For most NFL coaches, their careers are recalled in a frenzy of numbers. How many Super Bowls did they win? How many games did they lose? How many times did their teams reach the postseason? How many times did they finish a season with a winning record?
While Pete Carroll’s tenure as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks delivered plenty of receipts – his Super Bowl XLVIII win, his 10 postseason appearances, his 137-89-1 regular season record – the 72-year-old’s time there will be remembered as much for his compassionate leadership style and bubbly personality.
Last week, the Seahawks announced that Carroll will not return to the sidelines next season but will remain with the team as an advisor.
The culture that Carroll built at Seattle is his proudest achievement at the franchise, he told reporters last week, a culture he described as “trying to help people find their best, one person at a time” and creating an environment in which people would be treated as family.
He leaves the Seattle Seahawks as the winningest coach in the franchise’s history, having “brought the city its first Super Bowl title, and created a tremendous impact … on the field and in the community,” as Seahawks chair Jody Allen said in a statement.
While there, he became one of just three coaches – alongside Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer – to win both a Super Bowl and a college national championship.
His leadership approach trickled out into other sports and professions. Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has cited him as a major influence.
Meanwhile, Dr. Jannell MacAulay, a US Air Force Veteran and executive leadership consultant, partnered with him and Seahawks psychologist Dr. Michael Gervais to develop a mindset program for Air Force cadets.
And companies such as Microsoft, Starbucks and Boeing have used Compete to Create – a platform Carroll and Gervais launched to provide high performance mindset training.
Engaging with the community also formed part of Carroll’s philosophy. He established the organization Amplify Voices in 2020 to promote stories from underrepresented communities, and founded the nonprofit organizations ‘A Better LA’ and ‘A Better Seattle’ to fund community based work that aims to reduce gang violence.
This markedly different portrait of a stereotypical NFL coach is completed by videos of him running up and down the locker room, excitedly giving post-game speeches or taking his shirt off to mimic a shirtless DK Metcalf at a meeting.
“[The culture] works. It’s real,” Carroll said on Wednesday. “You can feel it. I’m really grateful for that. So we learned something here. It was a total experiment.”
‘We have an extraordinary culture’
Although Carroll was the head coach at the New York Jets and New England Patriots beforehand, it was at the University of Southern California (USC) where he first began developing his distinctive coaching philosophy. There, during a nine-year period, he guided his team to two NCAA national championships and won seven bowl games.
“At USC, we killed it,” Carroll remembered. “And we came up here, and overall, we’ve been successful for a long time. I didn’t think in any way this would happen like this. I didn’t have that vision. But I’m grateful for it because what we have here is we have an extraordinary culture. I’m really proud of that.”
Carroll took the Seahawks to two consecutive Super Bowl appearances. Seattle won Super Bowl XLVIII (48), blowing out the Denver Broncos, before losing the following year to the New England Patriots, only denied in the final seconds by Malcolm Butler’s game-saving interception after the Seahawks passed the ball on the one-yard line.
That success was built on what Carroll called a “relationship-based” culture in a 2023 interview on the podcast “Rethinking with Adam Grant.”
“We’re a very open, communicative group, and that’s where the relationships are so important,” he explained. “I don’t need to be friends with them. I just need them to be willing to express themselves and really to be willing to expose themselves for who they are, so that’s an ongoing conversation there.”
There were times, however, when Carroll’s methods were not as popular among the players, particularly once they had settled into established NFL stars with a Super Bowl ring in the locker room.
“Everything he says, I definitely listen,” Seahawks linebacker KJ Wright told the Washington Post in 2019. “At the same time, I’d be like, ‘Okay, I’ve heard this before.’”
A year earlier, reports had surfaced in Sports Illustrated detailing splits among the team that centered around alleged preferential treatment of quarterback Russell Wilson by Carroll and the coaches.
But, as evidenced by the outpouring of support from his former players following his exit, Carroll will leave the Seahawks head coach position as a near-universally beloved figure.
“I’ve had the privilege of being around a lot of incredible coaches in my lifetime. The best ones knew that they were more than just a coach. They knew that they were role models and a significant influence in the lives of the young people they had the honor of coaching,” former wide receiver Doug Baldwin Jr. posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“Pete Carroll was one of those coaches for me.”
Wilson dubbed Carroll one “of the greatest ever,” while Julian Love said on X: “Bummed to only get a year playing for Coach but forever grateful because it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. A true legend. Thank you Pete!”
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