NEW YORK -- Pete Carroll used to surf the aisles of chartered flights on a food service tray. When this peculiar act of balance and silliness was recounted during his days as coach of the New England Patriots, it invariably was used to demonstrate Carroll's battle with maturity.
Yet in the retelling during Super Bowl Week by Dennis Janson of WCPO in Cincinnati, we surely can expand the fuller metaphor to Carroll's entire life. It seems that Carroll, then New York Jets defensive coordinator under Bruce Coslet, used to place the tray at a specific launch point and wait for the reverse thrusters for landing and then allow inertia to rule. Carroll would ride that tray as fast and far as he could. His finishing point would be duly noted, a record to break the next flight.
So it wasn't only Carroll's perpetual West Coast youthfulness at play. It was his perpetual competitiveness, too. After failed NFL jobs in New York and New England, after two national championships at USC, a Lombardi Trophy from winning the Super Bowl with the Seahawks, with charges of cheating at USC, with charges of too much PED use in Seattle, with Pete's perpetual enthusiasm through it all ... it comes down to this: Ride the wave as long and hard as you can and have a blast doing it.
Is it any wonder that Carroll has cited the unlikely combination of John Wooden of UCLA and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead to define his coaching philosophy? Wooden was all about sending a strong and clear message, while Garcia was not only one to make the best music but also to make it unique.
"He is 65 years old," Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin said. "He acts like he's 20."
Actually, Carroll is 62 -- can you believe he's four years older than the Broncos' John Fox? -- but Baldwin is right about the acting part. The good news is he's up from sometimes being accused of acting like he was 18 when he coached the Patriots.
It should come as zero surprise that a recent ESPN poll of 320 NFL players showed that Carroll is the coach most of them want to play for (22.5 percent), getting nearly twice as many votes as second-place finisher Mike Tomlin of the Steelers. He's a player's coach, playing equally to their competitive nature and their youth.
"He's so energetic," defensive end Red Bryant said. "He wakes up every day looking forward to the opportunity to get better."
"It's hard to have a bad day with Coach Carroll," receiver Golden Tate said. "Every day he's going to bring something new to the table, whether it's a funny video or having another coach talk to us. He's 62 with receiver gloves on the whole practice throwing the ball 50, 60 yards. You never know, he might be standing next to you in the huddle. He's totally in the loop."
Carroll brings surprise guests into the locker room. He plays crazy pranks. He has basketball hoops set up all over the team facilities. They have shoot-offs. After the NFC Championship game, he brought in rapper Macklemore. He has had Drake, too.
"He brought in Will Ferrell for a game earlier this year and that was the coolest thing ever for me," tight end Zach Miller said.
Competition Wednesdays, Turnover Thursdays to see if the defense or offense can win the turnover battle, No Repeat Fridays in search of perfect practice ... structured zaniness? Or zany structure? Wooden? Garcia? Success pyramid? Or Truckin'?
"Positive synergy," quarterback Russell Wilson calls it.
Writing for SI.com, Richard Sherman discussed how Carroll uses a power running game and defensive press coverage -- totally old school -- but at the same time employs specialized doctors tracking sleep patterns.
"The same coach who shows us clips of Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes playing press-man 30 years ago wants to know if we're getting our proper REM sleep," Sherman, who loves Carroll, wrote.
"I personally don't feel like I've changed that much," Carroll said. "I've just grown and learned how to better send the message out clearly and because the philosophy in my mind is more clear than it's ever been."
After four years as defensive coordinator of the Jets, he lasted one season as head coach. He started out by beating the Bills, then an AFC power, and after seeing all their banners began his "Win Forever" philosophy. But then Dan Marino famously fake-spiked the football, beat the Jets, the bottom fell out and the late Leon Hess, saying that he was 80 and wanted to win while he was alive, fired Carroll and hired Rich Kotite. Disaster.
"To have a chance to be a head coach in New York is extraordinary," Carroll said. "Unfortunately, it didn't last very long." Or as Sherman said Carroll told the players, "They kicked me out before I could even get the shirt on."
He lasted three years with the Patriots, making the playoffs twice, but eroding in wins from 10 to 9 to 8. Robert Kraft still fancied himself a football guy back then. Remember Parcells' famous quote about shopping for the groceries? Kraft loved Pete personally. Heck, everybody loves Pete. But he loved winning more. And Carroll's abilities will forever be sandwiched and squashed by Parcells and Bill Belichick, who has the authority that his predecessors coveted.
"Robert and his family are a great family to play and coach for," Carroll said. "But I also learned what it takes for a person like myself to operate at my highest level and realized some limitations that were going on that kept me from being the kind of coach I could be. It allowed me to refocus and formalize some plans that I was able to put in at USC and then at the Seahawks."
At USC, Carroll became the hero of the great city without an NFL franchise. Hollywood folks loved him. SoCal loved him. He won games. He won national titles. He put slews of players in the NFL.
"I never thought I'd leave USC," Carroll said. "It was a perfect situation."
He left anyway in 2010 and, soon enough, wins were stripped from the Trojans, Reggie Bush lost his Heisman and Pete denied knowing anything about the payoffs, etc. He said it had nothing to do with him leaving for Seattle. Sure. And pressed about the number of Seahawks caught with PEDs, Carroll said he has a young team and has formulated a plan and isn't concerned about the reputation of his team. Pete worry? No way. He's Peter Pan.
"There have been a lot of challenges along the way since the days back here in New York," Carroll said. "My evolution has been ongoing and the process is challenging. USC really was groundbreaking for me about figuring out how I wanted to do this. I think all of the experiences were beneficial. . . . It took getting fired a couple times and getting kicked in the butt to get here."
So Carroll cites influences from former Vikings coach Bud Grant and psychologist Carl Jung to Zen master D. T. Suzuki. Some of it's real. Some of it's bull. All of it is Pete. And now Peter Pan has Tinker Bell's pixie dust all over him. The Seahawks won 11 games in 2012, 13 this season, destroyed the Denver Broncos, 43-8, in the Super Bowl, have the best homefield advantage in the NFL and a young team. Old age coach. New age coach.
"I don't know if it's modern, it's just the only way I know how to do it," Carroll said. "This is the result of a long journey to figure out how you can create an environment where people can find their best, stay at their best."
"It's interesting to hear so many ways to explain it -- laid back, free willy, whatever -- we run this program with extraordinary standards."
Carroll sounded so serious. And then later, during Super Bowl Week when Fox was asked about coming back from open-heart surgery this season, the Broncos' coach compared it to having a sprained ankle in terms of recovery.
"What a stud, he's comparing open-heart surgery to an ankle sprain," Carroll blurted out to great laughter.
Yep, Peter Pan's just a guy riding a tray, riding a wave.
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