RENTON – Pete Carroll talks almost as fast as he thinks, and he thinks so fast you can imagine him working the New York Times crossword with his right hand as he turns the pages of a Solzhenitsyn novel with his left hand – something to occupy him as he’s preparing the braised sweetbreads with mushroom sauce on the stove while breaking down an opponent’s zone-blitz tendencies on the speaker phone.
Given the dizzying pace of Carroll’s answers during the press conference at which he was introduced as the Seattle Seahawks’ newest head coach Tuesday morning – he gave a 500-word response to one question, without pausing for a drink of water, or, more remarkably, a gulp of air – it’s inconceivable that Carroll was out of work for the entirety of the 2000 football season.
Well, out of full-time work.
He served as a consultant for a number of pro and college teams, and donated some time to charities, and wrote an NFL column for an online site. But by Carroll’s standards, he was as shiftless as a beachcomber on the Santa Monica pier in 2000.
The year he spent in idle – presumably running in idle – might’ve been the most important year of his life, because it enabled the coach to identify the component that would turn him from a twice-fired NFL has-been into the architect of a college football dynasty at USC.
“I wasn’t at my best in New York,” Carroll said of the chaotic season he spent, in 1994, as head coach of the Jets. “And I wasn’t my best in New England,” he continued, referring to another head-coaching gig cut short, in 1999, after three seasons produced a not-as-bad-as-it’s-perceived record of 27-21, with two playoff berths.
Nevertheless, the Patriots, who’d gone to the Super Bowl under disciplinarian Bill Parcells, concluded the dour presence of former Parcells lieutenant Bill Belichick was preferable to the gee-whiz musings of Pete Carroll.
Having lost his job, Carroll found himself.
“Between New England and USC, I had an epiphany of what was most important to me as a football coach,” Carroll recalled Tuesday. “In the process of putting those thoughts together, it kind of just solidified a mentality – an approach – that has been put in practice (for) 10 years.
“Now I feel like I’m bringing a very clear message to our football team when I get in the meeting room. When we start this thing off, they’re gonna know where I’m coming from, because I know where I’m coming from: What we’re all about, where we’re going, what we’re doing. I didn’t know that back then. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you that I was coaching an NFL club and still didn’t have my act together.”
During Carroll’s hiatus from the sidelines in 2000, he read a book written by peerless basketball coach John Wooden. It occurred to Carroll that UCLA didn’t win its first national championship until Wooden’s 16th season at the school – and then, once the Bruins won, they won almost perennially.
The football coach found Wooden’s late-blooming legend intriguing, as Carroll had worked the previous 15 seasons in the NFL.
Wooden’s story motivated Carroll to reinvent himself. So did the words of the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, who told an interviewer that he didn’t want to be in the best band doing something – he wanted to be in the only band doing something.
John Wooden? Jerry Garcia? Welcome to Carroll’s cluttered, congested and yet beautiful mind, where his thorough grasp of football Xs and Os yields the right-of-way in a perpetual traffic jam to the dynamic duo of heart and soul.
“We’re gonna do things better than it’s ever been done before, in everything we’re doing,” said Carroll. “That’s the line we live with. That is the principle. I’m a competitor, and competition is going to be the central thing in this program. And as I deliver our message and what we’re all about to our club, they’re gonna be extremely clear that it’s my job to make them understand – to the coaches, the administration, the players, all the way down through – so that we can be on the same page. The whole idea here is to maximize all that we have available, and bring it to where we can perform at our very best.”
Carroll’s rapid-word-movement does not allow listeners to easily note his facial expressions, but there was a trace of a wince whenever the New York-New England phase of his career was brought up Tuesday. He didn’t want to go there – “seasons and seasons have gone by,” he said – but questions concerning a dynamic college coach’s ability to replicate his success in the NFL are legitimate.
Carroll’s explanation of what he’ll do differently in his third stab at the NFL was legit, too.
“The sooner the players will give in and start listening, and not fight the new stuff – not challenge us about the new system – the sooner they start listening and give themselves to us, the faster we’ll move,” he said.
“That’s what I didn’t have before. I didn’t have that mentality. Unfortunately, I don’t think anybody can operate at their optimum until you get there.
“It’s what I preach to every individual guy and every coach: to draw up the very best they have to offer, and you can’t do that unless you know what the very best you have is. So we have to get through that process – self-discovery – bring it to light and then make some sense of it so that you can help the people around you go.”
Carroll finally stepped away from the podium, as he was anxious to continue assembling what’s looking like an all-star staff of assistant coaches. (Besides, reporters with the temerity to jot down Carroll’s quotes in shorthand were developing symptoms of Carpal tunnel syndrome.) That turned the media horde toward Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke, whose boss, owner Paul Allen, has been undergoing cancer treatments.
“Paul Allen, after what he’s gone through this year, deserves hope,” said Leiweke, who then economically paraphrased the new coach’s inaugural message.
“After he talked to Pete Carroll, he felt hope.”