Pete Carroll has heard the haters telling him what he can do with all his New Age banter, all that talk about self-discovery and the Seattle Seahawks’ culture of love.
He knows there’s a coach on the other side of the country with six Super Bowl rings — the guy who replaced him in New England 20 years ago. That guy obsesses about down and distance and blitz packages, and has built the model 21st-century football organization around three words: “Do your job.” Carroll has one Super Bowl ring.
Carroll swears that’s not how he keeps score, even though he is paid to win football games. It’s all process, he says. Don’t believe him? “I do hear it from people, you know, ‘Stick to your coaching,’” he said last month as the N.F.L. playoffs approached and the Seahawks tried to find their groove. “I don’t care.”
As if to prove it, there Carroll is, suddenly in jeans and a sweater and sneakers, beamed into a digital course on human performance, leading a kind of corporate group therapy discussion about the process of creating a personal philosophy for your life. Tens of thousands of employees at Fortune 500 companies have participated in the training sessions Carroll and his partners have created to help people find purpose and perform better.
Carroll, 68, talks later about creating a vision for yourself. A vision is different from a personal philosophy, you see. He can go deep on that, if you want. It’s Carroll, the native Northern Californian, being as Carroll as he can be, asking you to think about what it really means to excel, whether it’s winning a football game or just being a good person, and it goes a long way toward explaining what is going through his mind when he is galloping down the sideline in the middle of January, pumping his fists like a teenager.
A few facts about Carroll, whose Seahawks are 4-point underdogs against the Green Bay Packers on the road at Lambeau Field on Sunday. He has seven grandchildren. He says that he thinks in five-year increments and that he has no plans to leave coaching anytime soon. But no coach goes out on top, and there is this other, evolving life of his.
One of Carroll’s biggest influences is his longtime business partner, Michael Gervais, the sports psychologist who guided Felix Baumgartner on his 2012 sky-dive from space. Gervais has honed the minds of Olympians, and serves as the mind-set guru for the Seahawks.
Gervais, who hosts “Finding Mastery,” a popular podcast, has a simple mantra about the Seahawks. “We are a relationship-based organization, rather than having an outcome-based approach,” he said. The idea — his and Carroll’s — is that strong, trusting relationships among people who are striving to be the best versions of themselves create something powerful.
Football players aren’t the only ones who have been listening.
In 2013, just as the Seahawks were getting good, Carroll spoke for an hour to a group of executives at Microsoft, the company co-founded by Paul G. Allen, who died in 2018 and was a Seahawks owner, about the culture he was trying to build, one that emphasized personal growth and taking risks. When it was over, the executives wanted more.
So Carroll and Gervais got to work on a two-day curriculum that was passed around at Microsoft. In 2014, Satya Nadella took over the company with a mission to make it a place where people felt empowered to push past their comfort zone. Soon he was listening to Gervais and Carroll, and having his 12 direct reports listen, too.
Nadella, who prefers cricket to American football, wanted as many people as possible exposed to the gospel. At the same time, Carroll and Gervais wanted to figure out how to take their message beyond Microsoft. The result was Compete to Create — an online learning course, with Carroll cameos, that includes everything from advice on sleeping and eating and hydration to techniques for discovering what you want to accomplish in your brief time on earth.
This approach is not the standard fare, where the famous coach collects a five-figure check for a one-off leadership lecture packed with gridiron lore or a round of golf. There is a lot of homework. It is both wonky and plays into every stereotype of the Left Coast mindfulness movement. And yet tens of thousands of Microsoft employees have chosen to spend more than a quarter of a million hours doing the Compete to Create course work. So have employees at AT&T, Salesforce, Kohl’s, Amazon, Access Bank, Boeing and Zynga. Typically, the company leadership does in-person training, then purchases course licenses for its employees. Individuals can enroll for $499.
It’s about the “deep commitment for the culture you are trying to create,” Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft’s executive vice president for human resources, said, explaining why the company has encouraged the curriculum to its workers. “Purpose and meaning matter.”
It’s impossible to prove that mind-set training, or the other strategies that Carroll lives and coaches by, can help a company make more money or the Seahawks win more games. Jadeveon Clowney, a Seahawks defensive end, can spend all week meditating on his personal philosophy, and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers may still throw five touchdowns on Sunday.
Carroll gets that, but he insists that coaching should be about something bigger than wins and losses — helping people be better at life.
“We have a real energy here,” he said. “That is ultimately the most valuable part of the experience.”
Jed Hughes, an executive search consultant to the N.F.L., said creating a specific culture is now essential for success in the league. Players want to know the method behind the madness and that coaches care about them.
“When you feel like the person you are working for cares about you, then you are going to run through a wall for them,” Hughes said.
Matt Hasselbeck, an ESPN analyst and former Seahawks quarterback, said he was skeptical of Carroll when he took over his team in 2010, seeing him as an annoying, rah-rah college guy parachuting in from the University of Southern California. Hasselbeck was a veteran who had taken his team to the Super Bowl in the 2005 season. Then, at 35, he had to learn a new way of thinking about his profession.
Carroll spoke to him often about his purpose, sometimes in meetings in his office, sometimes during one-on-one basketball games they played, often wearing flip-flops. Competition, and its implicit push to be better, was constant. Home run derbies. Rock paper scissors tournaments. Basketball shooting contests.
On Wednesdays, when Hasselbeck was used to getting a full scouting report for the next game, Carroll never mentioned the opponent. “It was all about how good can we be being the best version of us,” Hasselbeck said.
Once, before a run-of-the-mill game, Carroll had a fringe player who had been cut earlier in the season and reinstated just days before give the pregame speech.
“That guy made it feel like we were about to play the Super Bowl,” Hasselbeck said.
And that is what Carroll and his comrade Gervais want you to understand. Every day should be a kind of Super Bowl. Celebrate individuality, the uniqueness that each person brings with him or her, and let that energy fill your culture.
Sometimes you score more than the other guys, sometimes you do not. It’s process. It’s growth, empowering people to find their true selves.
“Doing that, you generate something with a power that is difficult to match,” he said.
On Sunday, Aaron Rodgers may have something to say about that.
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