RENTON, Wash. — Pete Carroll called a meeting with eight of the most-trusted leaders on his Seattle Seahawks.
It was the spring. Attendance: mandatory. The players huddled in a conference room at the team’s facility. The discussion, they were told, would impact the way they would be coached.
There was no mention of offensive formations, blitz packages, play sheets, or practice drills.
The meeting was about a book.
A book that Carroll read and reread. A book he used to fill up a notebook with thoughts. A book whose meaning he wanted these players – Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner, Earl Thomas, Mike Morgan, and Steven Hauschka – to absorb and impart to the rest of the team.
The Road to Character by David Brooks.
“Let me say this,” Carroll told USA TODAY Sports in a recent interview, “it has affected my language in almost everything I tell them about leadership and serving each other.”
Sitting in a long corridor here at the Seahawks’ facility, steps away from the practice fields, Carroll could almost feel the eye rolls this would produce.
A book on social science? In football?
Allow him to explain.
This is the first time in Carroll’s career that he has had a core group of players for more than four or five seasons. The constant turnover at USC forced him to repurpose his messages. A new crop of freshmen meant more of the same life lessons, more of the same speeches.
He and general manager John Schneider – both of whom had their contracts extended last week – have drafted and compiled one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. They’re both entering their seventh seasons in command of the Seahawks Game.
But with the retirement of ex-Giants coach Tom Coughlin, Carroll, 64, became the NFL’s oldest active head coach – he’s just seven months older than Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots. And his latest project is to reinvent the way he teaches a team that has seen everything.
They tasted the highest success at a young age. They won Super Bowl XLVIII.
They also gulped the lowest failure, one play away from a repeat in Super Bowl XLIX, Wilson’s interception that sealed the Patriots’ championship in the final seconds of the game.
They’ve endured holdouts, contract disputes, getting paid, Pro Bowls, endorsements, marriages, in-house bickering, media praise, teammates departing, new additions, coaches leaving and so much more.
“Their minds are in different places now,” Carroll said. “They’re not in the midst of the climb. They’re really in the midst now of finding out the very best. They have to understand even more deeply how powerful it is to play for one another. There’s a time when you’re battling just to try to get your head over water. But now there’s a more profound makeup we’re seeking. They have an opportunity to be better than they have ever been.”
The Road to Character draws upon historical figures like Dorothy Day, George Marshall, Augustine, George Eliot, and President Dwight Eisenhower to show how selfless qualities sometimes considered to be old-fashioned in today’s individualistic society can lead to a greater good. The common thread in each tale is a humbling triumph. In each path, however, there first comes rock bottom.
“I’m hoping you’ll be able to pick out a few lessons that are important to you in the pages ahead, even if they are not the same ones that seem important to me,” Brooks writes in the conclusion of the first chapter. “I’m hoping you and I will both emerge from the next nine chapters slightly different and slightly better.”
That’s what Carroll hopes, too, for his Seahawks.
Brooks sums up the lessons nicely in the final pages of the book. He outlines 15 points he calls “The Humility Code” – the basis of Carroll’s message in that spring meeting of Seahawks leaders.
Perhaps none other is more pertinent to football than point No. 4, in which Brooks writes that “humility is an awareness that your individual talents alone are inadequate to the tasks that have been assigned to you.”
That’s what Carroll means when he talks about his team playing for one another.
“What that does for us internally, it gives us more than just the typical motivations of doing well, putting up stats and making money,” Baldwin told USA TODAY Sports. “The one thing I love about Pete is his ability to be vulnerable and ask questions and seek help from everybody around him, including the players, or to seek help in reading books.
“The vibe is different in the locker room because it makes us feel as if we’re all in this together. It motivates us to another level. It allows us to buy into the program because we feel there’s a genuine care and concern about our wellbeing. It makes it really easy for us to have that genuine depth of a relationship with one another and cultivate that motivation to serve each other.”
The astonishing part is that the team is still young. Wagner is 26. Wilson, Baldwin, and Thomas are 27. Sherman and Chancellor, 28.
“Age isn’t wisdom,” Sherman told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s the amount of games you’ve played and the amount of experiences you have in those games. We have a ton of ball under our belt, so that kind of helps us with situations like this.”
The situation is that the Seahawks are trying to get back to the Super Bowl. The franchise has made the playoffs four years in a row, and has played in two of the last three NFC title games. They want more. With the young talent core now entering the primes of their careers, Seattle has a chance to build a dynasty.
“All those core guys from the team have been through a tremendous amount together and their love for one another is deeper than ever,” Carroll said. “I think this is going to be a lifelong experience. People may say they’ve already grown. No, they’re still growing. They were pups coming in and the fortunate part is that they’re still young. We’re just in the midst of it. I think our best is ahead of us.”
article source: usatoday.com