The Seahawks new coach sees brightness around every corner. He always has even in those few dark moments of an otherwise triumphant coaching career.
The optimism is as intoxicating as it is unrelenting.
“I live my life thinking something good is just about to happen to me,” Pete Carroll said. “I don’t think things are going to go bad. My focus goes to how things could look and turn good.
“I don’t dread things.”
The Seahawks new coach sees brightness around every corner. He always has, even in those few dark moments of an otherwise triumphant coaching career.
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He took his family to Disney World after his first coaching job in the NFL ended after a single season as a Bills assistant in 1984. He headed to the same place after the Jets fired him after five consecutive regular-season losses in his first and only season as the team’s head coach.
And now, as he begins the job that in many ways will define how his coaching career is remembered, his faith in a better future is unwavering.
“I’m happy to be here,” he said. “I’m excited. I’m not worried about the outcome or whether it’s going to happen. I know it’s going to happen. I don’t know how long it’s going to take us to get there.”
It is easy to be cynical at this point. Here is a coach not only attempting to transplant a formula for collegiate success into the NFL, but he has been fired twice as a head coach in the league.
But halfway through a 20-minute conversation with Carroll, it is impossible not to feel at least a little bit of that optimism, to be buoyed by the coach’s words.
This is the essence of the Pete Carroll Experience. It has been since he first started coaching as a graduate assistant at Pacific in 1973.
“He’s just a person that you love to see because you feel better when you get through being with him,” said Chester Caddas, Carroll’s coach at University of the Pacific.
That charisma paired with Carroll’s success in nine years at USC is enough to get you thinking that maybe, just maybe, this whole thing could work out in Seattle.
The Seahawks are betting big on this power of personality, the belief that Carroll has refined, perhaps even reinvented himself in his decade away from the NFL.
When Seattle began searching for a new president after Tim Ruskell resigned in December 2009, CEO Tod Leiweke intoned the Seahawks wouldn’t be joining a new president so much as he would join them.
That was before the Seahawks hired Carroll in January, making him the unmistakable guiding light for a franchise that has suffered through its worst two-season stretch in more than 15 years.
Seattle has gotten a different kind of coach. He has his own Twitter account, managed by someone who once walked on to his team at USC. NFL coaches are notoriously circumspect, clench-jawed office-dwellers who’d opt for a root canal over an interview. Yet Carroll’s life isn’t just an open book, but a book published in the offseason.
He is a coach with his own culture, a football strategist — and a California philanthropist — who is now the face of Seattle’s football franchise after the most significant makeover since Mike Holmgren came to town in 1999. That also happens to be the last year Carroll coached in the NFL when he was fired after three seasons in New England.
Carroll’s success since has been epic. Seven Pac-10 titles in nine years at USC, a litany of first-round picks and a pair of Heisman Trophy winners.
Now he’s back in the NFL. His career record of 33-31 is not substantially better than that of Jim Mora, the man he replaced as Seattle’s coach.
And now, after a training camp with only four two-a-day practices, Seattle is preparing for the first season of a new chapter with an undeniably unique coach.
One of a kind
One of the most successful football coaches in college history puts his pants on one leg at a time.
Usually those pants are khakis.
“Utility trousers,” Carroll calls them.
He loves his khakis. He can play hoops in them or study film. They’re nice enough to pair with a dress shirt for dinner at a steakhouse with cloth napkins, durable enough for the NFL sidelines and casual enough for a beer on the patio.
Khakis are amorphous, but ultimately functional. They are whatever you want them to be, which makes them perfect for the multipurpose Carroll. As far as football coaches go, he’s one of a kind. Always has been, actually, going all the way back when he first went to high school.
“Of course, he was Petey then,” said Bob Troppmann, his coach at Redwood High School in Marin (Calif.) County. “He was 110 pounds when he came, and I think he put some rocks in his pocket when they weighed him.”
He was a talented quarterback and safety, but he couldn’t always be trusted to run the play as it was called. Troppmann remembers his team leading Santa Rosa High School late in a game, running down the clock when Carroll changed the play and called for a pass. The result was a game-turning interception the other way.
“He was on my black list after that,” joked Troppmann, now in his late 80s. “That wasn’t disrespectful coming from him. That was just Pete.”
To this day, Carroll calls Troppmann before every game.
“I let him talk mostly,” Troppmann said. “You would never think he was going to go out before all those people.”
Roots run deep with Carroll. After playing at junior college in Marin, he went to Pacific in 1971 and played safety for Caddas. A year after Carroll graduated, Caddas was in Marin with his daughter to check on some transcripts. He called Carroll’s parents, who insisted he come over for lunch.
Pete was working as a manufacturer’s representative for boiler supplies, but his mom told Caddas that she didn’t think her son would be happy until he was coaching. Well, Caddas had an offer of $3,000 plus room and board if he was interested. Carroll arrived on staff within a month.
“I got him used to the poverty level, and he has been trying to work upwards ever since,” Caddas said.
The next chapter
How will Seattle feel about him? That depends on what happens next.
Not just this season. The rebuilding project may be too big to expect immediate returns.
If he fails to resuscitate Seattle, he will be the coach who crushed the competition in college, but couldn’t quite cut it in the NFL. If he revives this franchise that ruled the NFC West just three years ago, he will be the man who left the NFL 10 years ago and came back with two national championships after building a better mousetrap.
Carroll isn’t interested in talking about legacies or measuring the importance his tenure with the Seahawks will have on how he’s remembered. He’s not in any mood to be reflective. Not with so much to do to.
“Some day when I’m old and grayer and I can’t go anymore, I’ll look back and let you know what I think about it,” he said.
He has changed in the 10 years since he was an NFL head coach.
“I feel much different,” he said. “I’m just much more prepared to face the challenges.”
He has distilled his coaching philosophy into a fundamental purpose, one he sought to describe in the book that benefited his charity, “A Better L.A.” And when he speaks to groups he tells them they must be able to express their personal philosophy in 25 words or less.
Carroll needs only 18: “Everything we do, we’re going to try and do it better than it has ever been done before.”
It is general and overarching and applicable to just about anything.
The mantra is as ambitious as the rebuilding job here in Seattle, a process that will bear his unique fingerprints.
Seattle held just four two-a-day practices, but that’s a reward for diligent offseason conditioning and shows respect for the players’ professionalism.
The Seahawks traded away Josh Wilson, a starting cornerback the past two seasons, for a fifth-round pick, but that’s because of a change in Seattle’s specs for cornerbacks. Thou shalt not be shorter than 5 feet 10 in this defense.
And then Seattle parted ways with T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who averaged 93 catches over the past four seasons and led the Seahawks with 79 receptions a year ago.
The overhaul is under way. The heavy lifting performed by a coach who sleeps five, maybe six hours a night and wakes up convinced that the next day is going to be the best.
This is going to be done his way, and the power of his personality is the engine for Seattle’s franchise.