Outside, it is grey and dreary. It hammers rain through much of the morning.
Inside, at the Seattle Seahawks’ posh practice facility south of the city, between Lake Washington and the drone of constant traffic on I-405, it is Competition Wednesday, and the vibe is electric.
A deejay on the sideline spins B.o.B’s hip-hop hit So Good, at high volume. It’s coming on 2 p.m., special-teams practice wraps up, the offence and defence stretch. A group of players compete in a throwing contest, tossing footballs from the 12-yard line at the centre of the indoor practice field to a grey garbage can in the right corner of the end zone. One player hits it, and cheers go up like it was six points on Sunday.
Welcome to Pete Carroll’s vision for an NFL squad. In a sport known for hard-nosed coaches, Carroll brings a high energy and a philosophy drawn from positive psychology, taking inspiration from Abraham Maslow, the U.S. psychologist who created the five-level “hierarchy of needs,” but also musician Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.
Carroll is demanding, but wants it always to be fun. Competition Wednesday is no idle moniker. He keeps score at practice, the idea being to coax the most from his charges. He throws in prizes. The defender with the most stripped balls wins the head coach’s parking spot. (Backup safety Chris Maragos has won it twice in recent weeks.)
On the practice field, even the head coach wears receivers’ gloves – Carroll loves playing catch at practice and before games. He has imbued his players with a think-positive spirit, underpinned by the maxim “always compete.” In three years running the Seahawks after a legendary run at the University of Southern California, Carroll has overhauled the NFL team and built the foundation of a contender.
These are the Seahawks who arrive in Toronto on Friday by charter flight, ahead of their 4 p.m. game Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
The Seahawks are 8-5 this year, 4-1 in their last five. They soar at home, 6-0, including a 58-0 thumping of the Arizona Cardinals last week. But Seattle is 2-5 on the road, and its trip to Toronto to play the 5-8 Bills will be an acid test.
In January of 2010, Carroll was hired by Seahawks owner Paul Allen, the Microsoft Corp. co-founder, and given carte blanche to remake the team. There were 284 transactions in the first year alone. Now, Carroll believes his team is in the early years of something big – a heady aim for a team that has yet to win a Super Bowl since it joined the NFL in 1976.
“We want to have a famous run while I’m here,” Carroll said on Wednesday afternoon, in an interview on the field after practice.
“There’s nobody in this program that doesn’t think we’re going to win a world championship,” Carroll said. “There’s not a player here, or a coach, who doesn’t think that’s going to happen. So it’s just a matter of time. I don’t want to talk about that, I never tell anyone that, but that’s what it feels like.”
The two words that guide the 61-year-old Carroll do not literally mean win forever. They are an expression of a personal philosophy that has coalesced over a lifetime in the game.
He started to put it on paper after he was fired by the New England Patriots following the 1999 season. Win Forever – which was published as a book in 2010, becoming a bestseller – is small mélange of maxims and beliefs applied to football:
“Practice is everything.”
“No whining, no complaining, no excuses.”
“Do things better than they have ever been done before.”
The book came out in the swirl of 2010. Carroll joined the Seahawks that January. Five months later, in June, the U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association waylaid USC with major sanctions against the football team and men’s basketball.
In football, running back Reggie Bush had received gifts worth $290,000 (U.S.) from an agent. Carroll was never implicated and has always said he had no knowledge of it.