Donald Miralle for Sports Illustrated/The MMQB
Donald Miralle for Sports Illustrated/The MMQB

Pete Carroll’s Master Plan

Winning back-to-back championships is a monumental task. Lucky for the Seahawks, their coach has been there before

By
Robert Klemko
· More from Robert·

ORLANDO — How do you repeat as a Super Bowl champion, or at the very least, avoid a letdown season in an encore effort? Every NFL coach who wins a Super Bowl gets asked some variation of that question throughout the ensuing offseason. Some reject the notion their teams are at risk for complacency. Others admit to not knowing the answer. Most say they’ve consulted, or plan to consult, with men who have won back-to-back titles—the Bill Belichicks and the Jimmy Johnsons of the coaching fraternity.

What say you, Pete Carroll? Will you reach out to Belichick, or better yet, John Harbaugh, who potentially learned some valuable lessons from Baltimore’s disappointing 2013 season?

“No, I don’t do that,” Carroll said Wednesday at the NFL’s annual owners meetings.

So what will the head coach of the Super Bowl-winning Seahawks do next year? Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Brandon Browner were among several key contributors lost in free agency. The stars of the team are enjoying the media circuit, their popularity amplified by a dominant victory over Denver at MetLife Stadium. Does the message change for the coach who lives by the motto win forever?

Carroll pondered this question in 2001, as it became clear his USC teams would be in the national championship conversation year after year. At the time, Carroll established a kinship with John Wooden, the 10-time national championship-winning basketball coach at UCLA, who was living in the area and teaching a spring class on campus.

“I asked coach Wooden, ‘After all these years, do you change your philosophy year to year?’ ”

Wooden looked upon the freshly-50 Carroll incredulously.

“I thought, Oh God, why did I ask that question? God dog it,” Carroll says. “He said, ‘Coach, you don’t change your philosophy; the players change.’ That’s my feeling now. You either have your philosophy or you don’t. You stay with what you believe in, you bring it to light as creative as you can. The philosophy never changes—sometimes the look of it changes, because the players change. The players will become more in tune to what’s expected of them. I think that’s how this works. We’ll see.”

“The most important thing that will happen is if we can recapture the work ethic that made us what we are,” Carroll says. “Nothing else really matters.”

Carroll’s feeling is this: If you demand the best out of your players every day, putting the emphasis on performance over winning, and players know their jobs are on the line if they don’t bring it, they’ll never get complacent. That was the design behind his open quarterback competitions in the summer and early fall, which predated the arrival of second-year quarterback Russell Wilson in 2012. When Wilson arrived as a third-rounder, Carroll saw the battle between Tarvaris Jackson and expensive free agent signee Matt Flynn as a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate his Seahawk meritocracy, provided Wilson should outplay the veterans. And he did.

Carroll has experience winning back-to-back titles in college (the 2003 AP National Championship and the since-vacated 2004 BCS National Championship), yet the NFL presents a unique challenge. The monstrous year-to-year roster upheaval of pro football is nothing new to Carroll, but the size of the personalities and the influence of the fame that comes with winning a Super Bowl can be unwieldy, especially for an NFL team accustomed to a relatively small media market.

The last coach to have success in a similar situation was Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy, whose Packers won a Super Bowl in 2010, then followed up with a 15-1 finish in the lockout-shortened 2011 season. He looked at his roster six months after beating the Steelers and rewrote his script. “I think the message is different every year, because every football team is different,” McCarthy says. “The goal is the same, but the path and message of how you get there is something different. That’s the way we’ve always approached it.”

Jimmy Johnson, winner of Super Bowls in 1992 and 1993, had a way of dealing with success that appears to contrast Carroll’s. In an interview with Fox Sports 1 in advance of the Super Bowl, Johnson shared an anecdote that spoke to the subtle and damaging influences of success. After the first Super Bowl, his running backs coach, Joe Brodsky, was laying into Emmitt Smith’s backup but giving the star a pass.

“When you have that kind of success … you know these assistant coaches, they become very comfortable with these players,” Johnson said. “[Brodsky] was just wearing Derrick Lassic, this running back, out—a backup, and not saying anything to Emmitt Smith. I said, ‘Joe, you got to coach Emmitt Smith’ … and Joe says, ‘He’s been there before.’

“The more success you have, the more you’ve got to demand it out of them. … I was an SOB that second year, that second Super Bowl. I would have been a bigger SOB the third year. That’s the only way I could get it out of them.”

