In many ways, Pete Carroll is the other coach in the Super Bowl.
Bill Belichick is arguably the No. 2 coach in NFL history behind Vince Lombardi, and when it comes to asserting his will, knowledge of the game and coaching strategy, he doesn’t take a back seat to anybody. While he may not have the rallying ability when it comes to the pregame speech, he uses fear as a motivator.
The outcome of Super Bowl XLIX as well as the investigation into Deflategate will both have an impact on Belichick’s overall legacy, but the coach on the other side of the field is not chopped liver.
Carroll was not a bad head coach when he was on the New England sidelines from 1997 through 1999, but he is nowhere near the leader he is now.
Carroll earned his first two NFL head coaching opportunities (with the Jets as well as the Pats) because he was a sharp defensive coordinator who excelled at positioning his players and working on their techniques. He has always been able to pick out mistakes and help players fix them. When he determines that a player can’t overcome his issues, he replaces him.
That’s what good coaches do. The teaching aspect of coaching is often overlooked or shunted onto the assistants. However, the best coaches spot mistakes and fix them quickly.
Carroll admitted he was basically winging it when it came to his first two NFL head coaching assignments. His shortcomings in his early years had to do with a desire to be liked and popular with his players.
Carroll has always been enthusiastic about his job and his sport, and he encouraged that kind of attitude from his players. If he got it, he believed they were good to go and on the same page. Carroll always wanted everyone to get along.
However, when it came to imposing discipline, Carroll was somewhat lost in his early days. From a personality standpoint, punishing and imposing rules on his players was not in his nature. As a result, veterans were able to take advantage of him and get away with a lot of behavior that coaches like Parcells and Belichick never would have tolerated.
Carroll followed Parcells at New England, and players who were regularly upbraided, criticized and threatened found themselves getting hugged and told how great they were. The relief was palpable, and so was the loss of discipline and fear.
Carroll’s coaching game plan changed when he was at USC, as he learned from his mistakes in New England. He was able to overcome his nice guy persona by controlling the environment and letting his players know what was permitted and what was not.
He also learned to check his players when they committed to his principles. It wasn’t enough just to have them verbally commit and get on the same page. He knew he had to make sure they were living up to their words.
Players don’t take advantage of Carroll any longer, and that’s one of the reasons he has been so successful in his second go-round in the NFL.
He doesn’t have the same kind of distance that many of the game’s disciplinarians have regularly used as a tool to invoke their authority. He remains a player’s coach who is not afraid to show his love and respect for his charges.
But he demands the same back from them in terms of a commitment to improve every step of the way.
When I have interviewed Carroll, he has always emphasized his desire to get better at his job on an every-day basis, and he insists that those working with him – assistant coaches and players – do the same thing.
“Our job is to win and do it consistently,” Carroll said. “Everyone we compete against has the same job. The only way to get that edge – as a player or a coach – is to constantly work hard to get better at your job. The results will tell the story as to whether you are working hard enough and whether you are doing it effectively or not.”
That goal is one of the key principles of Carroll’s coaching philosophy, and it’s probably why he has been successful this year and put his team in a position to defend the title that it won last year.
The Seahawks are motivated by getting better and not being satisfied. Certainly they would like to become the first team since New England to win back-to-back Super Bowls, but they also challenge themselves to be better today than they were yesterday.
It’s a philosophy that is clearly working for Carroll.
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