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Pete Carroll’s new competition

I think it probably started with my older sister telling me that only fat people had dimples.

"See, they have them on their thighs, but yours are on your face!"

For years, I covered my face when I laughed, afraid to expose evidence of the extra cookies I ate in my closet that week. Years later, a guy told me "I love your dimples," and I figured he had a thing for chubby chicks.

Cynicism comes naturally to me. Besides the fact that my childhood home consisted of an attorney, an attorney's wife, an emotionally abusive older sister and two sneaky little brothers who had an affinity for sticks and stones (literally), I've always had a knack for what I like to call the "Oh really's".

It doesn't help that the news has evolved into a 24-hour "look who screwed up" cycle either. To add insult to injury, regular Joe's discovered they could get in on the fun, and blogs exploded with commentary on everything from a reporter's outfit to an 18-year-old athlete's exploits with an overeager sorority sister.

The constant flow of negative yet hilarious-until-it's-about-you commentary has the potential to impact society so appreciably that any positive discourse is just, well, unbelievable.

Enter Pete Carroll.

The first time I met Coach Carroll was after a practice at USC. I'd finally witnessed the practices I'd heard about for years. Upbeat, intense, almost like an organized party. The music blared over the loud speakers and the players were yelling and smiling through the sweat.

Finding Coach Carroll at practice was almost like finding Waldo. The old white guy blended in perfectly with guys twice his size and half his age. Go figure.

Just when I was ready to label him a "player's coach", he called the team into a huddle.

Even though I was almost twenty yards away, I could hear every word. When Coach Carroll spoke, everyone was silent.

When he spoke, he spoke with absolute certainty. It was a "we know we're gonna win!" kind of attitude... something he won't have to teach his "we want the ball and we're gonna score" QB in Seattle.

It's that aura, if you will, that can make a cynic uncomfortable. It's an unshakeable confidence that isn't dependant on the outcome. It's a refusal to be a product of circumstances.

At his first book signing in Columbus Circle for his just released Win Forever: Live, Work and Play Like A Champion, Coach Carroll spoke to a crowd of New Yorkers about the circumstances that led him to write the book.

"The reason for writing this book, really, was to help us generate revenue to take money towards the foundation."

Riiight, Coach. I've heard that before.

Later I learned that 100% of Coach Carroll's portion of the proceeds goes straight to his foundation, A Better LA. He won't see a dime.

In his same, "this is the best day ever" style, Coach proceeded to explain the concept behind the Win Forever philosophy and how it led him to start A Better LA, which supports inner city communities in Los Angeles as they fight gang violence.

Wait a minute. Then why were Snoop Dogg and Suge Knight on the USC sidelines?

My mind immediately went to the sanctions.

What if the NCAA had it all right? What if they were cheaters? What if Coach Carroll knew it was all coming out and took the first opportunity to get out of Dodge?

When news broke that USC had been hit hard by the NCAA, the chorus resounded.

"I knew it!"

There's just no way a Coach can be that nice, that fun, that positive and win that many games, that well and that convincingly without any shady operations.

Now I could go back to my life, confident that all was right in the world and convinced that my cynicism hadn't betrayed me after all.

I took the easy way out.

Unless you're a die-hard Trojan fan, it's easy to think the worst of Pete Carroll. It's like when you found out the pretty girl in junior high got pregnant at 17. You just knew it would happen. Maybe you even hoped it would happen. She just seemed too perfect, too good to be true.

But then I read the book. Page after page I waited for it... blame, resentment, some evidence of bitterness. Or maybe a scandal or betrayal, even just a tone of mockery. You know, the good stuff. My insatiable craving for juice, some semblance of negativity, was unsatisfied.

Even his description of his relationship with former New York Jets owner Leon Hess, who fired him after one season, came across as self-deprecating and understanding.

Then it hit me. Coach Carroll is not a cynic.

"By returning to the truth of who we were and by looking forward to the challenge of our next opponent, we were able to be incredibly resilient, in spite of any adversity. We never dragged the past along with us, because the past is not a place where we can compete." (182)

I know, it's not going to make the nightly news.

"This just in... Coach Carroll encourages people to discover who they are, always compete, turn negatives into positives."

Hey news guy, no one cares.

So maybe he should have known what was going on under his watch. But what if we assumed the best? What if he's telling the truth? What if he didn't know?

Nah, it's too hard.

Believe the guy with all the success, all the money, and all the accolades? Believe he did everything with integrity, to the best of his ability? Believe he took the job in Seattle because it really was the opportunity he'd been waiting for?

Can't do it.

I kept reading.

"I can't say this more loudly or any more clearly: Competition is the central theme in the Win Forever philosophy. "(84)

It may not be about athletic performance for me anymore, but without knowing it, I had entered one of the toughest competitions in my life. Every time I assumed the worst, figured he was "just like everybody else", presumed upon all of my pre-conceived notions, I lost.

I'd been losing to the status quo that says winning coaches always cheat, happy people aren't really happy and when people get caught, they lie.

The critic cowering inside of me, questioning intentions and calculating responses, was the JaMarcus Russell of consciences... all of the potential but none of the fight.

In an industry where people are paid for headlines, "Coach Carroll is an honest man" just doesn't cut it.

It takes work to believe people. Hard work.

Fortunately, I hate to lose... even to my own cynicism.

"If you want to Win Forever, Always Compete."