The play that changed a game will live forever in a snapshot that defines an era.
Splashed across the front page of the Monday morning sports section, the photo shows Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman in full gallop, the football safely nestled between the rave-green glove on his right hand and his torso. Sherman can be as animated as a stand-up comic, but his facial expression here is all steel.
He’s a man going places, albeit without his right shoe.
Straddling the sideline to Sherman’s left is Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. One hand is clutching a headphone set. The other is clenched into a fist. The expression on Carroll’s face is priceless: He’s happy and surprised and proud and confident, all at once.
The Associated Press’ Patric Schneider not only was in position to photograph a pivotal moment during the Seahawks’ 23-20 overtime victory Sunday at Houston, but his shot of Shoeless Sherm and Positive Pete also depicted the essence of Carroll’s coaching philosophy.
Renowned as a motivator, not so famous as a superior tactician, Carroll is, at heart, a cheerleader.
When the Seahawks hired Carroll on Jan. 11, 2010, the label of “cheerleader” was used as a pejorative by skeptics convinced the rah-rah antics that worked so well at USC wouldn’t cut at the next level. An NFL coach who hugs and cajoles and jumps for joy? Who does that? Who’d ever done that?
Not Vince Lombardi, certainly. Not George Halas. Not Tom Landry. Not Paul Brown. Not Joe Gibbs. Not Mike Ditka. Not Mike Holmgren.
Dick Vermeil wasn’t afraid to show an emotional side NFL coaches rarely reveal at press conferences. Or maybe he was afraid, and he couldn’t help himself. In any case, Vermeil’s most expressive moments were accompanied by tears.
Win or lose, I’ve yet to see Carroll break down like that in front of reporters. Then again, it’s difficult to cry while conveying the 21 different thoughts swirling inside your head simultaneously.
If Carroll weren’t so upbeat, he’d remind the world that the Seahawks’ idea of making him an NFL head coach for the third time was largely panned. A one-and-done season with the 1994 New York Jets preceded three stressful years in New England, where Carroll took the Patriots to two playoff berths off a respectable regular-season record of 27-21. He was fired anyway.
Carroll looked like a lightweight compared with Bill Parcells, the Patriots coach he replaced. And he looked like even more of a lightweight compared with his Patriots successor, Bill Belichick.
Carroll’s 2010 return to the NFL presented a chance for him to reinvent himself as a conventional coach, somebody who burrows his face into a plastic playbook sheet between snaps, then uses the sheet as a cover while he speaks into the mouthpiece of his headset. Because, hey, you never can underestimate the lip-reading skills of spies on the opposing sideline.
But Carroll doesn’t carry a plastic playbook sheet – it would interfere with his penchant of slapping the backs of two players at once – and he doesn’t seem to care if his lips are read.
Carroll holds this crazy notion, unique among NFL coaches, that it doesn’t matter what the opponents think, or know, or think they know. All that matters is his team. When his team plays to its potential, when it fundamentally executes, it will achieve every lofty ambition.
The Seahawks are 4-0, looking every bit like the powerhouse predicted before the season. If the fast start culminates with an NFC Championship game in Seattle – the first in a string of them under Carroll – it will be interesting to see if the “Positive Pete” coaching style is emulated.
As with any major sports league, copycats abound in the NFL. Any neutral team executive who watched the disparate body languages of the head coaches Sunday in Houston had to be fascinated by Carroll’s once-mocked approach.
The tense lull before the overtime kickoff provided an example: While the Texans’ Gary Kubiak stood still and gazed into a plastic playbook sheet, his posture similar to that of a convicted serial thief awaiting a sentencing from a hard-line, three-strikes-and-you’re-out judge, Carroll drew his players into a huddle.
Last details for the extra session? Didn’t look like it. Carroll summoned the players for the kind of pep talk associated with high school games played under the Friday night lights. When he was finished, Carroll extended his right hand, and everybody around him extended theirs.
Carroll turned 62 on Sept. 15. He’s the NFL’s second-oldest coach, behind the Giants’ Tom Coughlin, who is 67 and working on his 40th consecutive year of comporting himself as if he’s 87. Coughlin would just as soon be seen at the next Burning Man festival in Nevada than presiding over an all-hands-in pep talk on the Giants’ sideline.
Carroll, by contrast, long ago liberated himself from conventional wisdom. He doesn’t care what the rest of the NFL thinks of his offbeat methods.
Imagine: He coaches a football team, and when the football team he coaches scores a touchdown, he smiles, gives hugs, and cheers. When the game goes into overtime, he reinforces his team’s spirit with energetic joy
It’s a radical way for an NFL coach to behave, but it just might catch on.john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com