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Pete Carroll Teaches Us How To Win And Live The Right Way

Andrew McKagan |
February 27, 2014 | 11:46 a.m. PST

Staff Writer

The love was mutual between USC and Pete Carroll during his first time at USC since winning a Super Bowl. (Benjamin Dunn/Neon Tommy)
The love was mutual between USC and Pete Carroll during his first time at USC since winning a Super Bowl. (Benjamin Dunn/Neon Tommy)
What a freakin’ night!

Sorry, Pete Carroll’s enthusiasm must be contagious. It sure seems that way, as he’s taken the 5-11 2009 Seattle Seahawks and turned them into a Super Bowl champion only four years later. And it's all centered around his main life philosophy: competition.

“If you want to win forever, you have to always compete,” Carroll maintains.

The first part of that phrase, the same title as his book Win Forever, first materialized in his days as the head coach of the New York Jets. Upon seeing the numerous division title banners in the Buffalo Bills’ stadium during one of the Jets’ road divisional matchups, Carroll “thought it was cool that it looked like they won forever.”

But the true value in what was said in Bovard Auditorium on the evening of February 26th wasn’t just about winning a few football games (although there was a montage before Carroll’s appearance that would give any Seahawks fan goosebumps), it was about succeeding in life. And boy, did the young entrepreneurs of USC's Marshall Business School, who the event was sponsored by, get what they came for.

While Carroll’s coaching career started with a sputter after being terminated by both the New York Jets and the New England Patriots after one and three years respectively, Carroll cites his time unemployed after his stint in New England as a huge turning point for his career. He was reading John Wooden’s biography one day when he came across this tidbit: it took Wooden 16 years of coaching before he won his first National Championship; Wooden then went on to win 10 out of the next 12 titles. “When he finally figured it out, nobody could touch him,” Carroll marveled.

Wooden’s book so motivated Carroll that he instantly knew that he needed to “get [his] act together.” The first thing he did after that moment was open a notebook and write down everything that was important to him in his life. Shortly thereafter, the very idea that would grow to consume him and influence everyone who has ever met the man would be born. “I had always competed my whole life with my brother,” Carroll said. “Competition makes you better. It’s the guy across from us that makes us who we are.” Carroll referenced battles during Seahawks practice between center Max Unger and nose tackle Brandon Mebane as a form of competition that makes both players better, almost like two pieces of metal sharpening one another. And so this concept came to fruition in the very essence of the philosophy he preaches.

Carroll is a football champion at both the college and professional levels, but his lessons about life transcend the gridiron. (Benjamin Dunn/Neon Tommy)
Carroll is a football champion at both the college and professional levels, but his lessons about life transcend the gridiron. (Benjamin Dunn/Neon Tommy)
While his catchy slogan “always compete” is his chief principle, there are others he lists important to succeeding on the football field and in life. Helping people fulfill their visions and potentials and emphasizing the strengths of people instead of their weaknesses are also crucial to Carroll’s overall philosophy. He references A Better LA, a non-profit organization he founded which helps restore peace and improve the lives of Los Angeles residents, as an example of off-the-field coaching. He says that the mindset of many people he’s helped with A Better LA has been “’I’m either going to die or go to jail,’ and that was their vision,” according to Carroll. His goal was and is to change that vision. He references his mother’s philosophy of acting like “something good is about to happen” as a way to change these negative visions.

An unexpected visit from current USC football coach Steve Sarkisian only reaffirmed Carroll’s philosophy for success. “When you have a ‘woe is me’ mindset, that becomes who you are,” Sarkisian said. “Don’t dwell on the negative; focus on the positive.” Sound familiar?

Back to the Carroll Coaching Coaster. After completing the notebook idea, Carroll knew he was ready to try coaching again. He called multiple potential suitors, and USC was one of the only schools to offer him an interview. But after interviewing and receiving the job, his positive mindset was tested from before the get-go. According to Carroll, his predecessor at USC Paul Hackett showed him “a list of 20 reasons why you can’t win at USC.” But while Hackett focused on the things USC didn’t have and the things they couldn’t do, Carroll turned that around in a hurry.

The tone-setter that Carroll credits as a turning point for the USC football program occurred against Arizona in Carroll’s debut season. Defensive back Kris Richard, who now is Carroll’s secondary coach for the Seattle Seahawks, returned an interception 58 yards for a touchdown to seal the win for USC. At that point, Carroll said he and his staff thought to themselves, “we don’t need to lose again.” And they rarely did lose for much of the next decade.

