Pete Carroll’s greatest strength is that he stays true to his core values even in the face of bitter disappointment. He remains youthful enough in both mind and body to deal with contemporary athletes.
I think we can say without hesitation that Pete Carroll is the youngest, and hippest, 64-year-old in the sporting world.
As he closes in on an age once regarded as customary for retirement, Carroll is packing more vim, vigor, verve and vitality than ever. His hair might be white, but he still has the sensibility of a graduate assistant.
Anyone who doubts Carroll’s energy level needs to watch the video of his postgame address in the locker room after the Seahawks’ 10-9 victory over the Vikings on Sunday. Brimming with excitement, he leads the team in a rousing chant, barely able to contain himself. One gets the feeling that if the video continued, we’d see Carroll literally bouncing off walls — or jumping on lockers, as he did after Seattle’s victory in Baltimore.
But that’s nothing. According to Greg Bishop’s account in Sports Illustrated, Carroll was described by Seattle players as “amped,” “jacked” and “crazy” as he addressed the team in a hotel ballroom Saturday night before the Vikings game.
Of course, that’s fairly typical for Carroll. But at one point, while advising strong safety Kam Chancellor, Carroll began reminiscing about his days as a defensive back at Pacific, then mysteriously headed to the back of the room. All of a sudden, he came sprinting toward the front, slamming into his whiteboard with such force that it was smashed to smithereens.
“Of all the crazy (expletive) that Pete has done, this is Top 1, probably,’’ Michael Bennett told Bishop.
Clearly, the challenges of this season have invigorated Carroll, and the combination of a playoff game contested in frigid conditions put him over the top. Just listen to Carroll on Monday reminisce about the victory.
“I had a blast,’’ he said. “It was so much fun, because it was just so crazy. Everything about it, it’s just crazy. The preparation part of it, the mental side of it that everybody was dealing with to get right so that they could be at their best, you could feel it and see it.
“There was a big energy about that with our players, and our coaches too, because they didn’t want to succumb to it, they didn’t want to give in to it, and nobody did. So there was a real uplifted kind of emotion about just taking on the challenge of not being overwhelmed by the elements, so that whole thing was fun.”
I think Carroll’s relentless positivity and keen motivational skill are huge weapons for a team that always seems to figure out a psychological edge. His players may think he’s a little nuts at times, but they feed off his energy.
An even bigger factor for the Seahawks, however, is the environment Carroll has created, which runs contrary to the authoritarian image of football coaches since Vince Lombardi’s days.
He’s no old fogey living by the standard coach’s “My way or the highway’’ credo. One of Carroll’s great and underrated strengths has been forging an environment in which players are given the freedom to let their personalities shine through. Even if their personalities are volatile and unorthodox, as is the case throughout the Seahawks locker room.
“I think a person has a chance to be much closer to their potential if they get true to who they are, rather than something you might want them to be or try to govern them to be,” Carroll said. “It’s simply that. If I’m going to find somebody’s best, I need to get them as close to what their true potential is, and connected to who they are, and call on that to be consistent.”
How he came by that philosophy in the time between being fired by the Patriots in 1999 and hired by USC in 2001, and vowing he was going to do it his way no matter the consequences, is part of the Carroll lore.
But I think this season is providing a new example of how Carroll’s inclusive ways have contributed to his team’s rebound from a slow start. Rather than splinter apart under the adversity of last year’s Super Bowl loss and a 2-4 start this season, they were able to rebound strongly in the second half, just as they did last year.
The environment Carroll has fostered in Seattle is unlike most seen in the NFL, and Seahawks players recognize that. Their strongest personalities, such as Bennett and Richard Sherman, appreciate the freedom they’re given.
“Guys can speak their mind, be who they are, and not have to follow certain guidelines,’’ Bennett said. “I think people blossom when you give them a chance to be who they are.”
Bennett saw the other side when he played in Tampa Bay for hard-line coach Greg Schiano. Bennett remembers that everything was regulated, from tucking in shirts to what lines on the field you could touch during stretching. Schiano lasted just two seasons, going 11-21.
“It was actually insane,’’ Bennett said. “He was definitely a dictator. But talking to him now after he’s been out, he’s kind of learned from that, and he wishes he could change that, from the conversations I’ve had with him.”
Sherman said when he arrived in Seattle from college, he was “a bit in awe” at the freedom Carroll gave his players.
“It makes for a better work environment when you don’t have to worry about trying to be somebody you’re not,’’ he said.
Carroll has had his share of misery, as does every coach. He lost a national championship college game and a Super Bowl, both in the most heartbreaking fashion imaginable.
But Carroll’s greatest strength is that he stays true to his core values even in the face of bitter disappointment. He remains youthful enough in both mind and body to deal with contemporary athletes. And obliterate the occasional whiteboard.
|Pete Carroll’s NFL career|
|Carroll is in his 10th season overall as an NFL head coach and his sixth with Seattle.|
|1994, N.Y. Jets||43||6-10|
|1997, New England||46||10-6||1-1||AFC East champions|
|1998, New England||47||9-7||0-1||Wild-card team|
|1999, New England||48||8-8|
|2010, Seahawks||59||7-9||1-1||NFC West champions|
|2012, Seahawks||61||11-5||1-1||Wild-card team|
|2013, Seahawks||62||13-3||3-0||Super Bowl champions|
|2014, Seahawks||63||12-4||2-1||NFC champions|
|2015, Seahawks||64||10-6||1-0||Wild-card team|