Doug Baldwin has got some balls. Greg Bishop lets us know in his report from the start of Seattle Seahawks training camp about Baldwin once challenging Pete Carroll’s most fundamental teaching material.
Baldwin wanted to know if the core of the coach’s philosophies of team-building, forged at Southern Cal and outlined in Carroll’s book Win Forever, could hold up after the pinnacle of winning Super Bowl XLVIII and his relationships with key players stretch into fourth and fifth and sixth years as professionals.
Now, Baldwin has been an NFL leader in touchdown receptions. He has some stature in the organization and he even makes about the same amount of money as his coach, thanks to the extensions signed by both last month. These critiques aren’t all that new either, being the same questions (minus the Super Bowl prospects) surrounding Carroll’s initial hiring back in 2010 when Baldwin was still a senior at Stanford.
But keep in mind: According to the account this discussion happened two years ago, when Baldwin was still backup to Percy Harvin, maybe even Sidney Rice, and when he was barely done with his undrafted deal while the Seahawks had just drafted Paul Richardson in the second round. Pete Carroll, meanwhile, was a world championship coach and Baldwin, Stanford or not, was testing his very principles? His book’s message?
“Now you’ve gotta write your second book,” Baldwin says he told Carroll. “These guys keep hearing the same shit over and over. They can recite it in their sleep. You have to give them something else to go off.”
This is a pretty dope insight for someone in Baldwin’s position at that time to have shared with his coach, and it says a lot about both men that Carroll seems to have heard him. I’ve already supposed that Carroll’s self-described “master’s course” directed at Russell Wilson, Kam Chancellor and other entered novitiates of the team is an acknowledgment of the pivot necessary to move from the “reloadable college model” to a deeper pool of vision that might keep veteran pros engaged beyond the slogans and Pyramids of Success. Still, it’s interesting to hear the other ways Carroll has moved beyond disseminating his fundamentals to inviting and circulating almost user-generated philosophy from his players, using group meetings and storytelling sessions with former Seahawks.
It means the old coach is not just offering more and more of his received wisdom, but also developing new practices to suit his changing challenges. It means he’s continuing to search for and revise answers and, possibly on his own last contract, continuing to “compete” for himself.
As Carroll says, again according to Bishop, “Perhaps there is something to the idea that it’s harder to motivate the same players the same way in years five and six compared to years one and two.”
Kenny reminded us Monday how it’s easy to get lost in pronouncements that this feels like another championship unfolding: “Why would you want to say that it doesn’t? Fans get excited, players get excited.” And obviously, the last two years, Seahawks fans and players have approached training camp from the same heights of expectation and excitement and by end of season fallen breathlessly and then mercilessly short.
There’s plenty of talent and track record to bank on some kind of run anyway. What invests most confidence in my Super Bowl hopes for 2016 especially and Seattle’s commitment to Pete Carroll going forward, however, is Baldwin’s idea of this second book executed in Carroll’s affinity to adapt and explore new problems.
It’s an incredibly valuable point of view, probably particularly in the rigid society of pro football coaching. Carroll is famous for giving players freedom to improvise and assert themselves, and it takes even greater comfort as an authority to both let yourself be yourself and also allow yourself to find new footing when called. But this is also a rare quality in anybody. After all, we see people in our lives enter into damaging relationships and foolhardy business propositions every day by mistaking that certain happy conditions in the pocket of the present can continue just as imagined or designed.
No matter what we learn from the child on the playground, the real difficulty isn’t actually in deciding to be the best. The question is how to be. And even if you figure out what you can do, a harder part again is communicating it to others so that they want to join. And then there are new problems of executing the idea, and so on. This difficulty of realizing intention, with the very recognizable folly arrived at by trying, largely provides the theater we enjoy sports.
This isn’t paradise: It’s hard to do exactly what you plan to do, especially when the best in the world are literally lined up to knock you down. For me it’s more than reassuring that Carroll is willing to move beyond the harbor of cycles implied in a mantra like “win forever”, to make sure one dominant vision doesn’t become a crusted illusion; in fact it’s a relief.