A Chance Encounter With Pete Carroll

One Sunday afternoon, a few years ago, I was drinking in a bar on Hermosa Beach (I believe but am not certain it was The Poop Deck) when I saw USC Trojans head football coach Pete Carroll ride by the front door on a bike.

He was with a handsome woman, his wife I guessed, and as they rode along saw somebody they appeared to know.  Pete and his wife stopped to talk to him.

From where I was in the dark of the bar, the sunlight in the doorway framed Coach Carroll perfectly, it was like the last shot of The Searchers.  

The searchers

We couldn’t hear what Coach was saying.  But watching him talk was mesmerizing.  Engaged, upbeat, demonstrative: I couldn’t look away.  The whole scene was compelling.  Who was this chilled out beach boardwalk motivator?  What was his life?

Inner Game

The Inner Game

Some time after that I found a copy of The Inner Game Of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey at my friend’s house.  The only times I’ve ever played tennis I embarrassed myself, but I like “inner games,” and reading about tennis, so I read it.

The book blasted my head open.

Here is a very crude summary of Gallwey’s ideas as I understood them: when you do something like play tennis, sometimes you can split into a self that’s doing the actions, and a self that’s observing, judging, intellectually assessing: critical.   That second self can easily slip into becoming abusive.  You screw up a shot and you’re like “dammit, so STUPID!”

When that happens, Gallwey asks, who is yelling at who?  What’s going on here?

This struck me re: writing.  (Or really, any creative work.)

You’ve got your creator self, and your critical self.  You need them both: all one and you’ll write stream of consciousness garbage, all the other and you’ll never write anything.  But how do you get them to work together?

Gallwey says: we will improve (and have more fun) when we get these two selves aligned.  When the critical self isn’t pissed at the performing self, but instead simply, non-brutally observes what is happening.

When that happens, you enter a harmony.
You find your performance self makes adjustments unconsciously.
You don’t overtighten.  You find a flow.
’70s California New Age to the max, but it struck me. I told my friend how into this book I was.  He told me Peter Carroll had given a copy to every player on the Seattle Seahawks.
Here is Marshawn Lynch telling Coach Carroll he just read it:
That year the Seahawks won the Super Bowl.
That’s it, I thought, I’ve got to know everything about sunny, tripped out, California Zen NFL head coach Pete Carroll, so I went and bought his book Win Forever.
Win Forever
What’s most amazing to me about Pete Carroll is that he’s cheerful.  He’s optimistic.  Don’t take my word for it.  Talking about his mother Carroll says:
She instilled in me a great curiosity about how the world works, along with an overall sense of optimism and possibility.  She used to say: “Something good is just about to happen.”  I still believe that today.
This seemed to me to be a kind of new attitude in a football coach.  Again, no expert on football history.  But what other successful coach is as chipper as Pete Carroll?  I like that in him, because I’m cheerful myself.  Remember that Jesus Christ himself told his followers “in this world ye will have tribulation, but be of good cheer.”
This is not the most popular Bible verse in New England.  Pete Carroll’s deal did not fly there, he did not succeed at the Patriots.  Maybe he has to be in a sunny climate.  Or barring that: in the weed-legal, interesting thinking, Jimi Hendrix country of Seattle.
His biggest inspiration, I think he’d agree, is John Wooden of UCLA:
Look who else he’s into:
“That cool reply stuck in my head.”  And, of course:
Pete Carroll says that after his lack of success with the Patriots, he realized he wouldn’t succeed unless he found a system that was in line with his attitudes and values.  Once he found that, once he had a philosophy so clear he could write it up in under 25 words, he would “win forever.”
Now, I am not sure I understand all parts of Pete Carroll’s system:
But there’s a lot in this book that made sense to me.  On language:
Negative “self-talk”:

