JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Wednesday morning, before his last full-scale practice in preparation of his first Super Bowl as an NFL head coach, Pete Carroll planned for a “rockin’ Thursday.” He actually said that, making more like Dick Clark than Dick Vermeil.
The high-on-life, pro-marijuana, ageless, rah-rah coach of the Seattle Seahawks can sound, alternately, like a surfer, a stoner, a motivational speaker and the great college football coach he recently was.
Carroll also reveres, studies, references and consults Bud Grant.
It’s like finding out that Warren Buffett and Jimmy Buffett are related, that Bob Dole and Bob Marley hung out in the same bar.
Grant, the legendary Vikings coach, turned stoicism into a stratagem. Carroll fled to the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, accentuating the positive so much one player referred to his philosophy as “The science of optimism.”
Carroll sprints from drill to drill. He screams “Wooo!” on the sideline. He hangs out with players at the Seahawks facility, where they play video games and foster a collegiate atmosphere. He earns his players’ trust by displaying concern for the entirety of their lives rather than treating them like prime cuts in a butcher’s shop.
A couple of months ago, the coolest 62-year-old on the planet called the King of Cold.
“I talked to him the week of the New Orleans game,” Carroll said of Grant on Thursday, referring to the Seahawks’ victory over the Saints in December. “We had a big Monday game coming up, and nobody ever played in more conditions and understood how to do that better than Bud.
“Over the years, I’ve always kind of checked in with him to get my mind right about how we want to operate. We talked through situations, kicking the ball and stuff in particular, that day. He’s always been a great resource. There’s nobody better in the world to talk about playing in nasty conditions.”
Carroll coached the Vikings’ defensive backs from 1985-89, becoming close with Grant. When Vikings executive Roger Headrick hired Denny Green in 1992, Carroll was the preferred choice of most other key Vikings employees.
Decades later, Carroll cites Grant constantly in meetings with his coaches and players. “Coach Grant taught him a lot, especially in terms of observing players,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “They’ll tell you things without even talking to them. Coach Grant passed that on to Coach Carroll, and he passed it on to us. We’ve learned a lot from Coach Grant without ever meeting him.”
Carroll and Grant share an ability to connect with players. Grant did it with a nod, and quiet displays of loyalty. In the age of concussion awareness and free-agent recruiting, and in keeping with his persona, Carroll is more overt.
“Pete has created a really upbeat atmosphere,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “We try to build players up rather than tear them down.”
This week, and since taking over in Seattle in 2010, Seahawks players have celebrated Carroll’s humanistic approach to an inhuman game. They say Carroll’s enthusiasm and empathy are so consistent that his cheerleading never seems phony.
“He knows how to get the hair to stand up on the back of your neck,” safety Earl Thomas said. “He knows how to get that game-type feeling going through you. I think players who come in are kind of in awe of what we do here. And then they catch on.
“He’ll show us motivational videos, anything from boxing to politics. That’s what I love about Coach Carroll — he’s not all about football. He’s getting us ready for life after football, too.”
During a career in which he was fired twice as an NFL head coach with the Jets and Patriots before re-establishing USC as a power, Carroll has flashed a choke sign at a kicker and learned gang signs while recruiting the ghettos of Los Angeles. In Seattle, he has distilled his bravado.
“You think it can’t be real, that he can’t keep it up,” defensive end Red Bryant said. “But he is the same during the season as he is in the offseason. Always positive. Always running from drill to drill, from huddle to huddle. It’s amazing, really.”
Carroll says he owes it all to Grant.
“Bud is an amazing man,” Carroll said. “His confidence that he exudes, going with what he believes, in his gut, was extraordinary to me — to see the calm and the commitment that he had to do what he felt was right in his mind.
“He didn’t care what anybody else thought and he was really clear about how he expressed that. He talked that way and he taught me that. He lived that way.”
If Carroll wins the Super Bowl on Sunday, Grant figures to hear from him. Carroll might even get him to crack a smile.