SAM MELLINGER

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll makes NFL football fun again

Updated: 2014-01-30T06:08:50Z

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

— The players he’s in charge of call him Pete, which is a pretty telling place to start. It’s just Pete. Not Coach Carroll. Not even Coach Pete. Is this even allowed? The way Pete Carroll smiles his way through coaching the Seahawks feels like some sort of second-degree felony in the Belichickian world of Super Serious Football.

Football is a serious game played by serious men who follow the serious instructions of serious coaches, or at least that’s what we’re always told (when we’re told anything). So what is this guy doing challenging his players to shoot hoops and playing their iPods during practice and generally acting as if he’s — ahem — having fun?

“I mean, everyone heard when he brought in Snoop Dogg,” says Seahawks assistant Travis Jones. “That was different.”

Jones comes at this from an interesting place. The Snoop Dogg thing happened when Carroll was coaching at Southern California. In Seattle, Carroll’s musician of choice is Macklemore, but the bigger picture stays the same: Working with Carroll is more like working at a house party than the deep-voiced, every-time-you-smile-a-puppy-is-killed way that has overtaken much of the league.

Jones knows that way, too. A decade ago, he left a position at Kansas to coach five years at LSU and with the NFL’s Dolphins under Nick Saban, who would probably be voted class president of the Bill Belichick School of Super Serious Football.

Carroll, on the other hand, was voted by players in an ESPN.com poll as the coach they would most want to play for.

“Stark differences,” Jones says with a chuckle, and maybe there’s still some Saban in him because he won’t get into specifics.

But you know what he means.

Which is why — if you don’t have a rooting interest in Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Broncos and Seahawks — you should consider getting behind the coach who’s trying to bring fun back into football.


Carroll isn’t the only coach adjusting to the current generation of players, of course. Just the most successful, at least at the moment.

Much of the credit for the Chiefs’ turnaround from 2-14 civic embarrassment to 11-5 playoff team is given to Andy Reid (who tied Belichick for fifth in that poll, by the way).

And much of Reid’s success in Kansas City so far has been credited to his trust with players, to his willingness to empower them. He encouraged them to show their personalities on the field, particularly after a good play. He trusted them enough to alter play-calls or game plans midstream. And not just the quarterback. Receiver Dwayne Bowe made a suggestion on the sideline once, and it turned into a touchdown pass to Dexter McCluster.

Football needs more of this, not less, and the Fun Movement could not have a better front man than Carroll. He gets into snowball fights with players. He coaches through compassion, not intimidation. He plays cornhole with his general manager and invites Will Ferrell to talk to his guys and shoots baskets with them before walkthroughs. He tweets, for crying out loud.

He is, perhaps, the NFL’s grandmaster of player relationships. He plays to Russell Wilson’s steadiness, to Doug Baldwin’s fundamental need to prove people wrong and has brilliantly navigated a team full of personalities as different as Marshawn Lynch’s reluctance to say anything publicly and Richard Sherman’s reluctance to ever stop talking publicly.

Once, at Southern California, Carroll was up big. The Trojans were kneeling on the ball to kill the clock when the other coach called a timeout. So Carroll responded by calling a play-action bomb that went for a 48-yard touchdown. In the NFC championship game two weeks ago, against his biggest rival, before an absolutely critical fourth down in the fourth quarter, Carroll called a timeout and screamed the same thing he always screams in these situations: “ ISN’T THIS FUN!

The Seahawks scored a touchdown on the play.

“I don’t ever want them to lose sight of how much fun the game is,” he says. “… if you always pay attention to the fun, I think it adds to the overall experience.”

Now, we should acknowledge that Carroll wasn’t always praised as this quirky winner. There was a time he was mocked as a quirky loser. When he coached the Patriots, reporters called him a substitute teacher. In New York, the Jets were “Good Ship Lollipop.”

Carroll coached the Patriots immediately after Bill Parcells, and immediately before Belichick, so it’s quite possible the differences became exaggerated over time. But it’s also quite clear that many football men came to believe that winning required round-the-clock seriousness. Sure, Carroll’s summer-camp routine might work in college, with kids, but not in the NFL. Not with men.

But the Seahawks went from 5-11 the year before Carroll took over to the playoffs in his first season. They went 11-5 last season, and 13-3 this year.

The NFL is a bottom-line business. Winners write the history. Carroll is doing a lot of the same things now that he was in the two jobs he was fired from, so it’s entirely possible that this is all a lesson in causation vs. correlation.

But it sure is more fun to watch sports when you believe the people involved are having fun. Nobody wants to watch a board meeting.

Maybe for once, the NFL-is-a-copycat-league tendency will be about something broader than press coverage and mobile quarterbacks.


A few years ago, when he was still coaching the Chiefs, Todd Haley mentioned to me that he watched old video of Parcells in news conferences. He looked for tips. Haley admired a lot about Parcells, both as a man and coach. He liked the way Parcells handled news conferences — never divulging too much, always in charge, rarely breaking character.

Haley didn’t like that I mentioned this in a column. He explained that he didn’t want people thinking he was wasting his time. This is a nice window into the mind of a football coach. No detail too small, no potential consequence unconsidered.

Haley was always a different guy in his news conferences, and in hindsight, that might’ve been part of the problem. He is not unique in this way. Many football coaches are different in news conferences. They do this consciously, a lot of them, almost as if they’re playing a role.

Carroll doesn’t do that. This is part of his charm. Friends and players and colleagues swear the smiling, stubborn, relentless positivity he shows the world on the podium is the same thing he shows his team behind closed doors.

Carroll is deathly serious about football. He just has fun, too. Crazy thought, right? Take that, Belichick.

Here’s hoping there’s a young coach, somewhere, watching tape of Carroll’s news conferences.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow him at Twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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