Like so many coaches coming off a championship, Pete Carroll is careful about his nomenclature these days. The Seattle Seahawks aren't worried about repeating or defending anything, he says, and don't even bring up the word "dynasty" within his earshot. But there is something that sounds distinctly different about his approach heading into the 2014 campaign.
He doesn't really plan to do anything differently at all.
The way Carroll sees it, what he and general manager John Schneider have built in the Pacific Northwest is grounded in an ability to handle success. That's not to say, Carroll insists, that they knew this was coming back in 2010, when they both arrived in Seattle. It's more about the principles of a program created to establish and sustain a certain standard.
The second part, they believe, has been ongoing for over a year.
"It's a new challenge, particularly because the Super Bowl thing has so much that goes along with it, and those challenges are presented in unique fashion," Carroll said from his office on Friday as he wrapped up the first week of the offseason program. "But going into last year, the expectation was that we'd have a Super Bowl team. That was part of the deal, and we dealt with that in a way that helps us now. We expected it, and the expectation was we'd handle it properly, not be moved by it.
"It's the same language, the same conversation about expectations. What we did is over and gone."
It's been a decade since a Super Bowl champion has repeated. Just eight clubs have gone back-to-back over the big game's half-century history.
On paper, the Seahawks' mix of youth, talent, balance and financial flexibility makes them as good a bet to turn the trick as anyone since the New England Patriots did it 10 years ago. There are just three players in their 30s on the roster: the backup quarterback (Tarvaris Jackson), the punter (Jon Ryan) and a special teams captain (Heath Farwell). Richard Sherman is 26, Russell Wilson is 25, Earl Thomas is 24. New deals for those three, and others, will alter the cap structure, but Seattle has room to move things around.
That's not to say there hasn't been change. Wilson wasn't doing Letterman last year; Sherman wasn't the celebrity he is now. And there's still a ring ceremony and a trip to the White House on the horizon.
Still, Carroll maintains the noise isn't new. The volume is simply greater.
"Yes, that can be a problem," the 62-year-old coach said. "The decision you make is, that's just stuff that can get in the way of what's at hand. It's the same every year. There's more of it now. It's anything that gets in the way -- a honeymoon, an event, traveling across the country to do an interview -- any of that. What's taking you away from your preparation to get yourself right? Doesn't matter what it is, that's the challenge every year."
Last year, the Baltimore Ravens tried to distance themselves from the Super Bowl season of 2012. The year before, New York Giants coaches pushed their players to answer whether they were really a team worthy of a title or just one that got hot at the right time. Neither squad even reached the postseason in its attempt to defend the title.
These Seahawks, meanwhile, are shrugging their shoulders. Last week, I asked Sherman if Seattle is changing anything, and he responded, "Not at all, because it was the same thing last year. Coming into the season, they said we were gonna win it. They predicted that, we made them right, and now it's just pushing the repeat button for us."
In their first 22 months together, Carroll and Schneider pulled the trigger on more than 500 transactions, and they lost 16 of their first 26 games. The ascension Sherman implicitly referenced has been ongoing since.
So as Seattle sees it, there really isn't much reason to shift a process that's a) borne out results and b) promises more improvement.
"It's always the same: Win the Super Bowl," Sherman said. "Do everything we can do to be the best teammates we can be, and come together and play better ball than we did last year. There are a lot of things we could have done better. Fortunate for us, we were able to win it all, but there's a lot of things we felt like we could get better at and we could do better, and that's what we're gonna work on."
Then again, there's a reason that it's so tough to repeat.
The Seahawks' spotlight gets hotter, their opponents' focus on them more intense -- and sometimes those elemental changes are enough to nudge a champion off the mountaintop. But Carroll reminds you that, of course, this organization wants the target on its back. And if his team has as sharp a competitive edge as he always demands, Carroll argues that increased scrutiny shouldn't be a disadvantage.
"It absolutely exists -- it helps us," he said, with a little defiance. "To play the Packers on Thursday night to open the season, that helps us. We have to focus with every challenge we get. The bigger, the better. The more hyped, the better. We keep doing what we're doing, we'll be in more of those situations -- so the more of it, the better. Tough matchups on the road, high-profile games ... we want that, we feed off that, we should be able to develop the discipline to deal with that."
Remember, this isn't Carroll's first rodeo. At USC, he won an AP national title in 2003 and a BCS title in 2004, and he fell one score short of another crown in 2005. He's experienced sustained excellence -- though he allows that everything is a little bigger in the NFL -- and has an idea of what it takes.
And he believes his guys get the message, with good signs flowing in through the team's first week of offseason workouts. Whether it holds up remains to be seen.
But there's plenty of reason to believe that staying the course is the right move.
Since that 10-16 start (postseason included) to the Carroll/Schneider regime, which encompassed all that roster turnover, the Seahawks have posted a record of 33-12, with 22 wins in their past 26 games.
Maybe no one could've seen that coming. What the coach and his GM did expect was to field a contending team -- "We anticipated being here," Carroll said -- so it made sense to create one that, again, could not only establish success, but sustain it, both physically and mentally.
Schein: Why Seattle won't repeat
"That's exactly what we intended to do," Carroll said. "It's the same intentions and the same focus we set up to be here in the first place. Part of that is so once you get there, you can continue doing it. Yeah, you get a ring and all that. But it's not the only thing in the world."
So Carroll's practices will continue to center on competition. The coach will persist in pushing his players' buttons, and they'll still be as responsible as they ever were for the day-to-day results.
And if the final result is the same?
That'd work for him, too.