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Pete Carroll leads Seahawks through hangover, back to big stage

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SEATTLE -- Every coach who wins a championship prepares to sidestep it. Few can avoid it.

And Pete Carroll most certainly didn't slide by it.

His Seahawks went through the championship hangover, alright. There was infighting. There was jealousy. There was politicking. There was controversy.

None of that is rare.

Dealing with it within a season, and coming through it is, which exactly what Seattle and its silver-haired coach of a youthful 63 years have done in getting the NFC Championship Game back to Century Link Field for a second consecutive January.

These Seahawks are the first world champion to win a playoff game the following season in nine years, and the first to make it back to the final four in a decade. There are good reasons for that, and plenty of them have applied to Seattle over the last 12 months.

And yet, here Carroll's group stands, not just the greatest collection of football talent on the planet, but a pretty resilient, unflappable bunch, too. The 3-3 start seems like it was three years ago. Percy Harvin is a distant memory. Packers beware.

"What people remember is the team that beat the (expletive) out of the Broncos," said one source. "And that's what happened, but that's not the type of team it was. That was a team that, quite frankly, barely got to that game in the first place."

So how did this team go from reveling in the Jersey beatdown to remembering that it took a spectacular Richard Sherman deflection to get there, and become, once again, the juggernaut it had been?

In the hours leading up to another trophy game, we got answers on that from guys on the inside.

Power of Pete. In Carroll's office, he'll often have three TVs and his Sirius Radio going -- while he's watching film on another screen. It's this amount of noise that he thrives on. It's this amount of noise he creates for his players to keep them moving without thinking about it.

And it's that amount of noise that was perfect to distract the Seahawks players from the pratfalls of last February's glory, whether it was the constant string of competitions he created, the music at practice, the highlight tapes in team meetings or the basketball tournaments he held.

As one friend of Carroll said, "He's real, what he's saying is real, and the players know it." And it was real how much the coach put on each player's plate every day, making sure they didn't stop going forward, which provided the foundation even when the boat got rocked.

The Harvin trade. Carroll and GM John Schneider actually started discussing the idea of dealing off Percy Harvin in late September, something that wasn't easy for a regime admitting its own mistake after just a year-and-a-half. At the time, his anger-management issue, which boiled over in separate run-ins with Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin, was the primary reason, and the need to re-establish the offense's downhill-running identity was right there with it.

Then, the Dallas game happened. The coaches had already spent a month placating Harvin with the ball, and now -- wary of being used as a decoy -- the mercurial receiver was taking himself out of the lineup. So as the Cowboys were seizing control late, the staff was as concerned about managing a potentially explosive situation on the sideline, which was as sure a sign as anyone needed that this particular experiment had run its course.

The results have been undeniable. Marshawn Lynch rushed for 886 yards (4.8 yards per carry average) over the final 10 games, so the offense definitively regained its identity. And a strong message was sent to the locker room that there was a very clear limit to what Carroll and his staff would put up with.

The meeting. By mid-November, most of the "Disease of Me" problems that champions face had been taken care of -- but the on-field product was still a little off. Seattle lost to St. Louis and Kansas City, struggled with Carolina and Oakland, and Carroll called a meeting with his leaders. As he explained it to me in December, "We finally got clear on where we needed to focus."

Since, the Seahawks are 7-0, with all seven wins coming by double-digits (average margin: 16 points).

In essence, Carroll handed the team over to his leaders and asked them to keep raising the bar. And guys like Russell Wilson, Lynch, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns and did just that. As those who saw it describe it, those guys kept driving home the message that the Harvin trade sent -- drama and selfishness wouldn't be tolerated.

Something to shoot for. Part of the problem champions have is that reaching the mountaintop can create a sense of satisfaction, and shooting for the same thing the second time isn't the same as chasing the first. Most champions also avoid dynasty talk. The Seahawks haven't. In fact, Carroll has embraced it, constantly telling his players they're capable of something beyond what's accomplished in a single year.

"Pete forces us to realize it," said one player. "He says it every couple days. He wants us to be comfortable with it, to appreciate it, to enjoy what we're doing. He wants us to know we're part of something special. ... He tells us that years from now, we'll all look back and realize how special we are as a unit."

The Seahawks now have much of their young core -- Thomas, Sherman, Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, K.J. Wright and Doug Baldwin -- locked up, and deals for Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner could be coming, so all of this looks incredibly realistic. And beyond just that, setting transcendent success as a goal helps control potential jealousy over roles or money that can happen with a team's rise.

***

Earlier in the season, Wilson was still wading through the struggle that so many young quarterbacks face after winning a ring -- an explosion of fame, and a new challenge to balance remain one of the guys with becoming the guy.

Part of it was being viewed in some corners of the locker room as "management".

That seems like it happened a long time ago. Wilson put more pelts on the wall. The Seahawks' season took off. Any issue melted away.

That's proof of something larger here.

As a team official explains it, "What Pete did the job with was getting the guys -- and the quasi-vets -- to get off their high horses and play for each other."

It's that simple. You'll see the results Sunday, again.

And judging by how all this has gone, probably for a while longer after that, too.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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