The Seahawks signed Pete Carroll to a contract Friday that runs through the 2016 season, when he will be 65 years old. They could have signed him through 2021, when he will be 70, or through 2031, when he will be 80.
It was poet Samuel Ullman who said, "Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind." It is Carroll who proves it. Carroll's youthful approach to coaching has buoyed him at a stage in life when many of his contemporaries are too tired just to tread water.
It is appropriate that Carroll's mantra is Win Forever, because forever somehow seems within his grasp. Carroll began his coaching career in 1974, when some of his players' parents were in diapers. In his fourth act as a head coach, he is old enough to have babysat Lane Kiffin and coached Jim Haslett, but he is still young enough to have snowball fights with his players.
True story: At the NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla., a couple weeks ago, one coach of Carroll's vintage stopped by the bar and complained about his hemorrhoids. And then Carroll walked by with his full head of hair feathered back, and his smooth healthy looking skin. He was wearing an untucked button down shirt over well-fitting jeans with sharp loafers, looking nothing like a football coach. Especially an old football coach.
I asked Carroll how he does it."I always think something good is about to happen," Carroll said. "It's a general way of looking at the world. I've never looked at games and challenges like it's going to go bad, it's not going to work out. I don't see it that way. I think that's really helped. I don't live in the gloom of what might go wrong. I live in the glow of what could happen that's good. That's been the guiding principle."
Carroll tries not to see the negative in anyone, and he strives to surround himself with people of like mind. The Seahawks emphasize optimistic outlooks in player acquisitions. While Carroll encourages individualism in the locker room, he asks that players are respectful of everyone. That means not screaming or swearing." You never see him yell at a player," Seahawks special teams ace Heath Farwell said. "You do something stupid, he just sees it as a teachable moment. He shows him how we're going to do it in this program."
Carroll has been influenced by a lot of significant football coaches, from Lou Holtz to Bud Grant. He also has been influenced by basketball coach John Wooden, hippie philosopher Jerry Garcia, psychologist Carl Jung and Zen master D.T. Suzuki. He keeps a sports psychologist on staff with the Seahawks who meets with players regularly.
The players, by and large, buy in. Seahawks tight end Zach Miller has talked about how Kiffin tried a similar approach when both were with the Raiders, but it didn't really work because Kiffin did not seem as genuine about it as Carroll does. "From the outside, it probably seems like sometimes he can't be real," Seahawks vice president of communications Dave Pearson said. "But it's all genuine with him."
Carroll understands how to relate to players. He has a 20-something whose job responsibilities include browsing the internet to make sure Carroll knows what's trending. Carroll can tell you what today's hot YouTube video is. He may have been the first NFL coach on Twitter. "All of our young people are so much more aware," Carroll said. "They are so much more tuned in. They have so much more information. They can access information in a moment's notice. They are more worldly. They have evolved. They are all Googled up. We have to stay with them. We have to move with the times as much as ever to understand them."
Carroll easily traverses the gap of several generations that stands between him and his players. He said he understands young people in part because he always has been around them, and he believes being a father of three (35, 33 and 27) and grandfather of three (five, three and one) has helped keep him connected.
Many men of Carroll's age cover their ears to music that was made after 1970. Carroll loves rap. He doesn't just listen to Macklemore -- he's friends with him. Everyone up and down the hall at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center on the shores of Lake Washington knows when Carroll is in his office because they hear -- or feel -- the beat coming from his Sirius satellite radio. Carroll listens while he watches game tape. And he also has three TVs going -- CNN, NFL Network and ESPN.
Seahawks practice also is a noisy affair. "He's got the music blaring," Farwell said. "Guys are dancing between plays and having fun, so you don't even realize how hard you are working. Then that shows up on Sunday with our energy and passion for the game."
When Carroll was head coach at USC, he realized music could be a coaching tool. "Music is the fabric of so many things that connects us and elevates us," he said. "It's music that defines the human experience."
Music energizes Carroll and his team. He needs nothing else to energize him. Unlike most in his profession, he takes no stimulants -- no coffee, no cola, no energy shots, no dip -- and he buzzes around like a fly. "Could you imagine if I drank Mountain Dew?" he said, laughing.
Even the Seahawks meeting room is lively. Carroll has a regulation basketball hoop in the room, and he usually starts meetings with a shooting competition.
During practice, Carroll isn't exactly a golf cart coach. In fact, he is as much player as coach. Wearing cleats, he lines up as the scout team quarterback. He returns kicks. He plays catch with Russell Wilson. "I'm just doing what feels natural," Carroll said. "I like being involved. I think I have a lot to offer them. I can still feel what the game is like. I like to communicate with them on that level. It's not just communicate from on high. It's communicating what it feels like and translating stuff to make it personal to teach better and more effectively. I've always been involved in that whether it's catching the ball, throwing, blocking, making tackles, covering kicks, whatever it is, trying to help them in any way I can."
On the Thursday before the Super Bowl, Carroll returned a kick and tried to stiff-arm Derrick Coleman and Chris Maragos. The collision left him with a cut on his left cheek that measured more than two inches. Three days later, it was a good look when he was standing on the podium with the Lombardi Trophy in his hand. "He's just a kid at heart," Farwell said.
A kid, appropriately enough, who is going to be around awhile.