A Relationship Born on the Gridiron: Seahawks and Huskies

Keith Price can thank Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll for his first shot at making an NFL roster. - Otto Greule Jr

Seattle is one of the few markets in the west that allows for a close physical proximity between pro and college football teams. How can the UW program and Seahawk franchise maximize this advantage for the betterment of both?

In the days following the victory by the Seattle Seahawks over the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, I wrote a piece that highlighted my thoughts on the lessons that the Huskies could learn from their pro franchise counterpart.  That piece was one of the highest rated articles that we've ever posted on UWDP (anything that mentions Seahawks will have that impact) and, as such, it got me thinking more about how the Huskies and Seahawks could realistically seek ways to align more closely to their mutual benefit.

The Dawgs and Hawks, of course, have enjoyed varying levels of relationship over the last several years.   Under Steve Sarkisian, thanks in part to his close relationship with Pete Carroll, that relationship trended on an upswing.  Beyond the field exchanges that both teams have enjoyed (the Hawks in 2000 and 2001 and the Huskies in 2012), there has been a closer alignment between the programs on issues ranging from practice events, player mentoring and pro personnel.  The Huskies have enjoyed practice events at the VMAC each of the past three seasons while the Seahawks have enjoyed a pipeline to former players to not only contribute to their active roster, but also to enable practice depth.  Players like Jermaine Kearse, Kevin Smith, Keith Price, and Demetrius Bronson have each donned Seahawk jerseys as undrafted free agents in the past few years.  In addition to these connections, several Huskies have enjoyed exposure and mentorship from current or former Seattle Seahawks.  Based on various news and Twitter notes, Seahawk players and coaches like Lawyer Milloy, Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas and Pete Carroll have all invested time in their Husky counterparts (players and coaches alike).

While all of these connections are interesting and impactful, it is natural for one to wonder about what else could be possible.  After all, the Seahawks and Huskies share common set of conditions - geography, fan bases, market environment - that would seem to warrant more alignment.  I did a quick check on the distance between primary facilities of all major west coast colleges and their professional counterparts and found that only San Diego State enjoys closer proximity to their professional counterpart, the San Diego Chargers, than the Huskies do to the Seahawks.

College Pro Team Miles Apart
SDSU San Diego Chargers 2.9
Washington Seattle Seahawks 4.4
Cal 8.8
Stanford 10.8
Arizona State 20.7
Colorado Denver Broncos 22.5
USC San Diego Chargers 108.1
UCLA San Diego Chargers 112.8
Arizona Arizona Cardinals 118.9
Oregon State Seattle Seahawks 214.9
Oregon Seattle Seahawks 247.3
WSU Seattle Seahawks 250.4

With this kind of proximity being a clear advantage for the Huskies, the question becomes how best to exploit it in such a way that both the college and pro programs benefit.

There are some pretty obvious ideas that come to mind when thinking about things like infrastructure investments that could be shared.  Some of those ideas might apply to mass marketing opportunities, as well.  For the purpose of keeping this article somewhat focused on the football-side of things, I'll skip over those items for now (but I welcome your ideas on that in the comments section).

The first area of mutual benefit is clearly in the area of player mentoring.  One doesn't have to look far beyond the very unique situation that Russell Wilson had with former Husky QB Keith Price to see that there is strong potential for mutual gain in such situations.  For the college player, the benefit is obvious:  coaching and mentoring from a personality who is knee-deep in the realities of the "here and now" of the NFL.  For the mentor, in this case Russell Wilson, the benefit is a little more subtle but no less real.  Anybody who has served in a mentoring role knows firsthand the personal satisfaction that comes from making a difference in the life of another human being, particularly when that difference affects their future prospects.  Beyond that, even the more cynical would acknowledge that the benefits in public reputation and perception from being seen as a player who "gives back" is worth the handful of hours one may invest over the course of a year in such an endeavor.  I'd be remiss here if I didn't mention the benefit to the administration of the pro franchise when one of their own takes responsibility for mentoring a college player.  While I have no stats to cite, it seems pretty reasonable to assume that a player who invests in that kind of activity is less likely to find more destructive diversions elsewhere.

Less publicized but of no less consequence in this equation is the relationship that respective coaching staffs can develop with one another.  On the college program side, these relationships can help develop the college coach as an advisor to players and help them modernize their programs to give pro-level talents a pro-level developmental experience.  On the flip side, professional coaches also can gain several benefits.  The obvious one is that they get a chance to develop their own pipeline to undraftable talent.  In this day and age of salary-capped professional football, it is simply not feasible to develop a successful franchise strategy without having access to under-the-radar talent that, at best, can fill a slot on your roster as an UDFA or, at worst, can be signed as insurance or depth to help support your main roster.  The fact that a guy like Keith Price, who had already been exposed to Seattle's playbook and system, was available to the Seahawks to sign as an UDFA was a big bonus to them after the draft, even if current numbers didn't allow for them to keep him longer.  Greater exposure and assimilation before the draft can give a local team a leg up on talent signing with them after the draft to their great advantage.

Another very real benefit to the pro staff of such a relationship is constant exposure to the latest innovative thinking going on in the college game on either side of the ball.  In fact, the Seahawks have capitalized greatly on the insights coming from both their own college-rooted coaches as well as the consultation that they've had with other college coaches in innovating their playbook on either side of the ball.  The careful and intentional integration of the read-option into the Seahawk playbook  in 2012 was praised by analysts as the "gold standard" for adopting college methods into the pro offenses while the attacking, hybrid zone/man style defense that emphasizes the rotation of defensive linemen and the importance of the 3T is clearly an approach rooted in the college game.  Ongoing alignment with a Pac 12 staff like UW's, where the touchpoints can be much more frequent, is an advantage for a Pete Carroll and his staff.

The final benefit - and one not to be overlooked - is the impact on the fanbase overall.  Clearly, the Seahawks have more to give than to gain when it comes to the engagement of football fans.  That makes sense given the fact that the Seahawks are the reigning NFL champions and have had a very good run with Pete Carroll in charge.  I'd simply point out here that good portfolio management practices would seem to apply to this situation.  I would argue that it is better for both programs to have as large a common fanbase as possible in order for each of them to better weather the inevitable down seasons that are sure to affect every team no matter the league.  If a great season by the Huskies can help keep interest alive among a section of the fanbase when the Seahawks are having an off season, then there is some motivation by the Seahawks to share some of the goodwill with the Huskies when they are doing well.  There really is no cost or negative consequence to doing so and the fact is that UW is the only available partner for them to invest in.  The fanbase for WSU is too small and the fanbases for schools like Oregon and USC are simply not concentrated enough in their home market to matter.  The benefits to UW from goodwill investments like marketing programs, PR campaigns and alignment around charitable activities are too obvious to state.

In the end, the Huskies have a unique partner in Seattle with whom they can amp up pressure.  Nobody would argue that the Huskies / Seahawks relationship isn't in the best state that it has ever been.  However, with programs like Oregon taking marketing to a whole new level and programs like UCLA and USC not having a natural pro team to align with, UW has a unique window to be creative and an imperative to do so.  In order to take advantage of it, they need to think about the world from the point of view of the Seahawks so that mutual benefit in an enhanced relationship can be realized.  I hope that clever people are right now tucked away in high-tech rooms with no windows and with excessive availability to Red Bull while trying to figure out how to take their partnership to the next level.

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