The Seattle Seahawks have been exploring hiring USC's Pete Carroll as head coach for at least two weeks on some level, said an NFL source with knowledge of the situation on Friday.
According to the Los Angeles Times on Friday, a Seahawks contingent that included CEO Tod Leiweke interviewed Carroll in Los Angeles earlier this week to gauge his interest in replacing Jim Mora. Their pursuit of him intensified after two of their top four general manager candidates on Monday pulled out of the running without being interviewed -- Baltimore's director of player personnel Eric DeCosta and Eagles general manager Tom Heckert Jr.
At that point, Leiweke and Seattle owner Paul Allen stepped up their recruitment of Carroll, the two-time former NFL head coach who has led the Southern Cal program since 2000, indicating that Seattle is willing to hire someone who would be vested with almost complete autonomy in regards to football decision-making power.
Carroll's interest in the Seattle job is very high, said the NFL source, and if he returns to the NFL, it could have intriguing ramifications around the college football coaching job market. For one, Carroll is thought to be interested in adding former USC and UCLA assistant DeWayne Walker to his potential Seattle staff as defensive coordinator. Walker, who just finished his first season as New Mexico State's head coach, is a former New York Giants assistant who served on Carroll's staff in his early years at USC, and later was Karl Dorrell's successful defensive coordinator at UCLA.
But the possibility also exists that Walker would be a strong candidate to replace Carroll at USC. Trojans athletic director Mike Garrett is known to think very highly of Walker, and his candidacy would be given a boost by the fact he's a very strong recruiter and would represent the first African-American head coach in USC's history.
Walker was also instrumental in bringing Norm Chow to Carroll's attention at USC, where he served as Carroll's offensive coordinator on many of the Trojans' most successful teams last decade. After a three-year stint as the Titans offensive coordinator in the NFL, Chow returned to the college ranks two years ago, as UCLA's offensive coordinator. Though there was some tension between Carroll and Chow toward the end of their time together, Chow is also seen as a potential coordinator hire in Seattle for Carroll, or for Walker, should he replace Carroll at USC.
In opting for Carroll, the Seahawks would be going against their expressed desire to not have another all-powerful head coach who also runs their football operations.
"That's kind of polar opposite of what they've said they wanted,'' one league source said. "They didn't want another [Mike] Holmgren, or a football czar. They wanted someone to partner with Leiweke and not come in there and make wholesale changes. But I guess they were willing to re-draw their model once GM candidates started pulling out on them without even taking interviews.''
The origin of Seattle's interest in Carroll may date to almost three weeks ago, in the aftermath of Holmgren turning down Seattle's offer of a senior leadership position.
Just before the Seahawks offered Holmgren the chance to lead their football operations, Mora expressed his support for a Holmgren front office position in a letter to Allen and Leiweke. Rather than provide Mora with more job security in the event of Holmgren rejoining the organization he left after the 2008 season, a league source said Mora speaking out on Holmgren's behalf served to anger some within Allen's inner circle, and made Mora less likely to return as Seattle's head coach in 2010. Seattle fired Mora on Friday, after just one season on the job.
DeCosta, 38, was seen as the likely leading candidate for the Seattle general manager position, but he this week informed the Seahawks that he did not wish to interview for the job. The fact that he pulled his name out of the running in Seattle leads many to believe that the Ravens view him as the heir apparent to longtime general manager Ozzie Newsome. It stands to reason that Baltimore may have even gotten proactive in terms of keeping DeCosta, perhaps with the promise to secure him contractually as Newsome's eventual successor.
Heckert Jr., 42, likely declined to interview in Seattle because NFL sources say he is the overwhelming favorite to be hired as Cleveland's new general manager by new Browns president Mike Holmgren. Heckert has worked with head coach Andy Reid of the Eagles the past nine years, serving as Philadelphia's general manger for the past four. Reid and Holmgren are close, with Reid having served on Holmgren's coaching staff throughout his tenure in Green Bay. Heckert Jr. comes highly recommended to Holmgren by Reid.