NEWARK, N.J. – If anyone thinks Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is the least bit tense for his first Super Bowl, linebacker Heath Farwell has a story.
In the first team meeting of the week, Carroll let his players know it would be business as usual. Well, at least how the Seahawks conduct business.
"We're in the Super Bowl, the biggest game of our careers and of our lives really, and Coach Carroll brings basketball hoops in our team meeting room," Farwell said. "And the first thing we do is have a shoot-off."
Carroll's public persona, with the constant optimism and enough energy that it always seems like he just shotgunned a Red Bull, doesn't change behind closed doors. He doesn't turn it on for the media. He doesn't put on a show on the sideline. His players say he's like that all the time.
And they love him for it.
"A lot of guys can relate to him, and understand we're going to have a lot of fun here," Farwell said. "We're going to play hard and practice hard, but we're going to have a lot of fun doing it. It's a great atmosphere. I see our guys dancing on the field, I look across the field and think about what the other coach must be thinking.
"When I'm coaching – I want to coach when I'm done playing – it's something I'm going to put into my program, a lot of stuff he does."
This isn't how the ultra-conservative NFL should be. A basketball shooting competition to start the team meeting on the Monday of Super Bowl week? Someone needs to let Carroll know that this NFL thing is serious business.
Most coaches concentrate on being grumpy. A joke would be an affront to the incredibly serious business of coaching a football team. Any personality might be a distraction. It seems like an awful way to go about your day. Blame Bill Belichick. The Patriots coach is notorious for not showing any personality publicly. Other coaches have followed suit, trying to copy him, not understanding that Belichick is an all-time great coach because he's a football genius, not because he looks so pained in every public setting.
In a league full of robot coaches, Carroll has shown that you can be yourself and still have great success.
This week, Carroll hasn't looked like he's visiting the dentist during every media opportunity. On Sunday, a local politician chided him for saying the Super Bowl was in New York, not New Jersey. So the next day, Carroll had some fun with it.
"First I’d like to say it’s really great to be here in New Jersey," Carroll said to start his press conference, then waited for the laughter.
That media availability went for more than a half hour, well over his allotted time, and Carroll looked like he didn't want to stop. When it was over, he didn't hustle out of the room. He went to the ballroom next door and wandered around checking on his players.
"To quote him, he says if the media isn't following you it means you're not relevant," Carroll said.
He has fun. He wants his players to have fun. The Seahawks always look like they do. They are brash, confident and excitable, and they're also very good. Maybe that's all connected. And the team's personality starts with their head coach.
"He's exactly what you think he is," left tackle Russell Okung said. "He has a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of zeal for the sport, and when you have a coach like that it rubs off on you."
Carroll is not a goofball. He has a philosophy, which is simply, "If you want to win forever, always compete." Everything is a competition at the Seahawks. Remember the basketball game in the team meeting? There was a trophy for the winner, Farwell said. Carroll starts every week by telling his team that week is a championship game. Most coaches would worry about burning their players out with that. Carroll believes in his philosophy, and it's hard to argue with its success.
With a win over the Broncos on Sunday, he'll become the third head coach to win a college national title and a Super Bowl, joining Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer.
"It's about helping people be the best they can be," Carroll said of the "always compete" philosophy. "It's the foundation of all we do. I don't spend a lot of time preaching the philosophy to the players, we just do it."
Carroll was at ease at Super Bowl media day on Tuesday. The jokes flowed. He ribbed the media sometimes after oddball questions. He didn't seem to be looking for a trap door at any time during the hour. The Seahawks aren't in danger of losing on Sunday because Carroll and the players aren't treating a football game like a war battle. They didn't lose any ground on Denver by shooting hoops before getting down to their team meeting on Monday. The Seahawks haven't given up an edge because they are going to enjoy the journey to the biggest game of their lives.
Everyone has been copying Belichick's personality for a long time. Maybe some will start copying Carroll. The game might be better off for it.
"I'm just having fun coaching football," Carroll said.
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