NFL Evolution  

 

Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll tries to win with compassion

While Pete Carroll was coach of the USC Trojans, he kept notes on what he would do differently if he got another shot to be a head coach in the NFL. The former New England Patriots and New York Jets head coach was convinced a pro football team could win with compassion rather than anger.

Entering his fourth season running the Seattle Seahawks, Carroll might have reached his goal. The Seahawks are one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl and ESPN The Magazine showed that Carroll got to the brink through motivating the players rather than yelling at them.

Carroll has an assistant who runs a meditation class, a roster that has bought in to daily yoga classes and a head trainer in Sam Ramsden who is now called "director of player health performance," using GPS devices and interviewing nutritionists.


HERE'S THE THING about the Seattle experiment: It's only the beginning of what the Seahawks intend to be a total revamp of the way a football franchise approaches the physical and mental well-being of everyone in the organization. Team chef Mac McNabb feeds the players fruits and vegetables from local organic farms. He takes any leftovers to a nearby family-run farm to feed free-range chickens, which are raised specifically for the Seahawks cafeteria. Ramsden and (high-performance sports psychologist Mike) Gervais spend their spare time attending conferences, meeting with nutritionists and sleep experts, and, judging by the mound of boxes in Ramsden's office, buying any new tech gadget that could be the next breakthrough in maximizing athletic performance. At the start of last season, Ramsden gathered data on most of the Seahawks, including blood and vision analyses and sleep and conditioning profiles. At practice, player movement is tracked via GPS so the team can monitor workloads. Ultimately, Ramsden would like to have players and coaches wear wristbands to track sleep habits and, when necessary, adjust practice schedules to maximize rest. (Can you imagine Bill Belichick sending everybody home from practice early to catch up on shut-eye?)


The Seahawks hope to one day have daily mental health check-ins to monitor players' off-the-field problems. Owner Paul Allen, no stranger to innovation, has indicated that he wants his MLS franchise, the Seattle Sounders, to follow the Seahawks' model.


It's all part of the power of positive thinking that drives Carroll's camp. Even offensive coach Tom Cable -- the fierce former head coach of the Oakland Raiders -- said this team fits him just right.


All Seahawks players are encouraged to use the support staff the way employees in the business world rely on a human resources department. Depressed? Worried about a loved one? Sick pet? The staff wants to hear about it. And if a player is dragging at practice, a coach will be proactive and ask why -- instead of jumping to conclusions and berating him in front of his teammates. That includes assistant head coach Tom Cable, the former hothead coach of the Raiders. "I always coached how my coaches coached me," he says. Working alongside Carroll, 48-year-old Cable says he finally feels as though he's working with players the right way. "If I go ballistic on a guy because he dropped his outside hand or missed an underneath stunt, who is wrong? I am," Cable says. "I'm attacking his self-confidence and he's learning that if he screws up, he's going to get yelled at. If you make a mistake here, it's going to get fixed."


One way or another. Last year Ramsden started screening struggling players' blood panels, looking for deficiencies in certain amino acids that act as important indicators of whether a person lacks sufficient levels of dopamine and serotonin. He's looking for why players get into a funk, not just how to shake them out of it.


If a physical solution isn't found, Ramsden, Gervais or another staff member talks players through their problems. And Carroll has empowered his team leaders to reach out to players who might not connect with a 62-year-old white surfer dude. "Coach Carroll listens to his players," says veteran running back Michael Robinson. "But you need the right mix of older guys who get it. Pete can't be in the locker room all the time, and the head man won't resonate with everybody."


Not every player buys into Carroll's philosophy. Those who don't -- like quarterback Matt Flynn -- find themselves gone quickly.

But it doesn't hurt when the franchise quarterback, Russell Wilson, said Carroll's outlook is what breeds a winning atmosphere.


After being drafted by the Seahawks in the third round last year, Wilson told Carroll, "I can be the starting quarterback on this team." The QB also gave a new list of goals to the Seattle coaches and hung a copy in his locker. His list ranges from daily objectives ("Always believe in myself") to what he calls his legendary goals ("Win multiple Super Bowls"). And this was compiled before he was named Seattle's starting quarterback. Says Wilson: "I truly believe in positive synergy, that your positive mindset gives you a more hopeful outlook, and belief that you can do something great means you will do something great. I believed that before I got here, and the crazy thing is, Coach Carroll and our football team believe it too."


On Day 1 of minicamp in Renton, Carroll pulls on receiver gloves and throws with an equipment manager as Macklemore thumps through overhead speakers, courtesy of the team DJ. Once practice starts, Carroll rarely stops moving, disappearing into huddles and racing across the field to high-five a defensive back for breaking up a pass. Gervais wanders the sideline much the way he does on Sundays during the season, stopping to chat with whoever walks his way. Intense offensive line drills end with combatants pulling each other up: "Stay positive," players say to each other. "Put yourself into a mindset of greatness." A touchdown catch brings hoots and hollers from the sidelines, as if the Seahawks had just won a Super Bowl.


-- Bill Bradley, contributing editor

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