Engel: Carroll, Harbaugh couldn't be more different -- and that's good

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Jen Floyd Engel

Jen Floyd Engel, selected as the top columnist in the 2012 Associated Press Sports Editors annual contest, started working at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997 and became a columnist in 2003 before joining Sports opinions? She's never short of them. And love her or hate her, she'll be just another one of the boys. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook.



“What’s your deal?”

That deliciously snarky and completely honest postgame question uttered by Pete Carroll to Jim Harbaugh so long ago, when both were still coaching college, has taken a life of its own. And now, with the NFC Championship upon us, WYD has been once again trotted out as proof that “They Do Not Like Each Other”, that this is personal, that sides must be taken.

Team Harbaugh. Or Team Pete.

I do not buy this story line, not the hate part at least.

Dislike and hate require a certain proximity not in evidence. Whatever the deal is between Harbaugh and Carroll (and there is definitely a deal) it feels more like a lack of understanding than hate, like if Barbara Bush and Jay-Z were tossed into an arena together.

What is more likely is Carroll looks at Harbaugh, even now, and wonders “What’s this dude’s deal? Why doesn’t he chill out?” and Harbaugh probably looks at Carroll and thinks “He knows this is football, right? He needs to grow a set.”

What they do not understand in the other, of course, is what makes them fascinating studies to everybody else — a self described jackhammer of a personality with tunnel football vision going against …

“… the polar opposite of that,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said when asked to describe his coach.

A thesis could be written on their contrasting style but I am in Seattle this week; my assignment to cover the outlier.

I arrived here half expecting what has been described as a yoga retreat with pads, with mediation and hoop shooting and just general looseness not usually seen in a championship week. There is no doubt it is laid back here but also that this has been overblown.

As Carroll deadpanned: “I’m not leading the meditation. I might be able to but I’m not.”


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Just Thursday they were talking about the “significant special meeting” Carroll had with the defense after a particularly bumpy stretch where the message, to paraphrase, was quit being girl parts. He told them to return to physical, hard-nosed tackling and, for God’s sake, hit somebody. And as far as anybody could recall, this speech did not end with Namaste.

The Zen of Pete Carroll, as it turns out, has little at all to do with yoga, meditation or even that he lets them shoot baskets during meetings. It is nothing they do at all. It is in the ways he looks at his players and how he treats them — as individuals.

“We’re trying to find guys that have unique ways about them and qualities and try to allow them to demonstrate that in the way they perform,” Carroll explained. “Part of the process is figuring out who you are and what you are so that you could do that consistently and be at your best.”

So in Seattle, Russell Wilson gets to be insanely intense him while Sherman gets to be all-in on what makes him him — hyper vocal, trash-talking, chip-carrying poet laureate of the Legion of Boom. There are no exhortations to tone it up or turn it down here.

Honestly and truly, Carroll wants characters.

More importantly, he wants them to be themselves.

This goes against almost everything we know about football where square pegs are repeatedly hammered in round holes through gassers and f-bomb filled meetings and in extreme cases, like with what allegedly occured to Jonathan Martin, much much worse.

No judgment. This way works.

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What fascinates me about Carroll is in a profession of hard asses, of yellers and screamers, of workaholics, of task masters and double-bypass candidates he has embraced a very unique and different him.

And that he did so even after failing.

After failing spectacularly in New York and then New England.

“I tried (being me) when I was 24 and the coaches yelled at me when I was an assistant on staffs. They thought I was crazy trying to do what I was trying to do,” Carroll said when I asked about this Thursday. “I thought I was wrong because they told me I was. … All I got is this. So this is the way they get it, and if it doesn’t comply with the way our people do it I can’t do anything about that.”

This is the Zen of Carroll, and probably what makes him so incomprehensible to a guy like Harbaugh. And really to most NFL watchers because how Harbaugh handles things is how we are used to NFL coaches being and how Pete handles things is so not that way at all.

So what’s the deal?

“What the deal, huh?” Carroll said, repeating the phrasing of the questioner with a bemused chuckle.

The answer is actually a yogic one.


The divine in me honors the divine in you, even if in this case they do not understand each other at all.

Tagged: Seahawks

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