Super Career Lessons from Seahawks’ Coach Pete Carroll

Pete Carroll, Russell WilsonHis Seattle Seahawks ran away with the Super Bowl the other night, and it’s clear that Coach Pete Carroll can lead a team to victory.

But Carroll also knows a bit about managing a successful career, despite – or perhaps because of – experiencing some hiccups along the way.

He’s faced multiple firings, a few “demotions”, and massive opposition from fans. At one point he saw himself remaining USC Head Coach until retirement, but – as has now been well documented – that didn’t work very well.

Clearly, Pete Carroll’s extensive career hasn’t all been big wins. And yet, you can’t help but appreciate these lessons young professionals can adopt toward their own careers:

You Can’t Always Be What You Thought You Would Be

Carroll played football at University of the Pacific, and wanted to continue playing after graduation. But his small size and shoulder issues ensured that wasn’t in the cards.

When a sales job in building materials wasn’t a good match, he had to think again.

Track Record & Enthusiasm Matter

Regarding his future, Carroll told a Stockton newspaper, “I didn’t have a lot of options.”

But his former head coach at Pacific, Chester Caddas, saw Carroll’s energy, charisma and charm, and he knew Carroll could be a football coach. So Caddas hired him as a graduate assistant at Pacific.

Getting Fired Isn’t the End of the World – Nor the End of Your Career

In 1984, Carroll hit the NFL as defensive backs coach of the Buffalo Bills, and after a year went on to a similar role with the Minnesota Vikings. His success there led to becoming Defensive Coordinator for the New York Jets for several years; a job well done that led to promotion Head Coach of the Jets.

After one year, he was fired.

So then it was back to a supporting role. In 1995 he served as Defensive Coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. And two years later, he snagged an offer as Head Coach of the New England Patriots.

After a short time, he was fired.

What to do? In a spot where many folks either lick their wounds or fight for a new coaching position to save face, Carroll did neither. Even though several NFL teams offered defensive coordinator roles, Carroll instead spent the next season as a consultant for pro and college teams, and doing charitable work for the NFL.

Being fired from an “everyday” job like Accounting Manager or Sales Coordinator is rough enough, but the public experience of being fired from the NFL comes with a bit more baggage. Over a decade later, an ESPN article summarized Carroll’s history via the phrase, “After flaming out as an NFL head coach….”

That can be a little rough to come back from. But Carroll did it, relying on his solid reputation and a strong network of colleagues.

Opportunities Result from Your Solid Reputation & Strong Network

In 2000, Carroll was named Head Coach at USC. But he wasn’t their first pick. Or their second. He was offered the job after USC’s first three candidates turned it down.

And only then because Daryl Gross, an associate athletic director at USC, recommended Carroll to his boss, based on Gross’ experience as a former scout for the Jets during Carroll’s tenure.

But it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing from that point.

Carroll’s hiring was openly criticized by the media & USC fans. A multitude of emails, faxes & phone calls from alumni criticized his hire, and many USC donors asked for Carroll’s removal before they would consider donating again.

So Carroll’s network helped him again: former NFL players & USC alumni offered their support. They predicted that Carroll’s player-friendly, easygoing style could suit the college team environment, and enhance recruiting efforts.

And less than a year later, many of the critics had reversed course. In 2008, named Carroll’s hiring as #1 on a list of the (then) Pac-10′s top ten moments of the BCS era.

Reflect on Your Past… Dream for Your Future

Earlier this year Carroll told ESPN that after being fired by the Patriots, he agonized over what he’d do differently if he returned to the NFL.

So he began keeping “do-over notes” and realized that his dream was to fundamentally change the way players are coached.

Instead of being the stereotypical, screaming hard-ass, Carroll wanted to do things differently in the NFL.

As he told ESPN, “I wanted to find out if we went to the NFL and really took care of guys, really cared about each and every individual, what would happen?”

Experiment a Bit… and Invest in Your Dream

So Coach Carroll is revamping the way his organization approaches the physical & mental health of the entire team.

The team’s longtime trainer is now known as the director of player health & performance. There’s an official liaison between players and management, as well as a life skills consultant & addiction counselor to help players transition into the NFL and prep for when they leave it.

Additionally, they have a chef who feeds the players organic fruits and veggies. There’s a high-performance sports psychologist on the sidelines during games and practices, available to chat with players.

Seems Carroll is checking items off his “do-over” list left and right.

And with the Seahawks currently at a season record of 10-1, it seems to be working.

Treat People the Way You Want to be Treated

Earlier this year, at the NFL Rookie Symposium, the director of player personnel for the Kansas City Chiefs told the recent draft picks, “Nobody cares about your problems. The fans don’t care. The media doesn’t care. And ownership doesn’t care. They care about results.”

But Carroll takes a different approach with his players.

Yelling and swearing are frowned upon. Carroll wants to keep things positive.

Controversial Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman told, “I like Pete’s approach, because it’s always positive. Win, lose or draw he’s going to find the positives in it. I think with any player, nobody likes to be dogged. There’s some hard coaching with Pete, but here they do it in a way where nobody screams, nobody yells, everybody has a positive mindset.”

Like Pete Carroll, Understand Success is Often an Indirect Path

Even when we logically know that the road to success isn’t always a straight line, we still envision career progress as a ladder. And when we’re knocked back a rung to two, we panic a little.

But in hindsight, we can usually value the lessons we learned, and apply them to our future efforts. “As hard as it is to admit,” Carroll wrote in his book Win Forever, “I needed those challenges to bring forth my truths, soon to be revealed.”

So if you hit a career setback or two, maybe Coach Pete Carroll’s story will provide you a little inspiration.

Just keep your “do-over” notebook handy.





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