The King of L.A.

Posted Jan 12, 2010

Pete Carroll is leaving a place he loved, and where he is loved, for the love a challenge: Taking over a Seahawks team that has won nine games the past two seasons.

The Seahawks have just hired a coach who transcends the sideline.

While Mike Holmgren loomed over it for 10 seasons and Jim Mora worked it last season like the trail on Tiger Mountain, Pete Carroll has risen above and beyond it the past nine years at the University of Southern California.

And it’s a presence that is palpable. Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke got a taste of it when he arrived at the Los Angeles airport Sunday for a final face-to-face meeting with Carroll that sealed the deal.

“He’s kind of the king of L.A.,” Leiweke said.

And that kingdom has surpassed even the sprawling expanse that is the City of Angeles. Carroll, 58, has been featured on “60 Minutes” and the focus of a story in Esquire. He is, to understate the issue, not your usual football coach.

Tuesday morning, five TV trucks where in the parking lot at team headquarters before the sun had come up, and five media outlets carried Carroll’s introductory news conference live. The Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, ESPN and the NFL Network sent correspondents to Seattle to cover the event. It made for a day unmatched in Seahawk annuals since that infamous afternoon in 1987 when they introduced bigger-than-life linebacker Brian Bosworth, who had been acquired in the supplemental draft.

Seahawks defensive end Lawrence Jackson played for Carroll at USC and can relate to the hype generated by his arrival in Seattle and feeling of hopelessness that lingers after his departure from L.A.

Informed by the reporter from the L.A. Times that the city is “in shock” over Carroll’s decision, Jackson said, “They’re detaching a god, almost in a sense, from the university. Coach Carroll was put on such a high pedestal, nobody would imagine that he would leave all the superficial stuff to L.A. – the respect, the fans, the ability to go anywhere to do anything, to be able to touch anybody. Those are things that people don’t understand. But that’s not what it’s all about as a coach.

“L.A. loves Pete Carroll. He did something to L.A. that might never be duplicated on a collegiate level. He brought hope to a lot of people and a lot of alumni. But there are nonstop flights to Seattle, so if you hurt so hard you can come up and join the 12th Man.”

When the laughter subsided, Jackson pondered the situation for an extra second and offered, “It’s like the head of the horse has been cut off.”

To better comprehend how Carroll arrived as the eighth head coach in franchise history, it helps to know where he comes from – literally, and figuratively.

“The big key to understanding Pete is where he came from,” Dave Perron, a member of an informal group that calls itself Team Pete, told the New York Times. “Marin County. Northern California. Remember, we’re talking the ’60s. That’s where the social concern began. The interest in relating to people. The interest in music. The (Grateful) Dead. Jefferson Airplane. Janis Joplin.

“That’s the beat of his life.”

It’s not just a different drummer that Carroll marches to; it’s bands from a different era – and social consciousness. There are stories about the sounds of Santana emanating from Carroll’s office at USC late at night, with Carroll using a baseball bat to mimic Carlos’ riffs. He listens over the Internet to KFOG in San Francisco, an iconic radio station that blends the beat of his life with the sounds they have given birth to.

But Carroll does not live – and is not lost – in the past. On any given Saturday, the sideline at a USC home game was home to Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, Nick Lachey, Christian Slater and the usual array of former players – including Pro Football Hall of Famers Ronnie Lott and Marcus Allen.

Carroll also blogs on his own website – – and tweets on Twitter.

But you don’t have to scratch too far to discover Carroll’s old-school roots in the game that has been his life for, well, almost his entire life. He has worked for, among others, Bud Grant (with the Minnesota Vikings in 1985), Lou Holtz (with Arkansas in 1977) and Monte Kiffin (with North Carolina State in 1980-82).

When asked about his decision to leave USC and his first stints as a head coach in the NFL on Tuesday, Carroll reached back for some advice his father, Jim, gave him.

“It’s as simple as, you take the step, you take the job, you take the challenge and you never look over your shoulder,” Carroll said near the end of his 42-minute news conference. “And you make the decision a great decision. My pop told me that a long time ago and it couldn’t be more true in this situation right now.

“Anybody on the back end who is wondering, I’m not looking back. I’m only looking to the future. By the way we approach it, we’ll make something happen in a special manner.”

After graduating from Redwood High School in Larkspur, Calif., and being the school’s athlete of the year as a senior, Carroll went to College of Marin for two years and then transferred to University of the Pacific in Stockton. He was an all-league safety for two years at Pacific, and then tried out for the Honolulu Hawaiians of the World Football League.

That’s when Carroll’s lifelong problem with being too small surfaced again (he weighed 110 pounds as a high school freshman), along with a shoulder injury. So rather than playing professional football, he became a graduate assistant at Pacific in 1974 and the rest has become his historic path to his current job.

But it also laid the groundwork for something Carroll calls “Always Compete,” his version of John Wooden’s famous “Pyramid of Success.” It’s included in the book “Always Compete”:

If you want to Win Forever …
Always Compete.
As you progress through your sporting life …
Always Compete.
You’re gonna have to make Choices in Life and those Choices
need to be Conscious Decisions. There’s only one person in
Control here and that person is You …
You hold All the cards. You are the Master of You. It’s time to admit it …
You have always known this. So if you’re ready, act on it …
Always Compete.
Don’t you dare try to be Cool, don’t you dare be afraid of Life,
Just “Dare to be Great” and Let it Rip.
Always be humble, Always be Kind, Always be Respectful …
Always Compete!
Everything You do counts and screams who You are … there is no hiding from You.
Act as if the Whole World will know who you are …
Always Compete.
Be True to Yourself and Let Nothing hold you back.
Compete to be the Greatest You and that will Always be enough and that will be a Lifetime!
Always Compete.

Then there’s the outer appearance. Carroll’s rugged, yet boyish, good looks and mop of hair belie the facts the he was born Sept. 15, 1951, in San Francisco; graduated from high school in 1969; and he and wife, Glena, have “kids” who are 30 (Brennan), 27 (Jaime) and 22 (Nate).

“He’s a young-looking guy,” said Leiweke, who celebrated his 50th birthday on Tuesday. “I was like, ‘Look, after all I’ve been through here for the last three months, I need some of that aging sauce you’re using.’ ”

Esquire offered this physical appraisal of Carroll: “His granite jaw is straight out of Hollywood. His eyes perfectly match the blasphemous tie (too close to Bruin blue) from the other night. His skin – pale, soft and papery – is full of fine wrinkles; it seems much older than the rest of him. His nose runs a zigzag pattern down the middle of his face, breaking first to the right and then to the left, a pass route the Trojan playbook calls Z-quick.”

But the most attractive element of the complexities that comprise this man might be his foundation – “A Better L.A.” On Carroll’s website it is describe as “a nonprofit organization committed to transforming the city of Los Angeles.”

What the foundation actually does – like the man who heads it – transcends even those lofty words. The organization employs ex-gang members in an attempt to reduce the culture of violence in a city where it was made famous by movies like “Boyz n the Hood.”

Leiweke said Carroll started to tear up Sunday night just talking about it.

“He’s going to keep it going,” Leiweke said. “We’re going to use some contacts we have down in L.A. to try and help him, because it’s a really super important thing he’s doing – which should be a model for other cities.

“And if you look into it, it’s something that’s never really been done before. And he’s not a guy who just goes on the rubber chicken circuit and speaks about it. He goes into those neighborhoods late at night, giving guys his cell phone number, and truly connecting. It’s a cool deal.”

Just like the coach the Seahawks just hired.