Win Forever

September 22nd, 2013 by Damon

This essay originally appeared in The Classical before the Seahawks/49ers game last week. I’ve expanded it into much more in A Competitor’s Guide to Existence: Meditations on Pete Carroll’s Win Forever Philosophy.

 

“After all I had been through, I was still searching for the exact vision and philosophy that would ensure my future success. As hard as it is to admit, I needed those challenges and some adversity to bring forth my truths, soon to be revealed.”

You are forgiven if you mistook the above excerpt, with its messianic overtones and comically stilted language, for Kenny Powers dialogue. It’s actually from Pete Carroll’s Win Forever, his 2011 memoir-cum-treatise on competition. The truths to be revealed: Pete Carroll is a competitor. He Always Competes. He is in relentless pursuit of a competitive edge. His goal: to Win Forever.

This Sunday, Pete Carroll will turn 62, making him fairly ancient for an NFL head coach, a position that demands months of sleepless nights and the flexibility to keep pace with the league’s rapid cycles of innovation. Yet Carroll stalks the sideline with unparalleled vigor, chomping his gum and hugging his dudes. He bucks conventional wisdom with quarterbacks built like cornerbacks and vice versa, and celebrates each big play as though it’s his first.

This Sunday, as he turns 62, Carroll will coach his Seahawks against their division rivals, the 49ers, in a battle of two of the teams most favored to win the Super Bowl. Whether his young Seahawks can go all the way is anyone’s guess, but one thing is for certain: Pete Carroll is going to compete.

What exactly does that mean? You could read his book for several hundred entertaining pages on the subject. However, like his role model in dynastic coaching success, John Wooden, Carroll has neatly compressed his thoughts on how to win into a pyramid:

 

Win Forever

 

To be precise, what Carroll and Wooden have given us are triangles, not pyramids. There is nothing inherently three-dimensional about the presentation of their hierarchies of values. But in the pyramid, they have seized an architecture of grandeur, and, especially in Carroll’s case, one can see why: It’s fair to say that any Pharaoh worth his khat was Always Competing, and if provisions in sarcophagi are any indication, Ancient Egypt’s monarchs surely intended to Win Forever.

At first glance, the words in Carroll’s pyramid may not entirely make sense. At second glance, the impression remains. Try drawing a Venn diagram of “It’s all about the ball” and “Everything counts.”

However, the great sports motivators often traffic in cryptic exhortations and baffling bromides. Pat Riley claimed he regularly texted Dwyane Wade with the acronym B.I.W., for Best In World, only he’d vary the font sizes of each of the letters between small, medium, and large. When Wade asked about the meaning of the shifts in font size, Riley said only, “Someday, I’ll tell you.”

Perhaps a madman’s intensity is the key that unlocks their wisdom. Perhaps what Riley and Carroll are selling is less their philosophies than their insane commitment to those philosophies. The medium is the message. It’s not hucksterism if you never break character. Riley once held his head in a bucket of ice water to show his Miami Heat players that they must want to win as much as they want to breathe. Carroll demands his entire organization be “all in” and proves his own dedication with an enthusiasm so unrelenting and grotesque that his biopic will have to star Jim Carrey. If his players are using Adderall, it may be just to keep up.

Whatever his secret, Carroll dominated college football for a decade and now, as a sexagenarian leading an NFL team stacked with elite players on rookie contracts, appears poised for another great run. It makes me wonder, could Pete Carroll actually Win Forever? And what would that even look like?

I’d no sooner ask Pete Carroll how long is forever than I’d ask Morrisey how soon is now. It’s a foolish student who spits the koan back at the master.

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