Seahawk’s Pete Carroll finds NFL success on his own terms

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Former Minnesota Vikings head coach Bud Grant had a message to Pete Carroll that still resonates at the root of his coaching philosophy. The message was simple: ‘do what feels right.’

Carroll cannot operate under the traditional constraints of the average NFL head coach. It’s just not who he is. That’s why he brings in actor/comedian Will Ferrell to provide a pre-game pep talk to his players. That’s why he allows players and himself to pull pranks on the team and media members alike. That’s why he likes to have fun with this game.

“I don’t ever want them to lose sight of how much fun the game is. If you always pay attention to the fun, I think it adds to the overall experience. It gives our guys a chance to excel,” Carroll said.

Training under traditional coaches as he came up through the collegiate ranks, Carroll realized his philosophies weren’t the same as his predecessors.

“I found over time that I saw things a little differently than other guys and it was pointed out to me that I was off-track by some of my older, traditional guys — which was great,” Carroll said.

Carroll wasn’t cut from the NFL coaching cloth, where the hard-nosed, rigid leadership of many NFL coaches seems fit more for the military than a game of football. Instead, Carroll cut his teeth in college ball where the game is fueled by passion and the notion of having fun felt right.

“It’s fun [playing in Seattle],” fullback Michael Robinson said. “With the facts of salary caps and things like that, you understand that everybody can’t get paid, everybody can’t get the big mega deals they want. Pete and John [Schneider] understand that there has to be more to attract the player. It’s almost like recruiting again. When players come and visit, they see how much fun we have and how much we just enjoy competing and enjoy our work. You can see the philosophy in all facets all over the building.”

Carroll spent 10 years bouncing from different coordinator jobs around the NCAA before getting his first NFL coordinator gig in 1984 with the Buffalo Bills. Ten years later Carroll landed the head coaching job with the New York Jets. After a so-so run in the NFL that included a three year stint in New England with the Patriots, he hit his stride back in college with the University of Southern Cal — winning two National Championships. Now 20 years after his first head coaching job in New York Carroll finds himself back where he started, only this time he’s guided his team to the NFL’s holy grail.

“I never lost sight of what the possible opportunities were,” Carroll said. “I never had a thought where something like this couldn’t happen.”

However after treading narrowly above the .500 mark with the Patriots, he was let go and didn’t see the opportunities he wanted to get back in the NFL. He took a 10-month sabbatical that allowed him to refocus on what was really important to him and began looking for an opportunity for him to exercise that. The opportunity came in the form of USC, who let him not only cook the dinner but buy the ingredients as well.

“Everything was formatted [at USC] so that I could really do things the way I wanted to do them and I had tremendous freedom,” Carroll recalled. “[In New England] I realized some limitations that were going on that kept me from being the kind of coach I could be. The time off in between allowed me to refocus and formalize some plans that I was able to put in at USC and then at the Seahawks.”

Seahawks Superbowl Media DayThe time spent at USC allowed him to recruit the players and coach them, which ultimately led to the quick turnaround in Seattle. The advantage of coming from college early on was that he already had established relationships with players from recruitment. But it was in the past two seasons where Carroll cemented his relationship and trust in general manager John Schneider and began to implement his philosophy to success.

His philosophy was simple, yet hardly practiced by his NFL contemporaries: make a commitment to the young players. When Schneider first heard Carroll’s plan for the Seahawks, he couldn’t believe his ears.

“Getting to know who he was as a person, first and foremost, and his philosophies: his scheme, how he wanted to play and how we wanted the team to look,” Schneider said. “It just worked out great.”

As a coach, you want veteran guys filling out your roster. In fact, Grant had shared with Carroll long ago that for every rookie you play you’ll lose a game. Carroll and Grant didn’t always see eye-to-eye. As the GM you want to see an immediate return on your investment of all the young guys. With Carroll working with Schneider as the team’s executive vice president and head coach, he saw both sides of the fence.

“When you’re a GM and a coach — in essence what you are in college — I made the choice to go with young guys. We developed a whole approach about that and a philosophy about how that worked out for us and it paid off in a tremendous way,” Carroll said.

It sure did pay off. The Carroll/Schneider philosophy helped turn the NFC West cellar dwellar into potential Super Bowl winners  – largely due to their conscious strides to search for a player’s strengths and figure out how that skill set can be utilized to help the team immediately.

“In these past few years, we have done a tremendous job of getting guys in [later rounds]. Theres a whole of them that are starting for us, have contributed in a big way and have allowed us to recreate our football team in a short time,” Carroll said.

Guys like safety Kam Chancellor (4th RD, 133rd overall in 2010), linebacker K.J. Wright (4th RD, 99th overall in 2011), shutdown corner Richard Sherman (5th RD, 155 overall in 2011), cornerback Byron Maxwell (6th RD, 173rd overall in 2011) and defensive end J.R. Sweezy (7th RD, 225 overall in 2012).

It’s Carroll’s unique approach to competitiveness, on and off the field, that appealed to incoming players, like Wright.

“He talks about competing. You can compete in anything in life if you chose to do it. The things he talks about really sink in our heads,” Wright said.

Carroll’s competitive nature is evident in everything he does. Whether it’s wanting to beat his players in a regular pre-team meeting basketball shoot-off, like Chancellor has mentioned in interviews this week, or his persistence in acquiring players he feels fit his philosophies, like taking Russell Wilson in the third round after signing Matt Flynn to a three-year, $26 million contract. Or chasing around free agent Marshawn Lynch for months before Lynch agreed to sign on with the Seahawks. Competition is the fuel that drives Carroll. It’s the fuel that drives the Seahawks.

That aggressive streak comes from having no one above him saying no. The relationship between him and Schneider is rooted in the fact that they don’t care what conventional wisdom states. They are not driven by what the status quo dictates, rather what their gut tells them to do.

According to defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Carroll’s unique approach to the game has had a trickle down effect from coaching his coaching staff and the staff coaching the players.

“We’re a developmental staff, which means in essence we try to take the players as far as they can,” Quinn said. “It’s one of the the things that’s most fun about coaching with him is he’s constantly challenging us to see where we can go to, and in turn, we’re trying to do that with our players.”

After 38 years of coaching Carroll is no development. He’s sixty minutes away from the summit of the sport. And no matter if he wins or loses on Sunday, he’ll do it on his own terms.

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