ORLANDO -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we wrap up a fairly eventful and interesting three-day stay at the NFL's annual meeting...
There was a point just before Wednesday morning's NFC coaches' media breakfast when I didn't know which three-time NFL head coach to sit and listen to: Washington's new guy, Mike Shanahan, or Seattle's new guy, Pete Carroll. But man did I make the right call by investing my hour (actually, more like 50 minutes, because Carroll was a noticeably late arrival) in the ex-Southern Cal coach.
No offense to Shanahan, but the always "jacked and pumped" Carroll can really fill up a notebook. "Expansive" doesn't begin to describe his takes on everything from Charlie Whitehurst, to the lessons of his New England Patriots coaching tenure, to a pair of left-handed quarterbacks named Matt Leinart and Tim Tebow. Not to mention Mark Sanchez, Jimmy Clausen and Sam Bradford.
I don't yet know if Carroll will be the next ex-collegiate superstar coach to enter the league with great fanfare and leave a relative failure, but I got the sense he has a much better handle on how he wants to approach this NFL head coaching stuff now than he did during stints with the Jets (1994) and Pats (1997-99).
For starters, while he sings the praises of new Seahawks general manager John Schneider and says he had no interest in being his own general manager, he also believes strongly that Seattle set up a management structure that allows him the same "unusual autonomy" he enjoyed at USC.
"Really, it's structured where I get to do whatever I want to do," Carroll said. "And if it doesn't work, it's gonna be on me. I would never be in the NFL if it wasn't for the Seattle situation. I wouldn't have come back to the league in any other way, because I couldn't foresee positioning myself [otherwise]."
Carroll had plenty else to say. Here's a rapid-fire rundown of the 10 Carroll takes on a plethora of NFL topics I found most intriguing and insightful:
-- On his commitment to rebuild the Seattle running game: "I don't care what anybody else said, but it's always been our intent to be balanced on offense. The point about the running game is to make the structure so that the quarterback can be successful. This league is dominated by terrific quarterbacks and the ones that have found themselves in systems that give them their best chance of being successful. So we have to do that for Matt [Hasselbeck] and any of our quarterbacks. That in my mind is always what the West Coast [offense] was. It isn't about the plays you run, it's making an offense structurally so that it allows the quarterback to be highly successful."
-- On what Seattle saw in the little-used Whitehurst, acquired in a trade with San Diego last week: "There's plenty of professional film (of him) to see. He's thrown a lot of balls in preseason games, so we were able to break it down. He's got a natural release, a strong arm, and he's capable of making all the throws.
"We felt this was a guy who we could look towards in the future and could be a guy who develops into a top quarterback."
-- On whether Whitehurst will compete with Hasselbeck for the starting job (I dare you to try and follow Carroll's logic on this one): "We're counting on Matt to take the leadership spot in this position for sure. Ideally I would like to see Charlie compete and push him and make statements that he has a chance to excite us about the fact that he can play well when we need him, and then just see what happens in the competition. It's a competition. We're going to see how far it goes and see what happens.
"But Matt's our guy and I'm clear about that. Everybody in the program is. But our coaches are excited about developing Charlie. That doesn't exclude at all that we're interested in a quarterback in this draft. [But as for a quarterback of the future] we have the best shot of it with Charlie, for the long haul, and that's what we know right now."
-- On the NFL's modified overtime rule, and where he was when the vote took place on Tuesday: "To tell you the truth, I think I was probably at Space Mountain [at Disney World]. But I really like the [rule]. I kind of wish it had been instituted for the entire season, but I like it. It's just another opportunity to win the football game at the end."
-- On Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez teasingly advising Carroll, his ex-USC coach, to stay "in school" in January, just as Carroll had Sanchez a year earlier: "Yeah, I thought that was very well done. You guys (the media) had a good time with it. The part I came back to him in response with, but you guys didn't care, was I said, 'Well, at least I graduated on time.'"
-- On whether ex-USC quarterback Matt Leinart is ready to be the starter in Arizona, now that Kurt Warner has retired: "I know when [Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt] says to Matt, 'You're my starting quarterback,' it makes worlds of difference to Matt. I watched that happen when we had to choose between he and [Matt] Cassel years ago (in the spring of 2003). Matt was floundering. Cassel was floundering.
"But Matt had a look in his eye. He said what I think he probably said to [Whisenhunt]: 'You'll never regret this and you'll never have to look back.' And he just flipped and hit the switch. I think that's what he's been waiting for. I think he's going to be a terrific player. I don't know him any other way."
-- On his NFL projections for Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, whom the Seahawks will host for a private pre-draft visit: "I can't believe a quarterback of his stature won't be [a first-round pick]. I know there is a lot of talk otherwise, but he has time and he's showing what he can do. I think his value is going to grow because of who he is. I think by the time the process is over, people are going to want him on the football team across the board. He brings too many qualities that are too rare, and that are too perfectly situated. He brings it all."
