Maybe that was the point.
Or maybe it was at least one of the Seahawks’ primary motivations for firing Bevell after seven seasons with the team. The Seahawks announced that move Wednesday while also firing offensive-line coach/assistant head coach Tom Cable. Moving on from Bevell wasn’t shocking nor was it necessarily a foregone conclusion, and in trying to make sense of the decision, a recent comment from coach Pete Carroll came to mind.
Carroll, speaking with KIRO-AM 710 ESPN Seattle, was asked at season’s end to evaluate how Wilson played in 2017.
“He had a fantastic year, really. He really did have a fantastic year in a lot of ways, and he can be better. Russ can be better,” Carroll said. “I know you guys got on me a little bit [earlier in the season], ‘Boy, he’s criticizing Russ.’ Russ wants to be criticized. Russ needs to be criticized. He wants to be great.”
Perhaps Wilson wasn’t getting enough of that tough love from the mild-mannered Bevell, the only coordinator he has had in his six seasons with the Seahawks.
To be sure, Seattle's offense badly hit the skids this past December and struggled all season with inexplicably poor starts, but Bevell was much better than his harshest critics suggest. The Seahawks won one Super Bowl and nearly another during his run in Seattle, and though the goal-line interception that decided Super Bowl XLIX will forever be a black mark on Bevell’s résumé, the truth is that it wasn’t solely his decision to throw the ball instead of handing off to Marshawn Lynch.
The Seahawks finished between first and seventh in offensive DVOA from Wilson’s rookie season in 2012 to 2015. They did that despite often being hamstrung by a poor offensive line that couldn't protect Wilson and, more recently, couldn't open holes in the running game. Bevell had to navigate those issues while having to strike a delicate balance between being aggressive and playing the type of mistake-free football Carroll mandates. He did well under the circumstances.
Bevell deserves his due for that and also for his role in developing Wilson into one of the game’s top quarterbacks.
Make no mistake: Wilson had no issue with Bevell. He respects him as a person and as a coach, and he enjoyed playing for him. But this isn’t about what Wilson wants so much as it seems to be about what Carroll believes Wilson needs, which is a coach willing to hold the quarterback more accountable and be more demanding of him.
During his 710 ESPN Seattle interview, Carroll said he was tougher on Wilson than usual during halftime of the team’s season finale against the Arizona Cardinals. The Seahawks had finished the first quarter with zero net yards and had all of 24 by halftime, laying an offensive egg in a game they needed to win in order to have any shot of reaching the playoffs.
So Carroll did something he doesn’t normally do.
“I sat down at Russell's locker at halftime with him and said, ‘We've got to turn this thing,’ and in a way that he hasn't heard me talk to him, just because I knew that he was the one that was going to lead the turnaround if it was going to happen," Carroll said. "We needed to change things. We were getting chased, and we were running all over the place, and it was hard, and he missed some choices and some decisions too because he was under duress. I said, ‘I know you can fix this. Fix it.’ And we did, and he did. And he turned it, and he did what he's been able to do in remarkable fashion.”
In Dana Bible, Wilson had that type of voice in a coach at North Carolina State. He hasn’t had that in the NFL. It isn't in Bevell’s nature to challenge a player in the way that, say, Josh McDaniels will challenge Tom Brady on the sideline after a missed throw. That type of exchange didn’t happen with Bevell and Wilson.
There’s a tricky balance in all of this. One-time Seattle offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates is a good example. Bates was Bevell’s predecessor with the Seahawks, having followed Carroll from USC to Seattle. He was fired after one season, and it is believed that it wasn’t because of underperformance from the offense but rather because of how his negative attitude didn’t at all align with the culture Carroll was trying to build.
The challenge for Seattle will be finding something in between, a coach whose personality fits but also one who can push Wilson’s buttons in a way that will get the most out of him.