He believes his main job is “orchestrating a mentality”:
The Pete Carroll mentality is: positivity and confidence.
Now, I do not know everything about Pete Carroll.  At Helytimes we don’t traffic in rumors.  But I dug this book, a voice with a clear vision rang through to me, and I understood it.
Coach Satan
I knew that people hated Nick Saban, but I didn’t really follow why (except that he kept winning).  My view may have been tainted by too much exposure to Auburn fans.
If you don’t know much about Nick Saban, I recommend this GQ profile by Warren St. John, which I found well-written, apparently fair, and full of the kind of detail about food habits I want in my profiles:
For breakfast, he eats two Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies; for lunch, a salad of iceberg lettuce, turkey, and tomatoes. The regular menu, he says, saves him the time of deciding what to eat each day, and speaks to a broader tendency to habituate his behaviors. Saban comes to this system by instinct rather than by adherence to some productivity guru’s system. When I try to engage him in a discussion of the latest research on habit formation, he hits me with a look his assistants call the bug zapper, for its ability to fry all who encounter it; he has no idea what I’m talking about.
Oatmeal Creme
Weirdly I read this only after I read Nick Saban’s book.
Compared to Win Forever, this book is garbage.
Even the physical size of it is wrong.
Large parts of it appear to be pasted together out of generic clippings from a folder marked “Inspirational”:
What?  Or:
This part I was like “what are you talking about Nick Saban?”:
For a guy who’s determined to achieve excellence, I can only imagine that Nick Saban didn’t consider book writing to be a field truly worthy of his effort.  One way or another, he is responsible for a not good book.  That’s either lacking off, disrespect for the reader, incompetence/inability to assess how good a book is, or just inattention.  None of those are excusable.
That may seem harsh, but the way Nick Saban talks in this book, I assume he would expect nothing less:
FullSizeRender (1)
To offer an example that seems to tell you what kind of judgment Nick Saban has about values and standards, these are two companies he cites as excellent.  Both these companies have to be acknowledged to be “good,” I guess, at business, but do you like either Starbucks or Delta?:
When people say Nick Saban is the devil, which they do, I think they mean it in the same way you might say Starbucks is the devil.
Meaning: sure, it does its mission, of giving people  a stimulant effectively.  That’s cool, I guess, but at what cost does it do it?  Does it do it with no soul, no integrity, no humanity?
What kind of soulless robot looks for examples of success and comes up with Starbucks and Delta Airlines?
Nick Saban has a harsh, stern mentality.  Can we be surprised?  Nick Saban is from Fairmont, West Virginia. Here’s something Wikipedia says about that town:
The site of the first Father’s Day on July 5, 1908, originally celebrated in honor of the more than 200 fathers lost in the Monongah Mining disaster several months earlier.
About that disaster:
The inability to clear the mine of gases transformed the rescue effort into a recovery effort. Only one man, a Hungarian by the name of John Tomko, was rescued from the mine. The official death toll stood at 362, but it is possible the number is much higher since mining companies at the time did not keep accurate records of their workers.
Here is a list of everyone who died, organized by ethnicity, including Slavish and Negro.  That monument to the disaster, pictured above in a photo from Wikipedia, is, I believe, in Italy.  (Saban is Croatian).
But that’s not all, Warren St. John reminds us:
When they were teenagers, an explosion at the mine where Saban’s grandfather worked killed 78. (His grandfather was spared because he was off-shift.) It was a place where you knew not to complain; someone always had it worse.
Perhaps more challenging than Pete Carroll’s boyhood in Marin County, groovin’ out to the Grateful Dead with his mom always reminding him something terrific was about to happen.  A student athlete at Kent State (after a tough decision not to go the US Naval Academy) Nick Saban just missed witnessing the 1970 massacre by the National Guard (an event I have to say he seems to describe with great balance and genuine reflection).
The hard edge of Saban’s book doesn’t mean it’s not full of wisdom.  For whatever reason this hit me:
(Whether working out in writing my thoughts about two football coach memoirs is “spending” or “investing” I can’t say for sure but I tend to think the latter.)
This part of Nick Saban’s book seemed to sum it up in flinty style:
That was the part of the book that rang truest to me.  It seemed like one of the few times when I was hearing the real guy.
And I have no question that this real guy deserves a tremendous amount of my respect.   Nick Saban struck me as an extremely  tough coach.  I bet he nodded along to JK Simmons speech in Whiplash.
Lord knows what it’s like to have him as your dad:
But tally it all up.  Those kids of his are adopted, a fact I think I learned from the article, not the book.  People with adopted kids are heroes.  An example he got from his dad, maybe, whom Saban describes throughout his book as the big influence in his life.  St. John again:

