On Wednesday, the Seattle Seahawks ended one of the most successful eras in the team’s history.
Pete Carroll, the seemingly ageless wonder who led the team to its first (and so far, only) Super Bowl title in 2013 and holds the franchise record for wins and winning percentage, stepped aside after 14 seasons on the sideline.
Carroll finished with winning records in 11 of his 14 seasons, and his final win to get him one final winning record epitomized so much of the Carroll era: Hang tough and then count on some crazy magic to win the game. In the end, the final vision of Carroll as a Seahawks coach will be him celebrating on the sidelines in Arizona with his team, having seen the opposing kicker miss a field goal to keep the Seahawks in the game, a sudden touchdown drive, and two-point conversion with an offense that had been comatose all game, then seeing Arizona kicker Matt Prater miss yet another field goal to give the Seahawks a one-point win.
Whether the Seahawks fans are sad to see the end of an unprecedented era of success or happy to turn the page on a coach who has seemed to grow stale in recent seasons, next year will be a brave new world for the Seahawks. The team has had three head coaches in the last 24 years, with Mike Holmgren or Carroll in charge of 23 of them.
While Carroll didn’t go out hoisting a Lombardi trophy, this is probably the next best thing for him. He goes out with a win, one last chance to backslap his players and swagger to midfield, and doesn’t have to leave following a heartbreaking loss or a long, drawn-out process. Holmgren announced 2008 would be his final year, saw the team suffer through the worst season of his Seattle tenure, then handed the reins to defensive coordinator Jim Mora the following offseason. Mora got one disastrous campaign before he was unceremoniously fired and replaced with Carroll. Carroll made no such plans about his future, needed no long goodbyes, and didn’t put in place a plan for a successor.
That leaves the question of who will be the next head coach for the Seahawks. Here are five options:
5) Shane Waldron, Seahawks offensive coordinator. The team’s current offensive coordinator may be the closest thing the team has to an on-staff successor. However, his offensive game planning has inspired much confidence over the past three seasons, starting each of them hot and fading significantly in the second half of the season as teams adjusted. This year saw Geno Smith regress in almost every significant category despite getting key new additions to the offense. While it’s more likely Waldron will be gone when a new coaching staff arrives, keep him in mind as a backup option if other candidates fall through.
4) Eric Bieniemy, Washington Commanders offensive coordinator. Bieniemy is widely regarded as the architect of the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive juggernaut from 2018-2022. He departed Kansas City this past offseason to see what he could do with more money and authority with the Washington Commanders. The answer to that question turned out to be “not much,” as the Commanders swapped quarterbacks several times and finished near the bottom of the league in every offensive category. To be clear, the Commanders were a mess and probably not a representative of how well he could do when given an offense with actual tools. Then again, not every team has Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce on the roster. However, the Chiefs have also struggled to get back to the fine-tuned machine they were under Bieniemy, so it would be interesting to see what he could do with a team that has a talented group of receivers in DK Metcalf, Tyler Locket, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
3) Mike Vrabel, former Tennessee Titans head coach. Vrabel was fired by the Titans earlier this week after back-to-back losing seasons. Vrabel, a former Patriots assistant, started hot during his first three years in Tennessee but couldn’t sustain the success. He is widely respected around the league as a players coach and “leader of men” type, which may be a good fit for the Seahawks following a similar style in the Carroll era. Vrabel figures to be in demand this offseason, particularly if the Patriots decide to move on from their coaching legend in Bill Bellicheck. However, as a team that needs to re-establish its defensive identity, there would be far worse options for the Seahawks than Vrabel.
2) Jim Harbaugh, Michigan head coach. Harbaugh figures to be in high demand this offseason, and while the Seahawks may not be able to provide the money or authority some of his other suitors will, they do provide a team with a tradition of success, a track record of patience, a location back on the west coast, and the willingness to go big with trades and free agency when needed and also give him the opportunity to beat his former NFL employers twice a season. If Harbaugh should wind up in the Blue and Green next season, it would be a hire filled with irony. Harbaugh and Carroll spent years battling in the college ranks at Stanford and USC, then again in the pros with the Seahawks and 49ers. Fourteen years ago, the Seahawks hired a coach who had been drubbed out of the NFL and gone on to coach a championship-winning school that beat Northwest teams who then bolted back to the pros when the NCAA dropped a hammer on his program. They may very well repeat that process this offseason. While the Seahawks may not be the favorites to land Harbaugh, they should not be counted out.
1) Dan Quinn, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator. Quinn is the pinnacle of the Carroll coaching tree. He coached the Seahawks’ defense to some of its best games during the height of the “Legion of Boom” era, before departing to become head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. He coached the Falcons for 5.5 years and got them to the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots in 2017, where they famously coughed up a 25-point lead and lost.
He has served as the defensive coordinator in Dallas for the past three years, with the defense improving each season and ranking statistically in the top 5 of the league this past year.