Winning, Weed, Macklemore: Carroll a Cool Cat
Ben Haggerty doesn’t think he deserves the Grammy for best rap album, texting an apology to the eminently worthier Kendrick Lamar. “You got robbed,” writes Haggerty, aka Macklemore. “It’s weird and sucks that I robbed you.”
Safe to say, Pete Carroll doesn’t agree with the harsh assessment.
Sixty-two going on 30, with an additional markoff for his habitual use of the word “cool,” Carroll discovered the hip-hop phenomenon just as you and I did: by listening to the radio or iTunes, hearing the catchy horns in “Thrift Shop” and wondering if he really adopted his stage name from the former Seattle Mariners’ second baseman, Mark McLemore. In fact, Carroll claims he became a Mack fan before any of his Seahawks players — picture him in his office, blasting the rap so loud that his secretary repeatedly had to turn it down. When he asked his assistant to locate Macklemore — and they realized, damn, that he was from Seattle — the coach and musician forged what presumably would be an unlikely friendship.
“Let’s forget about football and talk about rapping,” Carroll said at his second Super Bowl press conference, the day after his guy won four Grammys. “This is a really cool thing for our area. A guy growing up in Seattle, he had an extraordinary following locally that nobody knew about and didn’t really understand why at the time. The story has been told that we found him on the first night of his `Heist’ tour at our stadium and had no idea what was going to happen. The place was just going crazy because the fans knew him already, and then he kicks off this tour and is arguably the best performer in the world this past year.”
Nothing about Carroll should be considered unconventional. He loves boogie boarding. He has his players do yoga and monitors their sleep patterns via wristbands, part of a holistic/high-tech training regimen that is one part hippie commune and one part new-age spa. Bowling, basketball? That, too. “It’s not about going bowling, it’s not about shooting hoops, it’s about enriching times when the guys are together,” Carroll said. “It’s not just about having fun. It’s about putting guys in different settings, a different mind-set to operate in.”
He has drawn as much inspiration from Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Deadhead, as John Wooden. If you recall his USC years, he’s the guy who showed up in rugged South Central in the wee hours just so the community — and the high-school football players who lived there — knew he cared. Is he a little shady? He fled to Seattle just as the building he constructed in Los Angeles was burning down, torched by corruption. And the Seahawks do seem to mix free love with performance-enhancing and recreational drug use, still trying to explain why seven players have been busted — and six ultimately suspended — by the NFL since 2011.
No one should have been shocked when Carroll used his Super Bowl platform to establish an NFL precedent: He became the first coach to suggest that players with painful injuries might be best served with medicinal marijuana, rather than addictive prescription drugs such as Vicodin. If this is the inaugural Weed Bowl — recreational use of marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington, home states of Denver and Seattle — then the high crowd just might start referring to him as Peyote Pete.
And the game as Bud Bowl XLVIII.
“I would say we have to explore and find ways to make our game a better game and take care of our players in whatever way possible,” Carroll said. “Regardless of what other stigmas might be involved, we have to do this because the world of medicine is doing this.”
It’s what you’d expect from a coach who has lost two players this season to marijuana busts — Brandon Browner was suspended by the league for a year, and Walter Thurmond missed four games. Carroll hasn’t exactly responded to the drug busts with remorse, saying, “It’s kind of how it goes at times. I don’t know that we can expect to be perfect. We’d like to be, but that isn’t the case. You want guys to be on point, but sometimes you’re going to be disappointed. It’s not about what pops up, it’s about how you deal with it and overcome it.”
The one Seattle player who beat the rap was the quiet and low-key cornerback, Richard Sherman, successful appealing an Adderall suspension. “About half the league takes it and the league has to allow it,” Sherman said. “The league made a mistake in my case. There are still naysayers out there who don’t believe me. But I accept it. If everybody loves you, it probably means you’re not much of a player.”
If the Seahawks were a major-league baseball team dealing with numerous drug busts, we’d be crying foul, given the sport’s sacred connection with numbers and eras. But the public generally gives football players a pass on drugs, assuming most men in a brute-force sport are on some sort of juice. A recent HBO report suggested as many as 60 percent of NFL players use marijuana as it is. Considering weed remains illegal in 30 states, Carroll’s stance is more progressive than what some players actually feel. “I think with something like that, it may be helpful, but it is also something that can be abused. So I think that’s why it’s banned and that’s why it’s on the list, because it can be abused and it can backfire,” said Terrance Knighton, the Denver defensive tackle knows as Pot Roast. “It’s a touchy subject, but whatever is best, they’ll figure it out. Until then, I’m going to follow the rules.”
Rules were made to be broken at USC, where the NCAA invaded a loose, carefree program and found house payments being issued for Reggie Bush’s parents, among other violations. Carroll claims not to have known, but he couldn’t deny his previous failures in NFL head-coaching stints with New England and the New York Jets, making it curious that he’s returning to the Meadowlands for a Super Bowl. Remember when Dan Marino faked a spike in the final seconds and threw an easy scoring pass? That was against the Jets, who dropped to 6-6 in 1994 and lost their next four games to cost Carroll his job after one season as head coach.
“There was a time in that game when we were ahead and doing great and it just kind of went south on us,” Carroll said. “That play has been a pretty famous play and I’m glad for Dan. That’s the only guy I’m glad for, that he pulled it off. It was a moment when things turned. We just couldn’t get it right. It’s one of the seasons that we didn’t finish very well. If I look back, I could have done some things differently. I’d do what I’m doing now. We’ve gotten a little better at that in years since then.”
Has he come full circle, then? “I hadn’t thought that. But I will for you right now,” he said. “No, I don’t feel like that. I think my first time in New York as the head coach was kind of in the middle of the circle somewhere, or maybe it wasn’t even a circle. Might have been some other shape. It was kind of a hairy time.
One year? Unfair? “Not one bit of me feels that way,” Carroll told the New York Daily News. “I’m not bitter or pissed off or frustrated. I don’t feel like I have to prove anything. I don’t have that in me at all. Everybody feels I should. That was just one messy year, a one-shot deal. I thought it was a blast being in New York. I thought it was awesome. It was a great time to be in a setting of that magnitude.”
He was given another shot shortly afterward, only to fail in three New England seasons and give way to a certain Bill Belichick. Never has a coach lost two NFL coaching gigs and returned to win a Super Bowl. Usually, a coach loses two NFL coaching gigs and is selling computer software. Instead, Carroll went back to college, built a dynasty and looks to become the third coach to win a Super Bowl and national college title, joining Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer.
Some of us shake our heads and ask how this happened. Don’t count his players among the doubters. “Coach Carroll has done a tremendous job making sure we’re prepared for that moment. We’re not going to shy away from it,” said Russell Wilson, the quarterback who morphed from a third-round draft pick to a Super Bowl starter in two years. I’ve always been told, `Don’t be afraid to excel,’ so that’s something we’re looking forward to.”
They can’t bring most of the raucous Seattle fans with them. But they have brought “Can’t Hold Us” for the MetLife Stadium sound system when they score touchdowns. An old football coach and a young rapper. Really cool.
“Knowing that he loves sports and he loves Seattle and and all that, it’s been a blast,” Carroll said. “He’s been a big factor. Every time we score a touchdown we play his music. It’s a big deal to us.”
The ceiling can’t hold him.