Pete Carroll is out to prove one simple thing now that he’s back in the NFL.
He wants to show you that, despite what many people believe, winning and fun need not be mutually exclusive in the National Football League.
For all of the opinions about Carroll — and there are many — there is one, a misperception in his mind, that he is out to disprove.
“Only that you can’t have fun coaching football at this level and still compete like crazy and win,” said Carroll, who in January was hired as the eighth head coach in franchise history. “If there’s anything that people don’t understand, it’s how you can enjoy it in the way that we do and still work really hard and be really disciplined.”
Carroll tried to do that in his first two NFL head coaching jobs, but lasted only one year with the New York Jets and three in New England. But after taking a year off, Carroll went to USC where he enjoyed an unprecedented run of success with the Trojans. And they did it while working hard, and yes, having fun.
“We could have never won for all of those years like we did against all the challenges had we not been extraordinarily disciplined and really focused and determined and practiced awesome, and that’s what we’re doing here too,” Carroll said. “I’m anxious to see it translate to the league. I like to have a good time, I like to have fun with stuff, and sometime I don’t think people think that translates to the NFL. I want to show that it can.”
That attitude, the enthusiasm Carroll shows on the field, is why his critics think Carroll will fail in his return to the NFL. The term “players coach” is thrown at him as a criticism, and until Carroll can prove himself a consistent winner in the NFL, he knows he’ll have to deal with that. But if the past weekend of roster turnover showed anything, it is that Carroll, who has final say over the 53-man roster, doesn’t need to be a jerk to make his players respect his authority.
“For one, I decide whether they’re on this football team or not,” he said before turning to his go-to mantra. “The other is through competition. Competition, if you do it right, is the driving force and the motivator. … If we’re true to that, then that hammer never goes away, because we tell them everything counts. Everything tells us something about who they are, so they’re never off.”
Of course, going against the grain comes with risks. Carroll feels like things didn’t work at his last NFL stop, in part, because control was divided. At USC, and now in Seattle, he is the man in charge. He wasn’t willing to say yes to the NFL until a team would promise that, and this offseason that is what Seahawks owner Paul Allen and CEO Tod Leiweke were offering.
“That’s what I had at SC for the first time,” he said. “I was the GM and the coach and the recruiting coordinator and everything in that regard. I got to have an all-encompassing approach that came from one spot. I realized I needed that, because I do things a little differently than other guys and it doesn’t always agree with somebody who is from a different camp”
This is hardly the first time Carroll has tried to do things his own way. As a safety and quarterback at Redwood High School in Larkspur, Calif., Carroll was put into a game by his coach, Bob Troppmann, to hold onto a lead.
“I sent him in late in a game, and for once we were ahead,” Troppmann recalled in a phone interview. “I said ‘Take it easy. Do the best you can, but run out the clock.'”
Carroll’s response: “Got you, Coach.”
His actions: “He made up a play himself,” Troppmann said. “He threw a pass and they intercepted it and went 95 yards for a touchdown. He was on my black list for awhile.”
He obviously didn’t stay on Troppmann’s list for long, however, because it was Carroll’s high school coach that introduced him to coaching. Carroll first attended Troppmann’s football camps, then as he got older worked at them as a counselor. Even though Carroll had no intentions of becoming a coach at the time, Troppmann saw a natural in Carroll.
“Pete was ahead of his time,” he said. “He was always a hustler, all the kids liked him. … He was organized. You knew he was going to be a good coach.”
And on Sunday, as he always does on game days, Carroll will call Troppmann before his first regular season NFL game in over a decade. It should come as no surprise to those who have listened to the loquacious Carroll that the conversations are rather one-sided.
“I listen mostly,” Troppmann said. “I have very few suggestions for him.”
Carroll goes into each day believing something good will happen. He thinks he got this endless supply of optimism from his mother, but he isn’t sure exactly where it came from. It’s no surprise then, that Carroll thinks his team can be good now even as he and GM John Schneider tear apart the roster.
He won’t say how long it will take for the Seahawks to be winners, because doing that would imply that they can’t be now.
“It’s not mapped out that way, because that would mean I would have expectations that we wouldn’t be as good as we possibly could right away, and I don’t think that way,” he said. “The point is to see how fast we can get good and do things right. We’ll be good when we play good. … Then you’re hard to beat. Talent level is exceedingly important in this league, however until you play flawlessly, or close to it, you can’t tell how good you can possibly be, and that’s what we’re after.”
Carroll has certainly endured his share of criticism since taking the Seattle job. Not long after he left USC, the Trojans were hit with severe NCAA sanctions, creating the perception that he bailed on a sinking ship — for what it’s worth, Carroll has steadfastly denied that his departure had anything to do with the NCAA investigation. And as USC and Reggie Bush were being called cheaters by their enemies, Carroll went on a national tour to promote a book called, “Win Forever.” The timing was, to say the least, unfortunate.
And if Carroll can “Win Forever” in Seattle, or heck, just win more often than not, he will quiet a lot of his critics. But ultimately he won’t consider it his most important work, no matter what the Seahawks can accomplish.
Criticize Carroll all you want, but he has done some undeniable good for city he called home for a decade. In Los Angeles, Carroll co-founded a charity called A Better L.A. along with Darren “Bo” Taylor, a former gang member turned peacekeeper. And while plenty of athletes and coaches give time and money to their charities, Carroll took it a step further, hitting the streets at night with Taylor to actually interact with the high-risk youth that the organization strives to help.
“We established relationships with kids, people in the community, law enforcement,” he said. “… It was just to get closer to it so it could be effective.”
Carroll seems completely genuine when discussing the cause closest to his heart. After sitting back in his chair for most of a 20-minute interview, occasionally distracted while trying to get the attention of a visitor, he is suddenly 100 percent focused when A Better L.A. comes up. He leans forward in his chair, fully engaged. This clearly is important to him. More important than his legacy as an NFL coach, more important than this job or his last one.
“A million times more important,” he said. “It is definitely more important. I wish I knew how to do more.”