Ronnie Lott was curious. So he called Pete Carroll.
Soon after news broke that the Seahawks had traded for Jamal Adams in July, Lott wanted to know more. He wanted to know why. One of the greatest safeties in NFL history wanted to know what most intrigued the Seahawks coach about one of the best safeties in the NFL today.
“(Carroll) sees some things that other people don’t see,” Lott said in a recent interview.
The coach and the old safety had a shared appreciation for Adams’ unique talents, going back to Adams’ days at Louisiana State. They talked, as Lott recalled, about “the bounce, the quickness, the excitement” that Adams brought to the field.
Lott’s curiosity had been piqued by Carroll before. They met at a Pro Bowl in the late 1980s, when Lott was the star safety during the San Francisco 49ers’ dynasty and Carroll was a Minnesota Vikings assistant coach. They’ve been friends ever since, and Lott said the reason he wanted to play the final two seasons of his Hall of Fame career with the New York Jets — in 1993 and ’94 — was so he could play for Carroll.
“What I love about Pete is, when I first met him it was about ball. About just ballin’,” Lott said. “And what I still know about Pete, it’s still about ballin’. And when he dies, it’ll be about just ballin’.”
Lott, 61, retired back in the Bay Area, has remained close to the 49ers organization, but he talks regularly with the 69-year-old Carroll — “I still call him ‘my coach,’” Lott said — and respects what the Seahawks have done over the last decade. The Seahawks’ defensive secondary, Lott knows, has Carroll’s fingerprints all over it — “that’s his baby.”
Then and now, Lott recognizes a simple premise in Carroll’s coaching: joy.
That joy — the pursuit of it — is the through-line, the spine, that connects Lott’s initial understanding of Carroll, to Carroll’s run at USC, to the Legion of Boom days, and to this rebuilt Seahawks secondary with Adams.
“The simplicity of trying to understand why — why do you want it?” Lott said. “… People who have the most joy, they love what they’re doing and they love doing it all the time. Pete has figured out that.”
Carroll, as a 42-year-old, first-time head coach with the Jets in ’94, asked those why questions of Lott. During one film-study session the day after a game, Carroll had shown a highlight of Lott making a big play — blitzing and taking the ball away from the quarterback. Carroll stopped the tape and looked at Lott: What were you thinking?
Lott was confused. “What?” he asked his coach.
“What were you thinking,” Carroll repeated, “in that moment?”
More than 25 years later, Lott said that interaction remains vivid in his mind. “What I think is interesting to me,” Lott said, “is when I paused to think about what I was thinking (during the play), it made me realize that I was thinking something. I was trying to do it, because I felt at that moment that there was something that I could see and do.”
It was as if Carroll was trying to bottle up that moment — to make it tangible — to allow Lott to repeat it, but also so Carroll could understand how it happened and allow him to teach the thought behind it to others.
“That kind of awareness was purposeful,” Lott said.
A few years ago, Carroll said that Lott was one of the “most interesting” players he’s coached in his career.
“I had and have such tremendous respect for him that when I finally got a chance to coach him, I couldn’t get enough of uncovering and understanding what made him tick and what made him be who he was,” Carroll told Bleacher Report.
Carroll has had a new safety to uncover and understand, and he said Adams “has been perfect in all ways” this season for the Seahawks, who close out the regular season Sunday against the 49ers.
“There’s nothing I don’t like about guys who have a high energy and a high intensity and are jacked up and take great pride in the work,” Carroll said. “(Adams) does all that.”
Lott, from afar, is envious of Carroll these days. His coach is still in the game — still ballin’ like a kid at the playground playing with his best friends.
“I always laugh because some people think he’s at the end (of his career),” Lott said. “And I think he’s in the second inning. … He never has to go home.”