Carroll not only won two NCAA National Championships with USC, he also just won Super Bowl XLVIII as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. He even goes so far as to compare the National Championship he won against Oklahoma 55-19 to his Super Bowl win over the Denver Broncos 43-8. The night before the Oklahoma game Carroll recalls telling his players: “We’ve taken the vision of being the very best we can possibly be, and here we are on the precipice. We already know we’re going win, we just have to see who’s going to score the touchdowns.” This mindset was utterly evident in both the Oklahoma and Denver matchups.

Even though Carroll has brought his football teams to the peaks of the sport at both the college and professional levels, this accomplishment dwarfs in Carroll’s eyes in comparison to the way in which it was done. “We did it taking care of our guys,” Carroll said, which goes back to the all-important “helping people fulfill their visions and potentials” pillar of Carroll’s creed. And upon a closer examination of the Seahawks’ roster, numerous examples of the unheralded athlete achieving unprecedented success are all over the roster. Whether it’s Richard Sherman, a fifth-round draft pick many scouts thought too unathletic to play cornerback, Red Bryant, a player on the verge of being cut until Carroll moved him to a different position where he flourished and was rewarded with a $35-million contract, or Russell Wilson, who wasn’t chosen until the third round of the draft because many thought him too short to be a starting NFL quarterback, Carroll has shown time and time again that he is not only capable but lives for getting the best possible results out of every player (and it was difficult choosing just three examples from the Seahawks’ roster). Carroll clearly enjoys this challenge--“I love the fact that we went against conventional wisdom [in starting Wilson],” he said.

But while he acknowledges that sometimes coaches are needed to facilitate a person’s success on and off the field, he says that in the end “you have the power to absolutely control where you’re going and what you’re doing. As you go through challenges, what’s really exciting is nobody else controls it but you. Only you have the power to make yourself as valuable as you can be.”

He also advises that “the most successful quality a person can have is grit,” a term he describes as “passion, perseverance, positivity, and relentlessness.” Carroll pointed out a firsthand example of “grit” when he mentioned the Seahawks’ starting free safety Earl Thomas and the example he sets for his teammates. One of these teammates is Byron Maxwell, a cornerback forced into a starting role this past season. Maxwell apparently shadowed Thomas frequently, picking up his “gritty” habits along the way. Maxwell, another late-round pick by the Seahawks, responded with four

Will Ferrell surprised everyone--including Carroll--when he made an appearance at Bovard Auditorium that included kicking a football into the audience. (Benjamin Dunn)
Will Ferrell surprised everyone--including Carroll--when he made an appearance at Bovard Auditorium that included kicking a football into the audience. (Benjamin Dunn)
interceptions in his first five starts. “When you are ready to battle, let’s get a little gritty. And when you embrace that, nothing can stop it,” preached Carroll. When prompted with an audience question about how he would prepare for a job interview, Carroll responded that “it isn’t about the quality of the job, it’s about the quality of the job you do.”

Sarkisian reinforced this notion pertaining to Carroll, and talked about Carroll’s preparation and contingency planning. The USC football program appears to be in good hands as well, with Carroll complimenting Sarkisian by praising his “agile mind and ability to think freely and openly, and his clarity with people.”

Though both Carroll and Sarkisian both stressed the importance of hard work, Carroll maintains that the work should be fun. “You can put together a culture and environment that fosters success,” Carroll said, but “if we’re not having fun then I’m screwing up. Our guys want to be at the [Seahawks’] facility. They enjoy it.” The players apparently do enjoy it, evidenced by the fact that a players’ poll conducted before the Super Bowl showed that Carroll is the coach most players want to play for in the NFL.

No part emphasizes Carroll’s fun-loving personality more than his bond with actor and comedian Will Ferrell who, along with Sarkisian, made a surprise appearance in Bovard on Wednesday. Carroll once asked Ferrell to dress up as “Captain Competition,” a costume that included a children’s Iron Man costume and a skin-tight speedo, and surprise the USC team at practice one day. Ferrell was actually a football player himself back in his glory days, and apparently was quite the kicker for his high school team. He even demonstrated onstage by kicking a Carroll-held football into the upper-balcony at Bovard.

In all seriousness, Carroll’s entire Wednesday sermon told a story we can all learn and be inspired from. He faced the adversity of being fired in both New York and New England, yet rose to the occasion and vowed to compete to better himself as a coach and a person. There are many who have doubted Carroll in the past, and he has one last bit of advice for dealing with these kinds of people, which, like most of his philosophies, is universally applicable: “Speak right from the heart and let them know where you’re coming from. And if that doesn’t get it done, screw ‘em.”

Reach Staff Writer Andrew McKagan here or follow him here



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