Big Nick, the son of Croatian immigrants, also had a sense of fairness unusual for the place and the times. He took heat from some locals for treating black customers the same as whites at his Dairy Queen. And when he learned that an African-American player on the Black Diamonds named Kerry Marbury didn’t have a father around, Big Nick took him in. Marbury, who went on to become a star running back at West Virginia, says he was accepted so completely by the Sabans that he was effectively shielded from racism as a child. “I was very confused when I got out in the world and found out how much prejudice there really was,” he tells me.

Marbury and Saban became close friends as kids, and later, each served as the other’s best man. In the ’80s, after football, Marbury was busted for drugs, and went to prison for two and a half years for probation violation. The day he got out of jail, he said, Saban called and sent money to help him get a fresh start. Marbury went on to get his master’s degree and now serves as an administrator of public safety at a small West Virginia university. “I got where I am all as a result of him caring about me when no one else did.”

Respect for the man.  Feel he is underserved by his book.

But maybe: that’s the point.  Pete Carroll’s book is compelling because it’s about a guy wondering if there’s another way to do this, if he can adapt himself and his mentality to football success.  He’s excited by the idea, he tells how he came up with it, and he pulls it off.

The point of Saban’s book might be: there is no secret.  There is no trick.  Discipline, hard work, drilling things again and again until you can do them the right way, focusing on doing everything right and not on results — it ain’t easy but it’s simple.

Good to think about.

Apologies if I made any football errors in this post, don’t let me fool you into thinking I know shit about the game compared to serious fans.  With that said, here’s my picks for the BCS:

crimson tide

will defeat:

Ohio State

Alabama will then play:


who will defeat


(Oregon coach Mark Helfrich doesn’t seem that interesting, although it’s cool he’s from Oregon.  Unless this actually is his memoir I don’t think I’ll read it.  Can’t say I’m all that curious about Urban Meyer either, although it is interesting that both he and Saban are Catholic.  Also interesting that Urban Meyer is the only of these coaches to be coaching his alma mater.  

I did take a look at this Kindle book:

Crystal Magnates

where the fact that Saban and Meyer both seem to “enjoy” coaching football or at least hate not doing it is described under the chapter heading “Hedonism.”  I don’t think that’s an appropriate word for these mens’ lives. 

I’d love to read Jimbo Fisher’s memoir.  If I didn’t mishear, once watched him say Jameis Winston’s ability to not worry at all about how he’d been charged with sexual assault was a testament to his character.

Fisher earned the nickname Slim Jimbo because of his affinity for meat snacks. He has mentioned in numerous interviews that he wishes to launch an organic beef jerky company after he retires from coaching. The company would feature jerky made from animals native to both the Deep South and his native West Virginia, such as alligator, muskrat, and wild boar.)

Then at the national championship game on Jan. 12:


will defeat crimson tide

Puzzle: given that this is close to a random guess, although I factored in these odds (plus my feeling from reading Saban’s book) what are the odds I picked this right?  12.5%?  I could be proven completely wrong in a few hours.)

In the Super Bowl:

Pat P

 will defeat
(Puzzle Two: what’s the probability of just randomly picking this one right?  
What about the probability if you weight it with these odds?  
Any math whizzes who submit a right-seeming guest to helphely at gmail will receive a Helytimes tote bag). 

One Comment on “Coaches”

  1. Ben Q says:

    flow, baby. dig it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.