-- On his biggest regret from his three-year tenure with the Patriots, losing running back Curtis Martin to the Jets in free agency in 1998: "That will always be the issue to me. When you take your best player and give him to your rival across the way, and they win with him -- that was probably the one move that made a huge, significant difference. That was frustrating, because we knew he was a good player and we didn't want to lose him."
-- On the biggest challenge facing his successor at USC, Lane Kiffin: "To stay with the football and coach it up. Just stay on the football." Asked what that meant, Carroll replied: "There's just been other things that have bubbled up the last couple years."
Presumably he meant for Kiffin, not the USC football program, but I'm not sure. Asked if he had input in Kiffin's hiring, Carroll replied, "Um, nobody asked me. I did offer my thoughts about it."
-- On the comparison between first-round quarterback prospects Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen: "(Bradford's) bigger, but Jimmy finished great this year. Both have a really good feel in the pocket, and I think they're both great prospects. Sam's probably just a little more classic size-wise."
• I can certainly appreciate why some NFL head coaches were upset that the owners voted in a new format for overtime without heeding the coaches' advice to resist the change -- ultimately, the guys in the headsets have to live (or die, in a metaphorical sense) by the outcome of every game.
But I'm also not surprised that the owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell basically gave the back of the hand to Saints coach Sean Payton, who complained the loudest when the coaches had an end-around called against them for once. Said Goodell: "It's probably no secret that there are certain owners who may have a different view than their coaches. There are 32 clubs and 32 votes, and this may not come as a news flash, but the owners have the vote."
In other words, as one of my longtime fellow NFL writers said on Wednesday: "That's why they call it the owners meeting, not the coaches meeting."
• Boil it all down, and the Lions' interest in Pacman Jones comes down to Detroit being willing to see if the ex-Titans and ex-Cowboys cornerback has grown up enough to warrant being trusted again. That's what Lions head coach Jim Schwartz told me this week, and the Lions aren't close to making a decision on that front.
"It's been about 18 months since he had any [trouble]," Schwartz said. "So we just want to see where he's at these days. Some guys figure it out later than others, get one last chance and make the most of it. He's not old. It's just a matter of finding out if he knows what he has to do at this point."
• Of all the analysis regarding Tebow's faulty throwing motion, one of the best points I've heard came from Carolina head coach John Fox at Wednesday's NFC coaches' breakfast.
"You ever watch Bernie Kosar play?" Fox asked reporters, drawing a laugh at the memory of the ex-Browns quarterback and his often sidearm delivery. There are indeed different ways to skin a cat in the NFL.
• Somehow I don't think the Jets would be the focus of HBO's 2010 Hard Knocks training camp reality series if Eric Mangini were still head coach. But then, getting a peak into the ultra-secretive world of Mangini would've made for some of the worst television in the history of the medium.
• The new rule that a play gets whistled dead when a ballcarrier's helmet comes off makes nothing but sense. Still, I can't help but remember that Sunday night game in Philadelphia in 2007 when Dallas tight end Jason Witten lost his hat and still managed to rumble way downfield with the ball, picking up a bloody nose in the process.
By the time NBC finished replaying that one alongside breathless, admiring John Madden commentary, it was practically eligible to win an award as a mini-series. Now we won't get that kind of tough guy snapshot anymore.
• Just in case anyone thought Rex Ryan had forgotten about the Patriots after his Jets left their divisional rivals in the dust in the playoffs, the always quotable New York head coach made sure the folks in Foxboro had a little more fodder for next season's bulletin board.
Ryan was asked this week if, in his first season on the job in New York, he found the tenor of the Jets-Patriots rivalry to be beyond what even he expected. His response:
"I think it's good," he said, starting slowly. "Clearly you're trying to beat 'em. They've got one of the best quarterbacks in the league. They've got the best coach in the NFL. There's a lot not to like about them."
Of course, Ryan was at his best this week while poking fun at himself. A reporter asked him to look back at his first season with the Jets and tell what he saw of his own coaching job: "I saw a lot of me. That's why I had that lap band surgery."
But seriously, Ryan told us that the surgery reduced his stomach to about 1/10 of its previous size, and that now he has a restrictor plate of sorts for the problem of over-eating. He weighed 338 pounds when he had the surgery almost two weeks ago, but had already lost 25 pounds as of Tuesday. His goal is to reach 250 at some point in the near future.
"It's not that I'm not healthy," Ryan said. "My doctor always says the same thing: 'You look great on paper.' But how many guys over 50 and over 300 pounds do you see walking the earth? Later in life this can lead to diabetes, heart disease. Basically, I'm learning to eat like a human being. When I can get down to about 200, I'm going to challenge Mark Sanchez for those GQ covers."
• Believe it or not, Ryan wasn't the only quipster among AFC East coaches this week. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick isn't known for his wit, per se, but with Tom Brady reportedly having taken up boxing as part of his workout regime, Belichick was ready when a reporter asked him what kind of boxer Brady reminded him of.
"Somebody that got knocked out," Belichick said, landing a pretty good blow of his own.