Pete Carroll

Pete Carroll

Note: This article is the second of a two part series about Seattle Seahawk head coach Pete Carroll and his personal philosophy of football and life; a philosophy that he calls “Win Forever.” The series must be read in sequence, so if you have not read Part I please do that first. It can be found in the “Sports” category of this blog site. If you have read Part I then be my guest…and I hope you enjoy this, the conclusion of, “Win Forever! The Philosophy of Pete Carroll.”…MA

Through the first eleven games of the1994 season Pete had the New York Jets in contention in the tough AFC East Division with a 6-5 record. In the season’s twelfth game their opponent was the Miami Dolphins and their great quarterback Dan Marino. With twenty-two seconds left in the game the Jets were leading 24-21 and Miami had the ball on New York’s eight yard line. As the clock was running down Marino was calling the signals at the line of scrimmage. Suddenly he shouted, “Clock, clock!” Ordinarily this meant that he intended to spike the ball to stop the clock. Instead when the ball was snapped he faked the spike and then hit a Dolphin receiver in the end zone with the winning touchdown pass. While Marino’s “fake spike TD pass” has become one of the legendary plays in NFL history, the opposite effect was created on the New York Jets. The loss devastated them and they never recovered, ending the season with a 6-10 record.

With season over Jet owner Leon Hess wasted no time in firing Carroll despite the fact that he had three years left on his contract. Once the initial shock subsided, true to the wisdom his mother had taught him years earlier, Pete realized that being let go from the Jets was probably the best thing that ever happened to him. One moment he was faced with the prospect of having to re-build a team while trying to keep it winning under an owner who disagreed with his methods and the next moment he was free with three years left to pay on his contract. Pete made immediate use of his new-found freedom and grabbed his wife and kids and headed to Disney World for a vacation.

George Seifert

George Seifert

In early 1995 Carroll was about to interview for the Denver Bronco defensive coordinator post when he got a phone call from the San Francisco 49er head coach George Seifert. The 49er defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes was leaving to take the head coach position with the Philadelphia Eagles and Seifert wanted to know if Pete was interested in the job. Carroll had already committed to Denver coach Mike Shanahan that he would interview and so he ended up interviewing for both the Broncos and the 49ers and was ultimately offered both defensive coordinator jobs. He ended up taking the 49ers and Carroll regards it as absolutely the best decision he could have made. Not only was San Francisco his home town, the 49ers were the team he rooted for as a kid and had grown up following. Carroll had met Seifert much earlier in his college career when Seifert was coaching 49er defensive backs and on numerous occasions had the opportunity to question him about the NFL and various coaching philosophies. He was, therefore, very familiar and comfortable with the 49er head man.

While there was much for Carroll to gain by working with George Seifert, the real benefit of his decision to take the job with the 49ers came from the close relationship he developed with the former 49er head coach and coaching legend Bill Walsh.[1] Walsh re-joined the 49ers as a consultant as Carroll was entering his second season with the team. He had coached the 49ers from 1979 to 1988 developing them into a championship team and winning three Super Bowls in the process. Throughout the 1996 season the two men spent many hours together discussing Walsh’s ideas about all aspects of coaching and, like the proverbial sponge, Carroll soaked it all up.

Bill Walsh

Bill Walsh

Among other things, Pete learned how Walsh approached personnel decisions as well as coaching decisions and how he went about designing his offense. In particular they discussed the quarterback position. The entire offense, Walsh emphasized, revolves around the quarterback and it is the toughest position to play on the field. Therefore in designing an offense and calling plays care should be taken to make it as easy as possible for the quarterback. Pete asked Walsh how he went about evaluating a quarterback prospect; was it arm strength or accuracy that he most valued in a signal caller? Walsh’s answer was a bit of a shocker for Carroll, but it probably shouldn’t have been, considering that it was Walsh who developed Joe Montana into a championship quarterback in San Francisco. “All I’m looking for,” Walsh said, “is a guy who can throw a catchable ball.” Montana, of course, epitomized that description.

The real nugget Carroll gleaned from picking this coaching guru’s brain, however, came from how Walsh managed to eliminate doubt in himself, his coaches and his players. Ever since he had read the theories of Maslow and Gallwey all those years earlier Carroll had been particularly attuned to this subject. He considered it his role as a coach to deliver to his players a state free from worry and fear in which they could perform their best. Clearly this had much to do with preparation and practice and Walsh definitely re-affirmed this. He took it a step further, however, with what he called contingency planning. Carroll states that Walsh emphasized that, “…preparation and practice sessions should be designed so that the performer is trained for all potential outcomes and events. When you plan and train for all possible contingencies you eliminate surprises and, in turn, a huge source of doubts that so often make us tighten up.”

