Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, a native of the North Bay and a 49ers fan in his youth, went back a few decades for a comparison of what it is like to be the cornerback on the other side of Richard Sherman.
He likened Sherman to Jimmy Johnson, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after a career with the 49ers that spanned from 1961 to ’76.
“You guys don’t know this, probably, but if you went back to the old days with the Niners when Jimmy Johnson was there, and how many guys he wore out,” Carroll told Bay Area reporters Wednesday on a conference call.
“The great example was Kermit Alexander.”
Second-year player Ahkello Witherspoon, the cornerback opposite of Sherman for most of the season, has seen 30 more passes thrown his way than Sherman this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Sherman spent the first seven years of his NFL career with Carroll in Seattle, where he might have also worn out his coach, at times. But Carroll had nothing but glowing memories to share of Sherman on Wednesday.
“We had a great time together,.” Carroll said. “We went through so much, and so much growth and challenges, victories and frustration. We went through a ton of stuff together. I really cherish the time that Sherm was here. I really enjoyed working with him. He’s such a bright person and such a great competitor and extraordinary performer. It was really a great time.”
Sherman sustained a torn Achilles last season, and the Seahawks released him in the offseason. On the same day Sherman’s name hit the NFL personnel notice, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan dined with Sherman, who signed a contract the following day.
On a podcast with former NFL players Joe Thomas and Andrew Hawkins later in the offseason, Sherman said Carroll’s message – and his anecdotes -- had become redundant.
“And they're cool stories, they're great for team chemistry and building, etc., etc.,” Sherman said. “But we had literally heard them all. We could recite them before he even started to say them."
Carroll is in his ninth season as Seahawks coach. He coached Sherman during his entire time in Seattle. He does not dispute the challenges of trying to keep things interesting for everyone.
“I think any coach who’s been in the same situation for a long time recognizes that you have to keep battling with your messaging and your philosophy and your approach to keep it fresh and keep it new and all of that,” Carroll said. “It’s a challenge. Every year you have new people, and every year, speaking personally, I had to go back and start over. So when you do that, the message is repetitive. And if you really have a philosophy, it better be. If you believe in something, you’re going to stay with it.”
While Carroll said the biggest responsibility falls on the coach to continue to find a way to get through to veteran players, he said the players have to find ways to keep themselves motivated, too.
“Whether you’re a first-year learner or a seventh-year learner, to keep it fresh and stay curious and all of that, that responsibility is on everybody,” Carroll said. “It’s not just the coach. But I always take the ultimate responsibility. I got to find a way to keep it fresh and that’s just the challenge, and we all know that.”
Although the 49ers have struggled this season with a 2-9 record, Sherman has appeared to bounce back well from a serious injury. Until Sunday in Tampa Bay, Sherman had not been tested much and had not been beaten in coverage.
On the season, Sherman has given up 16 catches for 266 passing yards, but 113 of those yards came against the Buccaneers. Carroll said he is "fired up" to see Sherman make such a notable recovery.
“He’s having a very successful season,” Carroll said of Sherman. “Every year you adapt, and Richard is a brilliant football player and he has always been a guy that we would always work together with the little things that we would grow with year to year to try to stay ahead of it. And he’s continued to do that. I think he’s been very successful this season.”