Seattle Seahawks

Players buy in, then win, with Carroll’s fun-filled ways

They roar at teammates soaring to the rim during dunk contests on the edge of their indoor field following practices.

They launch jump shots at another basket from all corners of their main auditorium before team meetings and film sessions. T hey blare Notorious B.I.G. and others while reviewing game films, shaking the room’s walls and its inhabitants.

They’ve welcomed a wide range of musicians — from Macklemore to The Kenyan Boys Choir — and even basketball legend Bill Russell, to perform and inspire them. Sometimes while still on the practice field.

Oh, yeah, these Seahawks are also entering their fourth consecutive postseason. They’ve played in the past two Super Bowls, winning the franchise’s first. They’ve won six of their past seven games after a 4-5 start. They are three road playoff wins from becoming the first team in the NFL’s salary-cap era (that began in 1994) to reach three Super Bowls in a row.

Seattle’s coach, one Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett last spring likened to Willy Wonka, lets his players have fun and be themselves. And it has worked for the Seahawks better than any other approach in the team’s 40-year history.

“Pete Carroll always talks about allowing us to be individuals and celebrating our individuality,” record-setting wide receiver Doug Baldwin has said, more than once. “That brings out that passion and fun on the practice fields and meeting rooms. That’s why we have fun.

“Pete is on a different level. He’s 64 years old. But he acts like he’s 20.”

On Wednesday, four days before the Seahawks (10-6) begin their hard-road trek toward yet another Super Bowl as a sixth seed in the NFC playoffs at Minnesota (11-5), Carroll described why he leads his guys the way he does. It’s by an unorthodox, seemingly non-existent leash. That’s especially rare in a profession where micromanaging and ultimate control have been the established, proven norm since George Halas was in diapers.

“Well, we’re trying to help them be the best they can be. Simply, that’s what guides everything that we do,” Carroll said. “So whatever it takes to get that done is what we’re charged to find. In that, I think a person has a chance to be much closer to their potential if they get true to who they are, rather than something you might want them to be or try to govern them to be. It’s simply that.”

And with the bumpin’ music, the casual dress codes for the league’s longest road trips, the throw-the-ball-into-the-trash-can contests on the field during practices, it doesn’t take much of a sell job, either.

“If I’m going to find somebody’s best, I need to get them as close to what their true potential is, and connected to who they are, and call on that to be consistent,” Carroll continued. “It’s really hard to be something that you’re not. But it’s asked of people a lot. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re trying to realize that these guys have really special, unique qualities about themselves and then try to figure out how to fit it together.

“And sometimes it doesn’t fit. Sometimes it’s not right, and we have to govern and adjust.”

Hence the multitude of roster transactions in Carroll’s six years in Seattle. The result of that churn is a 53-man roster entirely bought in on what Carroll is selling.

OK, so they are happy — and in the cases of veteran starters, well-paid — workers. But how do Carroll’s ways translate on the field in how the Seahawks play and, more specifically, succeed?

“It makes for a better work environment when you don’t have to worry about trying to be somebody you’re not,” All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said. “You don’t have to worry about changing yourself, changing your mental approach, changing anything. You go out there and be the best you. The best you can be.

“A lot of people say that, every year, that ‘I’m going to be the best me I can be.’ But then they let society change them and let the constraints of the world change who they are, because people judge who people really are. I think here, he lets players be exactly who they need to be to be successful.”

Sherman entered the league as Carroll’s fifth-round draft choice in 2012 out of Stanford, where he was coached by Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh is seen as the opposite of Carroll on the player-allow meter.

Sherman said he was surprised at Carroll’s NFL program. Playing football at the sport’s highest level for its highest stakes wasn’t supposed to be, well ... fun.

“It just seemed like college around here,” Sherman said Wednesday. “A little bit more fun. No homework. No studying, no 6 a.m.’s. It seemed like college to me, in the way guys approached each other.

“From the stories I had heard, it seemed like the veterans didn’t really like the young guys and didn’t really talk. Guys weren’t like that when I got here.”

Linebacker Bobby Wagner is another Seahawks’ Pro Bowl and All-Pro player. He attributes that in part to Carroll’s ways.

“I think it just makes you more relaxed. Makes you more calm,” Wagner said. “Him doing that shows the confidence he has in us to prepare and be focused, knowing when to focus and when to have fun. It puts responsibility on us — but it shows how much he trusts us.”

Wagner is from Ontario, California, just east of Los Angeles and USC. He was in high school during Carroll’s years leading the Trojans to national championships and Rose Bowl victories. Carroll did that using the same, fun-filled methods he’s using to prepare the Seahawks for yet another playoff run.

“I was an SC fan growing up, so I kind of knew what type of style he had,” Wagner said.

“I kind of knew it would be fun (here). I didn’t know it would be this fun.”

Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle

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