NEW YORK – Maybe it's all the clapping. Maybe it's the earnest and rah-rah cheering, which to some implies that while on the sideline Pete Carroll is more focused on pumping up his players' emotional well-being than furiously scanning a play sheet.
Maybe it's the happy-go-lucky press conferences or the way he finds not just time, but passion, for charitable works, rather than grinding more tape. Maybe it's that his tenure at the University of Southern California is too often seen as the result of loading up on star recruits, not coaching up unheralded players. Plus the end was marked with NCAA scandal, with Carroll getting out before the sanctions hit.
Maybe it's the stories of music blaring during practices, basketball hoops in meeting rooms or the propensity to start film sessions with funny videos to lighten the mood.
Maybe it's that Thursday, here at the Super Bowl, as he was preparing his Seattle Seahawks to take on the Denver Broncos Sunday, his prediction for practice was as such:
"We are going to have a really rocking day today. That's how we do this," Carroll said.
That doesn't sound like something Lombardi or Parcells or Belichick or Schembechler or your old high school coach would say.
"It rubs people the wrong way," Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. "It's not the normal way of coaching."
Whatever it is, Pete Carroll is one victory from winning a Super Bowl. He's already won a national title (or two, depending on how you count them) at the college level. He's been successful for decades. He's won game after game. He coaches the No. 1 defense in the league. He built up the Seahawks from mediocre to menacing.
And yet when it comes to short lists of great football coaches in this country, Carroll is too often left off, dismissed as a motivator, a recruiter, a delegator … anything but what his level of success should seemingly command.
"I think his attitude and style gets a lot of focus and [it causes] his coaching to be overlooked," tight end Zach Miller said. "He's a great X and O guy who knows exactly what a defense needs to do to be really good in this league. He's been doing it so long. He knows everything."
Yes, everyone likes playing for a guy who doesn't just allow music to pump through practice but actually knows the words. And yes, everyone loves playing for a coach who is inclined to build confidence up, not knock people down. It's even better when he's 62 years old.
Yet the Seahawks are quick to note that what gets all the attention – style – doesn't mean there's a lack of substance. Even Carroll bristles – by his standards – at the suggestion that his way is somehow less serious than the traditional conservative style of coaching which the sport was built on.
"It's interesting, you hear, 'laid-back,' 'freewheeling,' 'easygoing,' " Carroll said Thursday. "We run this program to extraordinary standards. Expectations [are] that you will be working your tails off of every single step of every single play of practice so when we get to games its not a different situation for us.
"I don't believe people are very good at turning it on and off in terms of intensity," he continued. "So we've created an environment where that is not only top of the charts but they can feel good about what they are doing and understand that if they do that they are going to perform at a high level."
So what if he likes to see his guys laugh or he considers Macklemore and Snoop personal friends? So what if he tweets … a lot?
His program is built on things like "Competition Wednesdays" – best on best, iron sharpening iron, nothing given to anyone – and fundamental bedrocks like "Turnover Thursday" – which has helped Seattle excel in what Carroll considers the most "compelling stat there is."
He isn't running things this way because he wants to be liked. He's running things this way because this is what he's gleaned about building a winner from decades of coaching, dating all the way back to being an assistant at the University of the Pacific back in the early 1970s, right through two previous NFL head coaching stops (New York Jets and New England Patriots) and, of course, that eight-year run at USC.
"I don't know if it's modern," Carroll said. "It's the only way I know how to do it. I understand that our guys respond favorably. They respond in the way they practice and the way they play.
"We've created a culture [which] hopefully allows guys to be at their best. That's what we try to do. And whatever that takes, that's what we'll figure out.
"So the culmination of working with teams and guys, this is what you're seeing. This is the result of a journey to see how you figure out how to create an environment where people can be at their best and stay at their best and foster their best."
His assistant coaches say he teaches on a daily basis, and not just about personal interaction.
"He can walk in the defensive room and talk to those guys and put in a great gameplan and he can come over to our side of the ball and talk to us," said offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
Players, especially on defense, eagerly await the gameplan and say it remains both solid and innovative.
All the while people smile. They enjoy coming to work. If that takes away from Carroll's rep, well, so be it. He's on the verge of becoming just the third coach to win a title in both college and the NFL – joining Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer.
"There's a lot of coaches who are really good schematically and there are others who have a great rapport with the players," defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "I think he's one of the rare guys that bridges that together.
"He's really unique and that's why all of us learn so much from him," Quinn continued.
Carroll and general manager John Schneider are willing to do and try just about anything if they believe it will result in increased success, as evidenced by a reported 284 roster moves in their first year together. They fear neither criticism nor failure. They draft whom they believe in. They chase the free agents they like. They play whoever earns it on the practice field. They ignore conventional wisdom.
"We really don't care about what other people think and we're not going to be driven by what the status quo might think and we've really trusted our gut on decisions," Carroll said. "We've done a lot of questionable moves that people want to know about … it has helped accelerate the process."
From the outside, Pete Carroll can look like cheerleader-in-chief, just an uplifting motivator. Inside they swear there's a smart football mind obsessed with competition in everything, winning the small battles that lead to winning the big ones, like a Super Bowl.
If no one else recognizes that as great coaching, Carroll doesn't seem to mind. He had practice to run Thursday anyway. Set to music, of course.
"We have fun doing it."
He'll never apologize for that, either.
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