I was a high school junior when I first met him. I got pulled out of class unexpectedly to see him waiting in the hallway—Pete Carroll, national championship-winning head coach. We stood and talked there by the lockers for a few minutes. I’ll never forget that—USC’s head coach coming to recruit me at Dominguez High School in Compton in 2004. At the time, it was one of the coolest experiences of my life.
He said, “you’ve got the perfect size to be a lock-up corner.” I’d never heard that before: “lock-up” corner. I made ‘lockup2006’ my email address and used it until I got to college. I didn’t end up going to USC, because my mind was already made up to go to Stanford, and there was no way I was passing up the opportunity to get a Stanford education, but I could tell then there was something that separated Carroll from others coaches who recruited me. You could feel the positive energy, how upbeat he was and how much he believed in what he was saying. He had a different aura to him.
He had some football smarts too. He knew I’d end up being a corner even though I went to Stanford to play wide receiver. Years later, after a position switch halfway through my career, he drafted me in the fifth round in 2011 as part of his second draft class. At Stanford we’d beaten USC before he left for Seattle, and one of the first things he told me was, “you’ve got one strike against you already.”
I can’t imagine what life in the NFL would be like for me if he hadn’t used a third-day pick on a still-raw cornerback. I get texts from guys across the league which remind me how good we’ve got it in Seattle. They ask, “Is he really as cool as he seems?” and “I hear you guys have fun at practice?” Yes and yes. All he asks is that we be ourselves and protect the team’s reputation by not saying anything controversial.
I haven’t exactly earned straight A’s in the latter department lately, but he sees it as a learning experience, just like the games. He finds the positives when we lose, in addition to the things we can improve on. I’ve never been on a team where the coaching staff was so positive. There isn’t a lot of yelling and cursing at players. There’s no talking down to players. It’s about conversations, not aggression.
That’s why he can roll into the worst neighborhoods in Los Angeles with his foundation and actually negotiate peace between rival gangs. That actually happens, because Pete Carroll can go anywhere he wants in Southern California. In the offseason he spends a large amount of time and energy into providing a way out of gang life for the children of inner-city L.A.
Why? Why would he continue philanthropy in Los Angeles while he has no professional ties to the city? It’s not like it’s helping him recruit anymore. Whatever his motivation, it’s pure.
But he’s not coaching in the Super Bowl because he’s a nice guy. He’s here because he’s pulling off the most unique philosophy in football. Think about it. We use a power running game and press coverage—the oldest of the old school. Yet we have specialized doctors who monitor us for concussion symptoms and wrist wear that helps the team track our 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 (and, in case you’re wondering, the sleep science has paid off for several guys).
Here’s a guy who’s been through everything, even getting fired twice as an NFL head coach, and he has a sense of humor about it. He’ll tell self-deprecating stories that begin, “I coached for the Jets a million years ago and they kicked me out of there before I could even get the shirt on.” And you’re thinking, Man, I don’t know if I would be able tell that story.
But that’s coach. He never changes. Even this week, practice is just like it was back home because we’ve been playing championship football for him for 22 weeks now. And before that, when he finished 7-9 two seasons in a row in 2010 and 2011, coach Carroll stayed true to himself and the things he believed in, because it was finally his chance to do things his way. For a guy to come up with a philosophy and stick by it through good and bad, you’ve got to tip your hat to that.