When the Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII, they were still a bunch of upstarts, misfits and castoffs who really didn’t know what to expect and were just following the Pete Carroll way: Always compete.
By the time they got back to the Super Bowl the next year, they had become seasoned veterans despite still being one of the NFL’s youngest teams.
But they were still young and immature — as so many of them proved during and after Super Bowl XLIX — and they failed to mentally or physically recover from that debacle in time for the next season. They still lacked focus and cohesion early in 2015, and it ended up costing them in the postseason.
But they have rediscovered their sense of purpose this offseason, largely because Carroll has changed the way he delivers his mantra.
Part of that apparently comes from a book called “The Road to Character.”
According to a USA Today story, after Carroll read the 2015 self-help bestseller, he called a meeting of some of Seattle’s leading players — Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner, Mike Morgan and Steven Hauschka — and shared his learnings. The key came from author David Brooks’ Humility Code — a message Carroll wanted his leaders to pass on to the rest of the team.
Carroll told USA Today, “It has affected my language in almost everything I tell them about leadership and serving each other.”
Carroll spoke earlier this year about the significance of developing continuity in a program. Carroll said coaching legend Bill Walsh used to say, “You really can’t draw on great experience until you are together for five years.”
“There is something to that,” Carroll said. “It is not just that they know how to play or they know their assignments, but they have so many past experiences that we can draw from. It allows us to communicate on such a high level and so quickly that we are just connected.”
That’s the plus side of being together that long. But that also can lead to a stagnant message, something Carroll realized this year.
Baldwin told SI.com what he told Carroll in May: “These guys keep hearing the same (message) over and over. They can recite it in their sleep. You have to give them something else to go off, to re-buy in.”
So — whether inspired by the book or by Baldwin or by myriad things — Carroll ran a series of motivational meetings in which he and others explained why they were there and what shaped them. Carroll shared his personal history in more detail than he ever had, and other players and guest speakers did the same.
“I felt it necessary to elevate the depth of our relationship,” Carroll told SI. “I had never done that specifically before. But the bulk of guys, the core of this team, has been around. They needed more background on why we do things, why it matters. Our whole offseason was about growth and expansion. I had several guys share why it is they’re here.”
This all helps explain what Carroll meant in May when he told 710 ESPN this year “almost feels like a rebirth.”
“We’ve been through a lot of stuff; we’ve been challenged by a lot of stuff,” he said then. “We’ve learned so much: winning and losing and then trying to come back again and still maintaining this huge standard and expectation. And we know it’s right there for us. Everybody feels it. That’s what is really fueling the energy around the building and why we’re so enthused.”
After the team’s first practice of training camp, Carroll pointed to the presence of Chancellor and Michael Bennett, who both decided to show up despite continued unhappiness over their contracts.
“I think there is a real strong message in our locker room. These guys want to be part of this thing; they don’t want to be the one that disrupts it,” Carroll said. “We went through a real learning process last year with … Kam, and I think he has helped people understand what that’s all about.”
Chancellor confirmed all of the above when he said, “I think guys are out to prove that the brotherhood is still there. You know, a lot of people think that the closeness, the camaraderie, that togetherness isn’t there anymore. But it still is. So I think that’s what guys are out to prove and to show that we’re still a tightknit group and that we all have a lot to prove together, not individually but … the whole team collectively.”
That’s the Humility Code. It’s the crux of Carroll’s expanded message, which has helped his players rediscover their motivation and their own Road to Character.
“Their minds are in different places now,” Carroll told USA Today. “They’re not in the midst of the climb. They’re really in the midst now of finding out the very best. They have to understand even more deeply how powerful it is to play for one another. There’s a time when you’re battling just to try to get your head over water. But now there’s a more profound makeup we’re seeking. They have an opportunity to be better than they have ever been.”