One Key to the Seahawks’ Success: Pete Carroll “Embraces Everybody. You come as you are”
Very early in his coaching career, Pete Carroll found himself in hot water because, well, he was being Pete Carroll.
“I thought it was a really cool thing that I had uncovered by talking to players and dealing with them on what they wanted to practice and stuff,” Carroll said. “The head coach just ripped my butt. ‘What are you doing, listening to the players and their input? You’re the coach, you’re supposed to be making all those decisions and choices for them, and leave them no choice.’ That was what I dealt with. I tried to adhere. I didn’t do very well.”
Carroll, who has the Seahawks back in the divisional round of the playoffs for a fourth straight season, couldn’t adhere to the classic “my way or the highway” coaching approach because doing so would mean not being himself, or more precisely, the best version of himself. And just as Carroll couldn’t be at his best as a coach without being himself, he doesn’t expect his players to come to Seattle and suddenly become a certain type of person. The Seahawks are full of unique personalities, and for Carroll, the best way to handle that is not to stifle those unique characteristics, or even to tolerate them, but rather to embrace them.
“He lets you be who you are,” linebacker Bruce Irvin said. “We’ve got a lot of different personalities on this team, and Pete embraces everybody. You come as you are; he doesn’t try to make you into somebody else. You handle your business on the field, off the field, don’t get in trouble, he’ll let you be who you are. That’s the best thing about him… Pete’s a great guy, he runs a great program, and you can see he gets the best out of guys.”
The last part of that Irvin quote might be the most important thing about the way Carroll runs his team. Somewhere between Snoop Dogg visits, meeting-room pranks and post-practice dunk contests, a perception of Carroll formed, long before he came to Seattle, that he was a player’s coach whose teams lacked discipline. Actually, let’s call that a misperception.
Carroll doesn’t embrace the idea of letting players express themselves because he wants to be liked by his players — though he almost universally is — nor does he let them have fun with the usually mundane parts of the week because he wants to be perceived as cool; he does it because he truly believes it is the best way to draw the best out of his players, and his record shows that philosophy is working.
“This is about helping people be the best they can be,” Carroll said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with sports to me. It doesn’t have anything to do with sports. It has to do with parenting, it has to do with mentoring, it has to do with coaching and leading, if you want it to.
“We’re trying to help them be the best they can be. Simply that’s what guides everything that we do. So whatever it takes to get that done is what we’re charged to find. In that, I think a person has a chance to be much closer to their potential if they get true to who they are, rather than something you might want them to be or try to govern them to be. It’s simply that. If I’m going to find somebody’s best, I need to get them as close to what their true potential is, and connected to who they are, and call on that to be consistent. It’s really hard to be something that you’re not, but that’s asked of people a lot. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re trying to realize that these guys have really special, unique qualities about themselves and then try to figure out how to fit it together. And sometimes it doesn’t fit. Sometimes it’s not right, and we have to govern and adjust.”
But while Carroll believes in valuing individualism, that doesn’t mean he runs a program lacking discipline. When Dr. Angela Duckworth, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist who specializes in the study of grit, came to study the Seahawks last spring, she came away impressed with what Carroll has built in Seattle, in large part because of Carroll’s ability to create such a successful, hypercompetitive environment that is also enjoyable.
“Pete is the epitome of being as demanding as anybody, but instead of being demanding and a (jerk), he’s demanding and supportive,” Duckworth said. “And that’s the harder way to do it. Being demanding and a (jerk) is easier.
“It’s how he talks to everyone. It’s like ‘Oh, that is integrity.’ He treated me the same as he treated the guy who was serving us lunch and the same as he treated Russell Wilson. It’s a lot of small acts, but it adds up to respect. It adds up to, ‘OK, I trust you as a leader. The beginning of the season wasn’t good, but I trust you when you say we can pull this out.’”
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