What do Pete Carroll and the Army’s 1st Special Forces Group at Joint Base Lewis-McChord have in common?
Turns out, everything.
They share the beliefs in motivation and mentoring that are the core of Carroll’s program leading the Seattle Seahawks.
The coach, whom leading receiver Doug Baldwin says is “64 years old, but he acts like he’s 20,” does what only he in the NFL does to maximize his players’ personalities, their voices and dedication to a shared direction. Carroll sees that as the secret to maximizing performances on game days.
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“I think the more you can engage the people that you’re dealing with and involve them in the process, you have a better chance of drawing in the best sides that they can offer, as well. You’re not suppressing things that they have to offer,” Carroll said Wednesday, four days before his Seahawks (11-6) play at Carolina (15-1) in the NFC divisional playoffs.
It’s the 12th postseason game in Carroll’s six seasons leading Seattle. The Seahawks have won eight of the first 11, including the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory.
Before Carroll arrived in 2010, the Seahawks had won seven playoff games. Ever.
“In the old military, when they’d take in the grunts, they’d shave their heads and put them in the same uniforms and treat them as they treated them,” Carroll said, returning to relating how he leads the Seahawks to how the Army does. “They wanted everybody to act in accordance with the guidelines so they could account on how they could act. In that format, you can only go so high, you can only act so well, because you’re governed so strictly.
“Special Forces aren’t taught that way anymore. They’re not treated like that.”
Carroll knows this firsthand. He has hosted battalions from the 1st Special Forces Group at Seahawks headquarters. He’s sent his players to visit the 1st SFG at its JBLM training center. He’s met and studied with Lt. Col. Owen Ray, a former military aide to President Barack Obama until 2013, who until last June was commander of 1st SFG’s 4th Battalion.
Carroll and Ray’s 4th Battalion have swapped information on the Special Forces’ unconventional leadership dynamics, training and missions, plus team building and experiences with traumatic brain injuries.
“Coach Carroll wanted a visit from Special Forces because he sees us as equivalent athletic professionals,” Ray said in the Sept. 5, 2013, issue of JBLM’s Northwest Guardian newspaper, after going to Seahawks training camp.
Just over four months after that visit, Carroll’s team thrashed Denver in Super Bowl 48.
Carroll sees the way he treats his Seahawks as paralleling the way the Special Forces Command leads and trains its uniquely qualified and performing soldiers.
“They’re treated to draw out all that they have to offer in terms of their grit and their ability to persevere and all the rest. They’re taught to bring out the special qualities that allow them to think clearly and engage creatively so they can do extraordinary things,” Carroll said.
“We’re looking for more from the players in that regard, and see if we can draw more from them.”
Carroll’s ways are getting more attention, if not scrutiny, this week. Last week, star running back Marshawn Lynch practiced fully all three days, his first practices in two months. Then Lynch told the team on its way out of its headquarters for Friday’s flight to the game at Minnesota that he didn’t feel he could play because of after effects of his abdominal surgery on Nov. 25 — and that he wouldn’t be getting on the team plane.
Last month, the Seahawks allowed Lynch to decide where he trained, with whom and for how long. Lynch and his trainers in California — not the team — decided when he would rejoin the Seahawks.
Safety Kam Chancellor made a personal stand on his belief he wasn’t getting paid enough by blowing off two games. Both became losses. He was welcomed back to the team with open arms and hearts.
Richard Sherman has a platform to talk about Black Lives Matter, what he calls the hypocrisy of the NFL’s media policies — anything.
The Seahawks have dunk contests and shoot baskets on a hoop at the side of the field following practices. They blare rap music — Notorious B.I.G. is a favorite — through team meetings. Practices sound like nights in a club.
Some have criticized Carroll’s way as too lenient.
Maybe it’s that it’s too successful.
Under Carroll the Seahawks have: two consecutive NFC championships; four consecutive seasons in the playoffs; five postseasons in his six years as Seahawks coach; and the franchise’s only two road playoff wins in the last 32 years.
The latest was a rally from 9-0 down in the fourth quarter to a 10-9 win inside a minus-6-degree freezer at Minnesota last weekend.
So, no, the criticism that Carroll is not “hard enough” on his players hasn’t shaken his confidence that his way is the best way.
“No,” Carroll said of such talk. “It’s been a distraction.
“I think we have extremely rigid standards that we operate by. To play like we play, we have to play with extraordinary discipline. Extraordinary discipline. The example of what we did last week against the great running back (NFL rushing champion Adrian Peterson, who gained only 45 yards on 23 carries) was all about discipline. That’s doing things right, no matter …how individualistic you might think this thing is.
“I think it’s because of the buy-in. They’ve committed to one another and they’re willing to do what they have to do to give to the overall effort, even though they’re accepted for who they are and how they are. It doesn’t mean that everybody’s running around crazy. That’s not it at all.
“I don’t think that we’re perceived as strict as we are, to our style of play and the way we handle this game.”
Carroll shook his head.
“I don’t know how we could ever be as consistent as we have been over a long period of time without really rigid standards and guidelines that people have to live within,” he said. “It’s just that maybe the message is delivered a little differently. That’s why people are confused by it somewhat. And they don’t understand.”
The Special Forces guys do.
“Yes. We’ve been involved with those guys whenever we can, forever, as long as I can go back, respecting what they’re up against,” said Carroll, the former coach for USC, the New England Patriots and New York Jets, plus an NFL and college assistant back to the 1970s at his alma mater of Pacific.
“They have to be at their very best in the most ridiculous circumstances. The process and the planning and the preparation of all of that is so deep and so in-depth, because they’re doing life and death, all the security things they stand for. They’re the ones that are competing at the highest level to me.
“That’s why we would refer to those guys and gain anything we could at any time.”
So while some may think his players essentially run the team, the coach is excited — and assured — his system is working exactly as he’s planned it to.
His Seahawks are two wins away from becoming the first team in the NFL’s salary-cap era to play in three consecutive Super Bowls.
“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 has to do with parenting. It has to do with mentoring. It has to do with coaching, obviously, and leading, if you want it to be.
“It’s having the willingness to deeply look into the people you are dealing with, so that you have the ability to help them find their way to their best. That’s important. That’s what it’s about.
“It just happens to (also) be football.”