Pete Carroll and I were waiting for our cars to be pulled around after a nice dinner in downtown Bellevue. We had been discussing his Win Forever book, and how much of it could be applied to corporate environments. But there was a question that had stuck with me as I read his book that I was eager to hear him answer.
“Your philosophy is all about constant improvement and growth. How do you know when the philosophy itself needs to be revisited and improved?”
The normally quick-witted Carroll paused and pondered the question. His answer was something along the lines of, “We always are tweaking and improving things, but the core philosophy does not change.” His exact words did not stay with me, but his reaction to the question did. It was clear that this was not something he had thought about. I was left wondering how Carroll would detect a problem in his core system when core system checks were not part of how it worked.
Losing the Super Bowl the way Seattle did this past February, and facing the overwhelming public scrutiny, was the type of moment that forces any man to revisit his values and beliefs. Carroll, and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, have taken the approach of circling the wagons and insisting they made the right decision. Failure is nature’s way of allowing for learning and growth. By not owning and acknowledging failure here, Carroll and Schneider are blocking themselves from an important lesson that could cost them more football games.
First, I have always believed Bevell made that play call and Carroll has been protecting his coordinator by insisting that the call was made by him. That seemed to be confirmed by this snippet in King’s article:
On second-and-goal from the New England 1-yard line, with the best power-runner in football, Marshawn Lynch, in the backfield and one timeout left, Bevell called a play that coach Pete Carroll approved
He later confirmed that matchups, namely the heavy package the Patriots had in the game, was part of why he called the play.
Most damning was his response to King’s question of “Are you over it yet?”
“That play will always be there to drive me. I wouldn’t change it. I think it was the right thing.” – Darrell Bevell
Stubborn. Prideful. Misguided.
Carroll has been insistent that it was a fine play call but a bad result. That is fine as a PR line to protect his offensive coordinator. It is a terrible way to achieve a better result the next time.
He talks about never factoring in players error or failure into playcalling. It is a utopian view that is central to how he has built championship teams, but it is also disingenuous. Of course failure and error are factored into calling a play. If it wasn’t, they would be running triple reverses and going for it on 4th and 35 from their 20 yard line.
Determining the likelihood of a play to succeed is the core of what a play caller is judged by. One cannot determine the likelihood of success without considering the potential for failure.
Bevell misjudged the factors involved in that final play, and that error in judgement provided Malcolm Butler and Brandon Browner with the opportunity to make the outstanding plays that they did.
Own it. Learn from it.
Tell the truth (Some)day
Carroll uses the Monday following a game to revisit what happened and “get to the truth of it.” He calls this Tell the Truth Monday. He also has made the number one rule in the organization: “Protect the team.”
I believe Carroll has been trapped by his own philosophy in this case. Given the choice of protecting his coordinator or telling the truth, he chose the former. I’m also pretty sure Carroll would vehemently deny that as part of his commitment to it.
On one hand, it does not really matter what Carroll and Bevell say publicly as long as they are honest with themselves and each other privately. That would at least ensure some learning is happening and the team will be in a better position to succeed the next time they are in that position.
On the other hand, both men are missing the chance to demonstrate great leadership and integrity. This is especially true of Bevell who could step forward and take responsibility so that his head coach did not need to take more arrows on his behalf.
If a player makes a mistake, coaches would never accept an answer of, “I wouldn’t change it, I think it was the right thing.” Players that say things like that after errors get cut and do not last long in the league. Bevell should be holding himself to that same standard.
None of us are perfect. We all want to believe a person can recover from even the worst mistakes. If Carroll truly wants to win forever, he and his coaching staff would be best served to get back to the humble honesty that defines his philosophy.