In 1999, The New England Patriots fired Pete Carroll from his job as the head coach. The episode would change him. Carroll has always been a coach who led with enthusiasm and always thought sunny-side up. While Carroll was not a flop in New England, he went 27-21 with two playoff births; the Patriots wanted someone more refined. Enter Bill Belichick, but Carroll’s exit would prompt self-reflection to impact the college and pro football for the 21st century.
Carroll went to work, embracing his sunny-side-up philosophy and cultivating his thoughts on competitiveness. Carroll ended up taking a year off from football to develop his philosophy, preparing himself for his next venture. For Carroll, if he were going to coach, he was going to be himself.
The USC Trojans took a chance on him on December 15th, 2000 (my ninth birthday), and he dominated college football for the 2000’s decade, winning two national championships and producing two Heisman winners.
In 2010, Carroll made the jump back to the pros, becoming the coach of the Seattle Seahawks. Carroll’s philosophy worked, winning a Super Bowl for the 2013 NFL season. Through 2019, Carroll’s Seahawks have only missed the playoffs twice and for 2020 they are in the drivers seat for another birth.
Carroll’s background is necessary to share because it reflects why the Seahawks have enjoyed success. Carroll wants his players to be true to self and always compete, which is at the heart of why the Seahawks are successful. Carroll leads his Seahawks by allowing his players to be expressive. He does not want to conform his team; he just wants his players to be their best selves. According to Carroll, when players are themselves, it allows the team’s identity to take shape.
Carroll has become synonymous with being a fun coach, but he also wants learning to happen. Mondays are “Tell the Truth Monday,” where game mistakes are corrected. On Competition Wednesday, he instructs his teams to compete during their first game-like practice. Turnover Thursday is about protecting the ball against turnovers on offense. Defense focuses on forcing the turnovers. No-Repeat Friday? Doing things right the first time is the focus. By making things fun on the practice field and film room, Carroll primes his Seahawks weekly to compete on the field for game day.
Another component of the Seahawks is Carroll’s insistence on mindfulness. Carroll coaches his team always to see the light in the darkness, no matter how bad things get. Carroll and his coaching staff checks in with the team on a group and individual basis. For Carroll, making sure his team is mentally sharp is a priority.
Thus, he has a mindset coach on staff named Michael Gervais, in which their goal is to shift the Seahawks with a relationship-based leadership style. Too often, teams and organizations lead with results-based leadership in mind. When it works, it works. But if it does not, then tension can build.
A great example of this is the infamous Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots in 2015. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw an interception at the one-yard line, shocking the world. The unanimous consensus was that Carroll should have run the ball with Marshawn Lynch. However, things did not go that path.
Carroll nor Wilson lives with regret, choosing to move forward in their careers. Members of the “Legion of Boom” defense were displeased with the result, having difficulty moving past it. They chalked it up to Carroll, favoring Wilson. However, there is a reason the Legion of Boom is no more, and the team belongs to Wilson. Wilson bought into Carroll’s philosophy and stuck by it. Legion of Boom became results-based and were phased out.
So what makes the Seahawks click? Carroll and his way of cultivating culture. For Carroll, the journey should be cherished, not an endless grind. Learning should be engaging, and game days should be about the spirit of competition and joy. No, the Seahawks are not as successful as the Belichick-led Patriots. But Carroll wants his players to carry his teachings long after his coaching days finish. He cares about their mental state and wants relationships with his team.
Will he catch up to Belichick one day? Maybe not. However, what he has done for the Seahawks was to develop the organization as humans first, players and coaches second. It is a good bet that Carroll can sleep well at night because of it.