The hippies win the Super Bowl - New concepts to coach a winning team - by Gary Silverman - ft.com
The hippies win the
By Gary Silverman in New York
Love and wholesomeness help ensure the other side is battered
know that many of you don’t like American football. It is violent and militaristic,
and a disturbing number of its players wind up with devastating injuries to their
brains and bodies. Even so, something happened at last Sunday’s Super
Bowlchampionship game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos that
you should know about.
The hippies won. It didn’t say so on the scoreboard, which showed that Seattle
demolished Denver 43-8. But the game was nonetheless a triumph for the New Age
ways of the old Woodstock nation.
If you are seeking mindfulness, or empathy, or any of that other touchy-feely stuff Oprah Winfrey is
always talking about, you need look no further than the champion Seahawks. They are the National
Football League equivalent of a West Coast commune, growing groovier by the day under the guidance
of a forever-young 62-year-old guru of a coach called Pete Carroll.
A product of the San Francisco suburbs that gave the world the comedian Robin Williams, Carroll
once told a local newspaper that he was inspired by an observation of the late Grateful Dead guitarist
Jerry Garcia – who “didn’t want to be the best at doing something, he wanted to be the only one doing
As a result, no football coach does things quite like Carroll. His players stretch their muscles in
mandatory yoga classes and quiet their minds at meditation sessions conducted by a resident
psychologist. They work out to music played by a team disc jockey, and eat organic fruit and
vegetables from local farms, and free-range chickens fed leftovers from the Seahawks’ dining table.
When a Seahawk fails to hustle at practice, the club checks the amino acid levels in his blood for
abnormalities, according to a team profile written last year by ESPN’s Alyssa Roenigk. If none is
found, the player and coaches talk things over – quietly. “Yelling and swearing are frowned upon” by
the Seahawks, Ms Roenigk wrote, “and every media interview with a player or coach ends with a thank
you to the reporter.”
This ethos made Seattle’s performance in the Super Bowl all the more remarkable. The Seahawks
didn’t just beat the Broncos. They beat them up – playing a brand of physical, attacking football that
left even Peyton Manning, the supremely cerebral quarterback of the Broncos, looking dazed and
The football world couldn’t help but notice that Carroll got these results by being nice to his charges –
a big change from the old playbook. The emblematic coach of the past was someone like the late Paul
Bryant of the University of Alabama, who was called “Bear” because he once wrestled one, and grew so
high and mighty that a rival said: “In Alabama, an atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in Bear
Carroll emerged at the Super Bowl as a very different kind of authority figure. ESPN commentator
Steve Young – a Super Bowl champion quarterback himself, and a descendent of Mormon leader
Brigham Young – told Carroll that he had taken coaching to “another level” by looking at his players
“holistically” and “making their whole life better ... whether it is mental, physical or spiritual health”.
Carroll reinforced that message on Super Bowl night in his own idiosyncratic way, which involves the
frequent use of the word “up”, so that he speaks of “loving up” his players and “brothering up” with
colleagues. “We tried to take care of the whole person,” he said, “and love these guys up and figure out
what they could possibly become and help them get there.”
Carroll probably falls short of sainthood. Only months after he left his previous job, as football coach
of the University of Southern California, the school was penalised by the US collegiate athletic
authorities for rule violations during his tenure. ESPN also reported that since Carroll joined Seattle,
his team has had more players suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs than any other.
But given the regard Americans have for successful football coaches, I suspect that we will see more
people with Carroll’s sunny-as-California countercultural style and sensibility running things in this
Carroll’s smiley face is the new look of American power and the traditionalists among us will just have
to get used to it. The great and the good no longer get what they want by donning dark suits and
standing sternly on the sidelines. Now, they pull on a hoodie, put their hand on your shoulder, ask you
how you feel and love you up.