Richard Sherman’s certainly on board. (Rod Mar for SI/The MMQB)
Pete Carroll and Richard Sherman interacting in the locker room gives a glimpse of the coach’s style. (Rod Mar for SI/The MMQB)

Being abrasive has never been Carroll’s style; he lets the players do it for him. He fills the locker room with “dogs,” says cornerback Richard Sherman, and teases the adversarial nature in each. For instance, safety Earl Thomas and wide receiver Doug Baldwin share one of the most intense intra-team rivalries in football, with repeated one-on-one matchups, jawing and heightened physicality. Carroll encourages it, quietly.

Says Sherman, “He’ll go to Doug and say, ‘Earl was talking about you earlier. He said he’s got you today. What do you think?’ And Doug will get mad. Or he’ll do the same thing with Earl. And then Doug and Earl go at it.”

It all speaks to a mantra Sherman shared early last season when he wrote “we compete against ourselves” as an explanation for avoiding a letdown against an underperforming club on the heels of a big-time division win. Seattle followed up Sherman’s September column for The MMQB with a 45-17 thrashing of the Jaguars. The goal for 2014 is to turn micro into macro; every team won’t be the Broncos, and few will be as good. So how will the Seahawks continue to dominate for the entire season without Carroll turning up the volume or changing a mantra his players probably recite in their sleep?

New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin (winner of Super Bowls XLII and XLVI) says maybe it’s not about changing the philosophy; just the way it’s delivered.

“You’re constantly looking for new themes, new buttons to push. New ways for them to relate,” he says. “You have to challenge them after a Super Bowl year. The media is quickly going to throw the complacency thing in their face, which in reality gives you an opportunity to work your team with that.”

Listening to Carroll speak on Wednesday, you could tell he was already pushing buttons. He was blunt in describing the circumstances surrounding the departure of Browner, the cornerback Seattle let walk in free agency. Last season was likely the best in Browner’s NFL career before he ran afoul of the league’s substance abuse policy and was replaced in the playoffs by backup Byron Maxwell.

Says Carroll: “Byron Maxwell played so well that we were able to move on.”

And just like that, the Legion of Boom defensive backfield was no more. If an established starter like Browner, a Pro Bowler in 2011, can be jettisoned based on the performance of a third-year special teamer with five starts on his résumé, what message does that deliver to the rest of the roster? What does it mean for running back Marshawn Lynch, with 2013 second-round pick Christine Michael on his heels (Carroll has heaped praise on Michael all week), or Michael Bennett, the defensive end whose four-year, 28.5 million contract signed this offseason could end up being worth little more than the unfulfilled three-year $20.5 million deal Flynn received? What does it mean for Sherman, the current face of the franchise and media/endorsement darling of the 2014 offseason?

Come August, bring it.

“We set a direction on having the greatest offseason of our lives, individually,” Carroll says. “That doesn’t mean you cant go out and have fun and live the life. You can work out and still be on the Tonight Show. The most important thing that will happen is if we can recapture the work ethic that made us what we are. Nothing else really matters.

“If a guy’s not having the best offseason of his life, he’s going to get beat out, I think. That’s kind of the way we roll.”

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35 comments
Buck2185
Buck2185

Carroll woouldn't reach out to Belichick for advice (cheating isn't allowed any more....). Pete will just pump them up with Adderral and let them go again......

AKMessiah
AKMessiah

I wouldn't say the legion of boom is dead, Maxwell hits just as hard as browner

RosaNosabe
RosaNosabe

Pete did a great job turning this program around. He's a player's coach but still commands great respect. I just hope Gus Bradley (who uses the same approach) can bring the same success to the Jags.

humphreyssa
humphreyssa

The rest of the league could learn a thing or two from Pete Carroll.   They treat every game like the superbowl and the superbowl like every game.    With limited practices the preseason games are precious, but teams still treat them like they dont matter.  The Seahawks took the preseason game with the Broncos very seriously and learned from it.  

Matthew W
Matthew W

Carroll doesn't have back to back titles. Fielding an ineligible player for the entire season for accepting improper benefits invalidated their entire season.

Rexal Parshapswich
Rexal Parshapswich

The author kinda forgot a coach.. How about Mike Shannahan? I wish these lazy reporters would do a little work. Shanahan followed up a Superbowl with a better season and and more convincing Superbowl victory.


The Hawks are more like the Ravens and will free fall back to earth..that's the problem with personalities like Sherman. 

BigSchtick
BigSchtick

"God dog it,”

Did he really say that?

ptrick
ptrick

"Last season was likely the best in Browner’s NFL career before he ran afoul of the league’s substance abuse policy" just not true.  Browner was actually benched during the Titans game after an extended stretch of subpar play.  He bounced back after that, but in no way was 2013 his best showing.

el80ne
el80ne

@Buck2185  Meanwhile you should reach out to the internet to try and improve your spelling.

