You’ve heard it a million times: The NFL is a copycat league.
The Dolphins have a modicum of success with the wildcat, and suddenly there’s a whole herd of them. Mike Shanahan ices a kicker with a timeout, and then it’s an avalanche of everyone doing the same. A defensive-minded coach succeeds, and every team wants their version; but if an offense-driven team wins it all, teams line up to try that flavor-of-the-day.
In that light, I can see a new trend a brewin’, right in our own backyard. Call it Pete positivity, or perhaps Carroll charisma. Too many remarkable things are happening in Seattle, via the vision of Pete Carroll, for the rest of the league not to take note. And take a piece for themselves.
Except I don’t think this is going to be a fly-by-night, here-today, gone-tomorrow kind of deal — like, say, the run-and-shoot — because the Carroll way just makes too much sense.
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Not that the NFL always saw it that way. When Carroll began to hone the precepts of his system as a young-pup assistant, oozing enthusiasm and offbeat methodology, the elder statesmen put him in his place.
“I tried when I was about 24, and the coaches yelled at me when I was an assistant on staffs,’’ he said. “They thought I was crazy trying to do what I was trying to do. I thought I was wrong, because they told me I was.”
Carroll sums up his style as “trying to help our guys be the best they can possibly be.” That sounds pretty standard, and I’d assume it’s the goal of every coach who has ever hung a whistle around his neck.
But there’s much more to it, a world view that Carroll stuck with and perfected through his various college and NFL stops. It didn’t exactly revolutionize the NFL during his first two head-coaching stints, with the Jets and Patriots, but the vindication began with his hugely successful USC tenure.
Ah, but that was college. Many said Carroll’s rah-rah style would never translate to the pros — except it did. And people are starting to not only pay attention, but pay their respect.
“It’s amazing what Pete has done here,’’ said NFL Network analyst and Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, who was at Seahawks camp Thursday. “This story is bigger than football. It’s an American story. When you take all that everybody else has discarded or maybe didn’t measure up, and you pull the best out of each one of them and make it the best group. That’s the story. That’s a hell of a story. Most of the time people will try to push their thing toward Peyton (Manning). My job is to try to make sure that we do not miss this story. Right here.”
And now rival executives would be crazy not to look more closely at the Carroll way, which I’d boil down to a couple of key tenets: making a violent, pressure-packed job actually be fun, and allowing a disparate group of players the freedom to be themselves rather than forcing them to conform to preconceived notions of proper football roles and etiquette.
“He celebrates us as individuals, where most coaches don’t want individuals,’’ linebacker Heath Farwell said.
Carroll put it eloquently on Monday, with a Super Bowl ticket still fresh in his back pocket: “I told them this weekend, we don’t let them be themselves, we celebrate them being themselves, and we cheerlead them being themselves.”
And Carroll tries to make coming to work something to look forward to, whether it be music blaring during practice or basketball games before meetings. In previous stops, those things were looked down upon as being too frivolous and flouting the discipline needed to play football.
“I think it’s great,’’ said cornerback Walter Thurmond. “You’re able to have guys buy into the program to where it’s not so hard-nosed and military focused, which a lot of teams are, it seems like. I know a lot of teams aren’t listening to music. It’s just these little things that get players to buy into the program even more. You almost get lost to where it doesn’t feel like a business aspect.’’
“It’s just a fun atmosphere, like college almost,’’ added defensive lineman Cliff Avril. “You have basketball, guys are competing, music blasting. We watch highlights before we even get meetings started. He just keeps everyone relaxed, and everyone is able to be themselves.
“I definitely like this method a little better. Sometimes you forget it’s a business, because it’s so chill.”
Sure, talent helps. And certainly the stern, no-nonsense, autocratic style exemplified by Bill Belichick has a long history of success in football and will never disappear. If the Seahawks hit a down cycle, critics are bound to point the finger at the laxness of the Seahawks’ program.
But I’ve got to think the Carroll way has staying power, because it is human nature to react positively to nurturing and encouragement, as long as it is leavened by the necessary discipline and accountability.
“When I’m done, I plan on coaching, and I’m going to be stealing the same program,’’ Farwell said. “There’s more than one side. The other side, the Belichick side, obviously is proven to be effective as well. It’s about knowing your team, what you believe in, and being consistent. Coach Carroll is consistent the way he does it.”
Carroll never changed, but his scope and influence eventually did. And now, rather than being yelled at, Carroll’s on the verge of being emulated.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @StoneLarry