "Oh, yes sir."