Nonfantasylandman
Nonfantasylandman

Be nice to him guys, sure he's been waiting for the right opportunity to use that crack against bill

sherry
sherry

@Buck2185  Seriously??  Beating that dead horse HOW many years late?

Arzu
Arzu

@AKMessiah Agreed.  And I would add his interception stats beat BB's.  Maxwell simply outplayed Browner.  The suspension was icing on the cake

Arzu
Arzu

@RosaNosabe I shouldn't be "liking" this as a Seahawk fan, but I hope so, too!  I like Gus, and the Jags have a whole lot of ex-hawks that I like as well

JoeAbello
JoeAbello

@Matthew W It invalidated their national title on paper, but the team still went out on the field and performed.

el80ne
el80ne

@Rexal Parshapswich  That post was so stupid I just got stupider reading it. So the Hawks will "free fall back down to earth" because there's a player on the team you don't happen to like. But really Rex, what you just said didn't make the slightest bit of sense.

ChrisPapas
ChrisPapas

@Rexal Parshapswich  How can anyone take what you say seriously after you were so wrong about the Super Bowl.  Your exact statement was:
 "
Seattle blah blah blah. Denver in a walk. The Hawks aren't at home, they are a good defense. Not one of the greatest ever. Not even top 10. Denver has one of the best offenses ever. Denver face more top 10 backs all season than Seattle. Before the AFC championship all,we heard was about Blount. What happened? Lynch is very overrated."


And now you're saying the Seahawks will fall back to earth.  Based on what, you're inability to make a coherent prediction?

AKMessiah
AKMessiah

This team is built for sustained success, the ravens lost 6 starters, Seattle lost 1, Tate, and Harvin will be good to go next year. Clemons and Bryant were too expensive for rotational players, giacomini was marginal at best. Watch Jordan hill or Jesse Williams replace Bryant, and Irvin move back to Leo like he was drafted to be and replace Clemons. Malcolm Smith will take his lb spot and this team will be right back in it

StephenMichaelW
StephenMichaelW

@Rexal Parshapswich  So they will consistently have one of the most dangerous defenses in the league and consistently win their division and/or get into the playoffs?  OR do you just hate Lewis/Sherman for having a "personality" (wink, wink...I know what you mean)

LayItDown
LayItDown

@Rexal Parshapswich   well lets look at your recent past in foreseeing future events, such as the Superbowl this year:


"Seattle blah blah blah. Denver in a walk. The Hawks aren't at home, they are a good defense. Not one of the greatest ever. Not even top 10. Denver has one of the best offenses ever. Denver face more top 10 backs all season than Seattle. Before the AFC championship all,we heard was about Blount. What happened? Lynch is very overrated."

Posted 31 January 2014 on ‘A Unique Day And Night’

OUCH.

read.jk
read.jk

@Rexal Parshapswich  So everybody knows exactly what's going to happen based on what hasn't happened, yet. Is that it? You might be right, but here's something to think about; I miss my Seahawks playing so I watch video of their games and highlights. I've been concentrating on the SB predictions from last year and every single article involving a conglomerate of "experts" predicting the outcome had the game close, but almost 3-1 in favor of a Broncos win. They "knew" the Broncos were the better team before the game was played. They "knew" the score would be razor close. What they didn't know was what was going to happen until it did and it didn't, in any plausible way, resemble what all the experts thought. 

So, if you're basing your determination on Sherman's personality, you should know that he's been consistently the best CB in the league for the last 3 years and he's gotten better every single year. 

humphreyssa
humphreyssa

@ptrick You're absolutely right,  Browner was better in 2012 and 2011 than 2013 by far.    He made two monster plays against Carolina in 2012 or that game is a loss.    The play where Browner is alone against Cam Newton + a pitch man on the triple option is one of the best plays you'll ever see.   He forces Cam to pitch, and then tackles the running back forcing a fumble and recovering it.

read.jk
read.jk

@ptrick  No, never saw that, heard that, seen that. If he was benched, it was for substance abuse and the league imposed it, not his play. 

el80ne
el80ne

@read.jk @ptrick  Browner was benched early on in the Titans game for getting burned on couple consecutive plays. He was reinserted later in the game.


Of course you never saw it, heard it, or seen it because you weren't watching the game. Or your attention to detail is very poor.

sherry
sherry

@read.jk @ptrick  Then you weren't watching the game.  Carroll took him out after he botched a couple of plays.  It was very obvious what was happening...the look on Browner's face said it all

Northernhawk
Northernhawk

@read.jk @ptrick Again, you show you really know little of Seattle other than what you hear from the National media and your personal bias against them.


Browner was indeed benched for poor play early in the season.  It had nothing to do with substance abuse.  He was benched for the remainder of the Titans game after the 1st qtr because he was getting torched repeatedly. 

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