And this didn’t just apply to the players on the field. Walsh applied it to all aspects of the 49er organization; from scouting to public relations and from travel to nutrition. A huge part of the 49er legend’s philosophy was centered on this and Carroll summed it up succinctly as follows: “Have a plan for all eventual outcomes and you’ll be prepared. To accomplish this, a coach must prepare a step-by-step approach that encompasses all possible results.” 

With the knowledge of the 49er way and Bill Walsh under his belt Carroll was more prepared than ever for his next head coaching job. At the end of the 1996 season George Seifert stepped down as the 49er head coach and the New England Patriots, hungry for some of that 49er magic, made a spirited run at him for the Patriot head coaching job. George turned it down but in doing so recommended to New England owner Robert Kraft that he interview Carroll for the position. Kraft did and thus Pete was on the New England sideline to start the 1997 season. His second NFL head coaching job was under way.

Patriot owner Robert Kraft

Patriot owner Robert Kraft

When Robert Kraft offered him the Patriot head coaching job he told Carroll that he wanted the Patriot’s team and organization to be, “…just like the 49ers.” In reality when Pete took over within a very short time he discovered that this stated desire for change was not fully embraced by many in the Patriots front office and a number of them resisted some of what he was trying to do. Concerned, Carroll at first considered his experience with New York Jets owner Leon Hess and thought perhaps he should be more malleable. But then he called Bill Walsh and George Seifert and asked their advice on the situation. Coach Seifert in particular was adamant. He told Pete, “…you’ve got to do it the way you know how to.” Today Carroll considers that advice some of the best he has ever received. He realized that if he began to try to please others by changing he would be miserable. As Pete puts it: “…I decided to trust my instincts and compete to be the best head coach I knew how to be.”

Making it easier for him in New England was the fact that his roster was loaded with superb football players. His quarterback was Drew Bledsoe, the first round, number one draft choice out of Washington State University. Surrounding him on offense were, among others, running back Curtis Martin and wide receiver Terry Glenn. The defense included Pro Bowl outside linebacker Willie McGinest and two young players who would be heard from for years to come, linebacker Tedy Bruschi and safety Lawyer Milloy out of the University of Washington. It was a roster built to win now and in the future and that first season of 1997, win is exactly what Carroll and the Pats did, compiling a 10-6 record while taking the AFC East division title. In the playoffs they defeated the Miami Dolphins in the first round before losing a taught defensive struggle to the Steelers by a 7-6 score in the Divisional playoff round.

Despite the loss Carroll was energized to get started on the next season. He felt the team could build on its record of the prior year and as the new season started both the offense and defense were playing well. Soon, however, a situation developed with star wide receiver Terry Glenn. He became inconsistent on the field and had personal problems away from it. He began to be late for practices and meetings. Carroll had many long talks with Glenn to try to get through to him and finally took the unusual measure of calling famed NBA coach Phil Jackson [2] for advice. Carroll had read Jackson’s book “Sacred Hoops” and had noted that Jackson had successfully handled troubled players.

Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson

The two men discussed Jackson’s ways of communicating to and reaching recalcitrant players but in the end Glenn remained a trouble source. Though it is hard to estimate the effect his disaffection created, the Patriots were not the team they had been. They made the playoffs as a wild card with a 9-7 record but were eliminated in the first round by Jacksonville amidst rumors that Pete’s job was in jeopardy, which served as another distraction.

The rumors about Carroll’s job security persisted into his third season with the Patriots and often had more print space devoted to them in the New England papers than the play of the team. Despite this the Pats started hot and by mid season were in first place in the AFC East with a 6-2 record. In the season’s second half, however, the team faltered, losing six of the next seven games. Pete tried everything he knew to get things back on the rails but nothing worked. Going into the last game of the season against the Baltimore Ravens, with his job security more in question than ever, Carroll asked team owner Robert Kraft to give him a straight answer as to his future with the Patriots. If this was to be his last game as head coach he wanted to enjoy it.

Kraft told him he would be fired when the season was over. The Patriots then took the field and played like champions, defeating the Ravens 20-3. That victory, says Carroll, is one of his best memories ever as an NFL head coach. With the win the team avoided a losing season with an 8-8 record, but more important to Carroll was the loyalty of his players, who all knew or sensed this was to be his last game. In securing the victory over Baltimore they gave their all for their coach one last time.

