NEWARK, N.J. - He’s boys with Macklemore and Snoop Dogg.
He drains three-pointers during walk-thrus.
He’s got a California cool about him that makes it seem like he’s 62 going on 32.
Seattle’s Pete Carroll is ... the most interesting coach in the world.
“He’s just out there,” center Max Unger said of Carroll, the Seahawks’ executive vice president of football operations and head coach. “You go up to his office and he’s listening to Snoop Dogg, The Doors and James Brown. He’s awesome. He’s a very positive coach. Obviously the emphasis on competition is first and foremost, but he does an awesome job.”
Carroll’s coaching journey began as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Pacific, in 1974 and has taken him all over the country since then, including a brief stop in Buffalo.
He served as the Bills’ defensive backs coach in 1984 - a truly forgettable season. Carroll was asked this week if he remembered anything from his time in Western New York.
“Yeah, we were terrible,” he said, succinctly.
That they were. The Bills gave up a franchise-record 454 points against that season in going 2-14.
Carroll’s quite obviously gone on to much bigger and much better things since then. His first two head-coaching jobs in the NFL with the New York Jets (1994) and New England Patriots (1997-99) were more successful than what might believe: He went 33-31 and made two postseason appearances, with only one losing year.
But Carroll’s Shangri-La way of life didn’t seem to mesh with the Boston and New York crowds. Carroll followed Bill Parcells with the Patriots – as much of an apples-and-oranges comparison as there is.
“I learned what it takes for a person like myself to operate at my highest level and I also realized some limitations that were going on that kept me from being the kind of coach I could be,” Carroll said of his time in New England. “It allowed me to refocus and formalize some plans that I was able to put in at USC and then at the Seahawks.”
Carroll’s one-year exodus ended when he became the head coach at the University of Southern California in 2001. He turned the Trojans into a national powerhouse, winning seven consecutive Pac-10 titles (2002-08), two national championships and a 97-19 record. Along the way, he became one of the best recruiters in the country, partly because of his willingness to embrace the culture of the kids he met with. He’s thought to be one of the first college coaches in the country with a Facebook page. He’s got nearly 900,000 thousand Twitter followers.
“When it first kind of came out, we related to it,” he said of the social media network. “It’s always been a great way to communicate and allow ourselves to stay in contact. It’s worked out well and become somewhat of a big thing.”
Carroll had the freedom at USC to build the program the way he thought best fit. If he was going to return to the NFL, he’d need that same freedom – something the Seahawks offered in 2010.
“I thought I would never leave USC. It was a perfect situation and I loved it. Everything was formatted so that I could really do things the way I wanted to do them and I had tremendous freedom and support, but I always knew that the NFL was the most competitive level that you could get involved with in the world of football,” he said. “I always had that in the back of my mind that I wanted to see what would happen, particularly after the years at USC as we had success. I wanted to see what would happen if we translated this to the NFL and see what the result was. ... We’ve been rewarded well in the four years that we’ve been in Seattle. I’m really thankful for that.”
Carroll’s bio on Twitter contains two phrases that define him: “Always Compete” and “Win Forever.” They are his mantras.
“I don’t know if it’s modern, it’s just the only way I know how to do it,” he said of his coaching style. “I understand that the guys do respond pretty favorably. They like what’s going on. They respond by the way they practice and the way they play. We’ve created a culture that hopefully allows for our guys to be at their best.
“It’s the culmination of years working with guys, and teams and coaches, all of that, this is what you’re seeing. This is the result of a journey to figure out how you can create an environment where people can find their best, stay at their best, foster their best for the people around them so that everybody can join in.”
“Energetic,” is the one-word description of Carroll from defensive end Red Bryant.
“He definitely wakes up every day looking forward to the opportunity to get better. He does a great job of motivating us to go out there and do our deal,” he said.
The music that wafts through the facility before, during and after practice, the basketball hoops Carroll will challenge his players to shootouts on, they’re all ways he believes will foster a welcoming atmosphere. It’s the same reason the Seahawks are encouraged to use yoga and meditation, and why they even monitored players’ sleep habits to maximize rest.
Clearly, it’s working.
“If you look around our team, we’ve got one of the most comfortable teams in the NFL. Guys are happy to be in the building,” kicker Steven Hauschka said. “They are happy to be playing for this team, and it starts with coach Carroll and the atmosphere he creates.”
But the Seahawks’ fun-loving atmosphere should not be confused with a Club Med.
The Seahawks practice hard.
“We run this program with extraordinary standards in how we prepare every day, with expectations that they’re going to be working their tails off every single step of every single practice,” Carroll said. “When we get in games, it’s not a different situation for us. I don’t believe that people are very good at turning things on and off when it comes to intensity. You’re either on, or you’re not. You’re either capable, or you’re not.
“You have to create an environment where not only is that at the top of the charts, but also they can feel good about what they’re doing and understand that if they do that in that manner, that they’ll perform at a really high level. It doesn’t mean we’re going to win. We’re just trying to get the best we can out of our guys. We’re playing a fantastic football team in the Broncos. We may play exceedingly well and still not be able to beat them. That’s how good they are. We’re going to go out there and play at our best, and see what happens.”
The Seahawks’ daily sessions even have their own names:
• Tell the Truth Monday: The team honestly reviews the previous day’s game, both good and bad.
• Competition Wednesday: The hardest practice of the week, when the Seahawks use a portion of practice working their starting units against each other.
• Turnover Thursday: The defense’s goal is to create as many turnovers as possible; the offense’s is the exact opposite – to hang onto it. Seattle forced 39 turnovers in the regular season, leading the NFL.
• No-Repeat Friday: The goal is to be so precise that no plays need to be run a second time.
“Wednesdays and Thursdays truly feel like a game to us,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “That’s the separation I believe we’ve gotten over a lot of our competition in terms of the season. It’s just the way we prepare. We still do everything full speed and it’s the end of the season.”
Not surprisingly, Carroll was recently named as the coach players would most like to play for in a poll by ESPN.com.
He received 23 percent of the votes in an anonymous survey of more than 320 players that took place in November and December. Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin was a distant second, at 14 percent.
“It’s a trust factor. You’ve got to earn that trust, you’ve got to build that trust. Once you build that trust and earn it, he allows you to be yourself,” linebacker Bobby Wanger said of Carroll. “We pride ourselves on being loose and being relaxed and just coming out and playing the game and having fun – and entertaining, because we are entertainers.”
Winning, of course, helps in every situation. Whether the Seahawks are loose because they’re winning or winning because they’re loose really doesn’t matter.
“Just his approach to how we do things, it’s allowed us to get to this moment right here,” Bryant said. “So you’d definitely have to say it’s working.”
It’s an approach Carroll has used since arriving in the Pacific Northwest.
“Ever since he got here four years ago, he’s been preaching the same thing: championship opportunity every play, every practice, every game,” Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson said. “Now, we’ve kind of seen his philosophy come to fruition and we’re in the biggest game on the biggest stage.”