The Super Bowl. Oh, man, mega huge. Biggest game there is. The pinnacle of the sport. Every action and preparation scrutinized and analyzed.
So, of course, the way Pete Carroll began practices here in the desert for this ultra-important, ultra-intense showdown at Super Bowl 49 this week was by … conducting another basketball free-throw shooting contest.
He ended the final full practice of Super Bowl week Friday under an inflated bubble at Arizona State University by hosting Snoop Dogg on the sidelines amid rap music that blared ... just like it always does. It was like old times back at the University of Southern California for the coolest, hippest 63-year-old coach these Seahawks have ever met.
As Carroll said this week: “We do things a little differently than the ways a lot of other people do.”
Still tanned despite five years now in Seattle, his silver hair still feathered above his hoodie and baggy khakis, Carroll has emanated a persona here this week that is the polar opposite of the coach he’s opposing.
All you need to know about Carroll and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick came from their answers to the first question of a joint press conference Friday at the Phoenix Convention Center.
“We’ve had a great two weeks,” Pete said, noticeably buoyant for 8:30 a.m. on a rainy weekday. “It’s been nothing but fun.”
Belichick waited his turn to answer — with a look on his squared face that he’d rather have been swallowing shards of glass.
“I don’t know if ‘fun’ is the word that I would use,” Carroll’s successor as New England’s coach 15 years ago said.
Brandon Browner was a charter member of the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom secondary, until he exited to sign a free-agent contract with New England last spring.
Browner has played in the Canadian Football League, at Oregon State, and now for two of the NFL’s preeminent coaches.
“They are two coaches on two different sides of the spectrum,” Browner said. “One is old-school, hard-nosed. Pete Carroll is a great guy. He keeps it looser.
“On our way into meeting rooms in Seattle you could hear music blasting, pumping. But none of that is going on in New England. It’s all business oriented.
“Pete, he’s the ultimate players’ coach. I’ve never met any coach like him as far as the way he approaches the game. He keeps it loose around there, which keeps guys loose. You’re not walking on eggshells.”
No, Carroll’s Seahawks are more likely to pick up eggs and throw them at each other.
It’s also all part of Carroll’s core philosophy that relaxed, unburdened players play faster and thus better — while having more fun that comes from winning.
“It’s comfortable and secure, trusting that the preparation will allow you to do well. In that regard, I hope we all fit together in that,” Carroll said.
“If you see our team and you think they look relaxed, well, they are.”
Carroll found this unique approach during the only time he has not coached football since he became a graduate assistant at the University of the Pacific in 1974. That time was in 2000, after Patriots owner Robert Kraft fired Carroll after his third season, in which New England went 8-8, and replaced him with Belichick.
Carroll spent that year diving deep into the teachings, philosophies and foundations of leadership from a man about whom Carroll absolutely gushes about — legendary UCLA basketball coach and motivator John Wooden.
“I hadn’t written the story yet. I didn’t know where it was going to go,” Carroll said this past summer before his fifth season with the Seahawks began. “It took the New England experience to really get me on track to where I am now.”
In the bottom-right corner as a foundation of his “Pyramid of Success” for leaders and coaches, Wooden wrote: “Enthusiasm: Brushes off upon those with whom you come in contact. You must truly enjoy what you are doing.”
Carroll spent days and weeks writing down Wooden’s philosophies. They transformed him and, eventually, the USC Trojans into a national champion and then the Seahawks into Super Bowl champions.
“It was a crucial year for me. I realized I couldn’t retire and I don’t understand retirement,” he said. “But more importantly it gave me an opportunity to really collect my thoughts about moving forward and to get pointed in the direction that, really, we have maintained since.
“It’s such a whirlwind when you’re coaching and you’re flying so fast that sometimes … really, we don’t figure out that we need to step back and revisit all of the stuff that’s important to us.
“That’s what happened. And out of that came every word of our approach and every philosophy that we stand by now that applies to all the different stuff — really came out of a reflection of that time. … I was on course to figure this out but I hadn’t taken the opportunity to really dig in. I’m really grateful for it and that’s why when I look back, I don’t regret anything that happened up until that time at all and I didn’t regret anything that happened at New England.
“It needed to happen for me to get to the point where I had to dig in and figure out what was right. I’m proud of the way that process went because it really worked out.”
So when you see the Seahawks jumping up and down like pogo sticks before defensive drives in the Super Bowl, you know where that’s coming from.
“Our program is really structured around helping people be the best they can be,” Carroll said. “In that, I just believe that if we allow our players to function where they’re at their best, which is really representing who they are, along with the coaching and development that we can bring them, we give them the chance to be at their best. That’s why we do celebrate their uniqueness.
“We look for the qualities that they have that nobody else has and then we try to coach it into our style of play so that they can do things that they’re really good at.”
Carroll’s way is now so popular Corporate America is asking him to share.
“They like the part of developing the human properties in their team by reaching into the people and bringing out the best they have to elevate productivity in all aspects of life, I think,” he said.
If Carroll’s way wins a second consecutive Super Bowl on Sunday, the coach many doubted would succeed in his third coaching stint in the NFL will start to get mentioned among the league’s best ever.
“This is the greatest opportunity that we have. I think our players understand that,” Carroll said. “It takes a tremendous amount to get here the first time. It takes another tremendous amount of effort to get here a second time. Now that it’s here, for us to miss the emphasis and undershoot this thing? It’s not going to happen.
“Now that we’re here, I think we can do something really special with it.”