The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Column: Not too laid-back, Carroll builds a foundation in Seattle that might be too good

  • Print

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - He was supposed to be too nice, too laid-back, too much of a rah-rah guy for the NFL.

That was always the knock on Pete Carroll. When people called him a "player's coach," what they really meant was that sooner or later, his own players were going to pull the rug out from under him.,

You heard it when Carroll got to Seattle four seasons ago — fresh off building a USC program that captured two national titles, but at times resembled a fraternity — and went 7-9 for the first two of those. The same way you did when Carroll was run out of New York exactly 20 years earlier, like some wide-eyed tourist who'd just had his pocket picked.

He proved he could dominate the college game, and his hair turned grey in the interrim. Yet you heard it again during the buildup to this Super Bowl, when Carroll refused to crack down on star defender Richard Sherman for talking too much, or running back Marshawn Lynch for talking too little, or essentially passing off the rash of drug busts — seven Seattle players have been suspended by the league for substance-abuse or performance-enhancers since 2011 — as youthful mistakes.

"What," Carroll said late Sunday night through a widening smile, "are you supposed to say to that?"

Exactly what the Seahawks said with their play just moments earlier, making a statement in the Super Bowl by destroying the Denver Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning 43-8.

"I think he does a great job of just making every day seem like it's a championship game," said cornerback Byron Maxwell.

"I don't want to say it feels like a regular game," he added, "but it feels like a regular game in a sense. He does a great job of that."

There were dozens of stats that spoke volumes about how enthusiastically Carroll's players warmed to the tasks. But few leapt off the page as vividly as the large stain covering the back of Carroll's shirt, where most of the bucket of Gatorade his players poured over his head as the clock wound down finally settled in.

"If it were fake," receiver Doug Baldwin said about Carroll's approach," it wouldn't work. ... "You'll run through a wall for that guy."

It takes only a minute or two around Carroll to see why he inspires that kind of fierce loyalty. He rambles sometimes, but he always listens. On the podium after the win, he didn't gloat and more than once, he leaned away from the microphone and off to one side to make sure he heard the questions being thrown at him from every side.

"It played out the way we wanted it to play," he said. "All phases contributed. It was not really a question in their minds that we wouldn't perform like this."

Carroll rarely tears into his guys, and while that nice-guy persona worked wonders in college, it nearly got him laughed out of the pros.

Coaches are hired to be fired, or so the saying goes. But the Jets team he inherited in 1994 — after working as an assistant from coast to coast — practically guaranteed it by flat-out quitting on him in his only season there.

They took his constant calls for shared responsibility as an invitation to take the rest of the season off. One moment the Jets were 6-5 and the next time Carroll looked up, they were 6-10. Even so, he never saw it coming.

When the Jets' late owner, Leon Hess, finally got around to firing Carroll, this is what he reported back, "Pete was shocked. He's a great, high-principled man. He didn't expect it."

Carroll was so principled, in fact, that he didn't change his approach; not when he got another NFL go-round with the Patriots, nor when he wound up back in the college ranks and on the West Coast, at laid-back Southern California. He still gave his assistants a wide berth, still played his hunches when it came to both trick plays and untested players — the kind of experiments that got him mocked in the hidebound NFL — and still insisted on spreading around the responsibilities, and especially the credit.

Carroll gambled a career that he could it right in the NFL, provided he had the right people. It involved gathering up an armful of kids and another armful of free agents, but ultimately, it brought out the best in just about everybody that crossed his path.

"We didn't ask them to do things that we don't always do," Carroll said finally, "and they trusted in that."


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at and follow him at

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Red River flooding north of Selkik at McIvor Lane

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Two Canada geese fly Wednesday afternoon at Oak Hammock Marsh- Front bird is banded for identification- Goose Challenge Day 3- - Apr 30, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Two baby tigers were unveiled at the Assiniboine Park Zoo this morning, October 3rd, 2011. (TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Who do you think will win NHL's Calder Trophy for rookie of the year?

View Results

Ads by Google