When he was fired from New England Pete had two years remaining on his contract and once again had some paid time on his hands. He realized he now had a valuable opportunity; a chance, without the pressure of needing a job for income, to reflect on and evaluate his coaching career. He understood that, while he loved coaching, he did not know himself well enough or have a sufficiently developed vision and philosophy to adequately communicate to his players or the administration staff of a team. To bring about the broad agreement and shared reality necessary within a team and, indeed, a whole organization, to win consistently, Carroll knew he needed to resolve this. But knowing he needed to resolve it and actually doing it are two separate things. He was missing something necessary and its lack would continue to gnaw at him through the 2000 season.

Being away from coaching also afforded Pete the opportunity to spend some time performing the myriad duties of a father and husband. He got the chance to see his children play sports including his eldest son Brennan’s senior season as a tight end for the University of Pittsburgh. As fun as this was for him, with the 2000 season winding down and 2001 on the horizon, Carroll was antsy. He knew that jobs would be opening at the college level and in the NFL but he was no closer to resolving the central dilemma of his coaching life. He thought back to what his good friend Monte Kiffin had told him all those years before about the need for a philosophy, clearly stated, of his own; a foundation on which to base and which would drive the actions of himself and the entire organization. He knew he had many of the pieces but he lacked the integrated whole. The time had come for Pete Carroll. He would not take another coaching job until he resolved this lack that had haunted him his entire coaching career.

The "Wizzard of Westwood" John Wooden

The “Wizzard of Westwood” John Wooden

The breakthrough finally came when Pete was reading the books of the legendary Wizard of Westwood, UCLA Bruin basketball coach John Wooden.[3] Though he had read the books before, Carroll was now in the right frame of mind and had enough experience to fully grasp what Wooden was saying. Many people don’t realize that John Wooden did not win a national title at UCLA until his sixteenth season there. He started coaching at UCLA in the late 1940s and though many of his teams were successful it wasn’t until 1964 that the Bruins won it all. Once he got that first title, though, he went on to win ten of the next twelve NCAA championships. Wooden, in the middle of his career it seemed, had figured out how to “win forever.”

In truth, coach Wooden’s winning at UCLA coincided with his development of his own coaching philosophy. He laid this out in what he calls his “Pyramid of Success”; a statement of the basic values Wooden emphasized that built on each other by layers until the pinnacle of “Competitive Greatness” is achieved. In Wooden’s philosophy he emphasized such things as loyalty, cooperation and industriousness which then led to initiative and skill. These in turn resulted in poise and confidence and ultimately the goal of “competitive greatness”.

Carroll relates in his book what impressed him so about coach Wooden:

“The wealth of detail that went into that knowledge was incredible. He had figured out absolutely everything about his program—his belief system, his philosophy, his delivery, and a million other details that made that first championship possible. He had figured it out so completely that he could re-create it year after year after year. Even more important, he had done more than just become aware of all those details inside his own mind. He had refined them to the point that he could explain them to the people around him. I think a great part of his genius was that he was able to explain his beliefs and tie them back into a clear vision that brought it all together into a single team effort.” 

John Wooden's Pyramid of Success

John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success

With the example of coach Wooden before him Carroll went to work and by December of 2000 had what he described as, “…a clear, organized template of my core values, my philosophy, and—most important—my over-arching vision for what I wanted to stand for as a person, a coach, and a competitor.” The big personal breakthrough Carroll made in developing his philosophy, and the revelation that in many ways led to everything else, was a realization that he had about himself. Pete came to understand that, at his heart, he was a competitor. When he was the happiest and most fulfilled in his life it had always been connected with the concept of competition. The central motif of his philosophy, therefore, had to be competition. To this he added the ideals he felt to be true and necessary and also stated that everything he would henceforth do would be done with the goal, “…to do things better than they had ever been done before.”

Since it is at the heart of Carroll’s philosophy it is important to have some understanding of how he views competition. In his book he states:

“Competition to me is not about beating your opponent. It is about doing your best; it is about striving to reach your potential; and it is about being in relentless pursuit of a competitive edge in everything you do…If you want to Win Forever,” Pete says, “Always Compete.” 

Carroll states that the real essence of competing is often misunderstood. Competition is most usually grasped, he says, “…as a contest between individuals, groups, teams or nations; it is a test of skills. In my world, however, competition is much more than that. It is a mentality, an outlook and a way of approaching every day. The traditional definition of competition requires having an opponent. For players, the real ‘opposition’ is not necessarily the team they are matched up against in a given week—far from it. The real opposition is the challenge to remain focused on maximizing their abilities in preparation for the game…” 

With regard to “opponents” Pete continues, “The essence of my message about competing has nothing to do with the opponent. My competitive approach is that ‘it’s all about us.’ If we’ve really done the preparation to elevate ourselves to our full potential, it shouldn’t matter whom we are playing.”

He then re-defines, for his purposes, what an “opponent” is: “Many people confuse ‘opponent’ with ‘enemy,’ but in my experience that is extremely unproductive. My opponents are not my enemies. My opponents are the people who offer me the opportunity to succeed. The tougher my opponents, the more they present me with an opportunity to live up to my full potential and play my best…At the end of the day, that opponent is the person who makes you into the best competitor you can be.”

One could logically conclude from the way that Carroll views “competition” that practice would be very important as the vehicle through which “the preparation to elevate ourselves to our full potential,” is accomplished. Indeed, this is the case. He strongly emphasizes in his philosophy that, “Practice is Everything,” and this principle relies heavily on lessons learned from Bill Walsh: “…preparation and practice sessions should be designed so that the performer is trained for all potential outcomes and events. When you plan and train for all possible contingencies you eliminate surprises and, in turn, a huge source of doubts that so often make us tighten up.”

Pete Carroll's "Win Forever" Pyramid

Pete Carroll’s “Win Forever” Pyramid

The end result of Carroll’s philosophic quest was his own “Pyramid of Success”, much like coach Wooden’s, but embodying Pete’s unique values and approach. He called it his “Win Forever” pyramid and that is exactly how Carroll viewed it. Any team implementing the points of his pyramid in the spirit he described would have the best chance of delivering to its players the state of mind and confidence required to play free from fear and doubt. Peak performance and winning forever would result as the logical and natural consequence. The principles only needed to be applied.

Thus Pete was uniquely prepared when USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett called him about the Trojan head job in early 2001. His philosophy in hand, he went about applying it at USC and, as noted in Part I of this series, he resurrected the Trojan football program with an unprecedented nine season stretch of success. He demonstrated conclusively the workability of his philosophy and approach at the college level. Even John Wooden was impressed. After Pete left USC for the Seahawks he commented: “Coach Carroll is one of the finest teachers in all of sport and one who I respect immensely. I’m just glad that he is now coaching in the NFL and not for our archrival anymore.”

Despite his USC success, it remained to be seen how Pete’s “Win Forever” system would translate to the pro style of the NFL, but he intended to find out. That chance came when Seattle owner Paul Allen contacted Carroll about the Seahawks job after the 2009 season. 

When Pete Carroll arrived as executive vice president and head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in 2010 it was his third NFL head coaching job. Most pundits viewed him through the lens of his prior NFL failures with the Jets and Patriots and so did not expect much from him at Seattle. Yes, he had succeeded at USC, but that was college and this was the NFL; the football equivalent of comparing apples and oranges.

Russell Wilson

Russell Wilson

His first two seasons with the Seahawks seemed to bear out this negative view as the team finished with identical 7-9 records. Behind the scenes, however, along with general manager John Schneider,[4] Carroll was overhauling the Seahawks roster and loading it up with the types of players he knew he needed. Then came the 2012 pre-season. In a stunning example of the application of his theories on competition, he gave an undersized, rookie third round draft pick named Russell Wilson a chance to compete for the starting quarterback job with the highly touted and highly paid free agent Matt Flynn. It was honest competition and Wilson flat out won the job. When regular season play started Seattle fans got to see for themselves some of the wisdom of Carroll’s philosophy as Wilson and the rest of the Hawks took them on a marvelous ride through a 2012 season that came within a play of the NFC championship game.

With the 2013 season now underway, Hawk fan optimism has hit new heights and the same pundits who expected Carroll to fail in Seattle now regard the Seahawks as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Through the first three weeks of this season the team has not disappointed compiling a 3-0 record. The players all seem to have bought in to Pete’s positive approach and “Win Forever” philosophy and if you listen to them they talk about it all the time.

Recently Hawk wide receiver Sydney Rice was speaking to a reporter and was asked why he thought Carroll’s system was working in Seattle:

Sydney Rice

Sydney Rice

“The thing about Pete,” Rice said, “is that he’s always Pete. I can honestly say I’ve never seen him out of character.” Rice went on to say that he has, “…never played for a coach even a little bit like Pete Carroll. The guy is relentlessly, even absurdly, positive. He’s constant energy. He never stops being cheerful and enthusiastic and encouraging. Five minutes after going over a mistake you made in a game, he might ask you to play one-on-one basketball…I look around this locker room,” Rice said to the reporter, “and I think these guys, a lot of these guys, don’t know how lucky they are. This is the only NFL team they’ve played for. They don’t know that it isn’t like this at other places.” 

The reporter asked Rice what he meant in saying that playing in Seattle under Pete Carroll wasn’t like other places:

“Fun. Positive. Cheerful. Encouraging,” Rice responded. “Every other minute, someone is telling you not only that you CAN succeed but that you will. There’s no doubt. You will succeed. There’s no doubt. Your teammate will be there for you. There’s no doubt. Nobody will take the easy way out….every other minute someone is telling you how you will make the play that will win the game on Sunday. The coaches rarely yell. They almost never swear. They are told not to tear players down…Everyone is told to imagine themselves in the big moment and to see themselves making the big play.”

Based on what he is saying do you think that Sydney Rice is getting Pete Carroll’s message? Based on how they are playing it seems all the Seahawk players are, and if I know Pete everyone in front office management, the scouts and the trainers and all the way down to the ball boys are too. The NFL season is long and a lot can happen. League history is littered with fast starts that petered out and resulted in nothing by week 16. But I have a feeling that will not happen with Pete Carroll and these Seahawks. I have read his book and his philosophy and I see him doing the same things here that he did at USC.

Like his mother instilled in him half a century ago when he was just a kid, I have a feeling that for Pete Carroll and the Seahawks, something good is just about to happen.


Copyright © 2013

By Mark Arnold

All Rights Reserved

[1] Bill Walsh is one of the great coaches and pre-eminent minds in the history of the NFL.  During his career as the 49er head man he not only won the 3 Super Bowls mentioned above, he also developed what is known today as the “West Coast Offense” which has been utilized by many teams over the last two decades. Many of his assistant coaches, men such as Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Ray Rhodes, Dennis Green and George Seifert went on to become head coaches in their own right and took the knowledge they gained from Walsh with them, winning championships and Super Bowls of their own.  A great eye for talent, Walsh drafted and developed into stars such players as Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott and Charles Haley and traded for and developed as a quarterback Steve Young. Walsh was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.  He died in 2007 of leukemia.

[2] Having won more NBA titles than any coach in NBA history (6 with the Chicago Bulls and 5 with the LA Lakers) Phil Jackson is likely the greatest NBA coach ever. A free spirit, Jackson employs elements of Eastern philosophy and Native American practices in his coaching philosophy. His book “Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior” was written in 1995. In it Jackson, who describes himself as a Zen Christian, emphasizes the team over the individual players or coaches and the need for players to stay in the “now” to maximize their potential.

[3] Widely regarded as the greatest college basketball coach in history, John Wooden coached the UCLA Bruins to 10 national titles in 12 seasons from 1964 to 1975 , including a stretch of titles in 7 consecutive seasons;  a record unmatched in major college history. Many great players passed through his program on the way to the NBA including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Gail Goodrich, Walt Hazzard, Marques Johnson, Lucius Allen, Jamaal Wilkes and Sidney Wicks among others.  He died in 2010 at the age of 99.

[4] John Schneider is the current General Manager of the Seattle Seahawks and has a long front office history in the NFL with teams such as the Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins. In January 2010, the Seahawks made a splash with the hiring of Pete Carroll as its head coach. Schneider came on board one week later. It was a rare case in which the head coach had hiring control over the general manager. The Seahawks Front Office has been a collaboration from the beginning. Schneider has control over salary cap and contract issues and works closely with Carroll on personnel matters. Generally, Schneider will scout the players and report to Carroll who has final decision over roster moves. The relationship has been described as Schneider setting the menu and Carroll picking specific players off of it.

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2 Responses to Win Forever! The Philosophy of Pete Carroll-Part II—by Mark Arnold

  1. Steve Rodriguez says:

    Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! I see the sequence of Ethics, Tech and Admin at play here. Add to that the ability we know as “being able to be there comfortably and face things”. And lastly, all of these points being performed in the “Spirit of Play” and in “Games” on the scale of emotions.


    • Mark Arnold says:

      Thanks Steve! Will be very interesting to see how this season plays out, knowing what we now about how Carroll goes about things! Will be fun for sure. Go Hawks!

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