Carroll takes off: Seahawks coach opens first training camp with music blaring, fists pumping
RENTON, Wash. – Pete Carroll's fists were pumping to the blaring rap of Jay-Z.
He was clapping, smiling and running with the thumping music and through the morning fog. He led his Seahawks in bounding joyfully over blocking pads in a rousing drill he calls "The Bags," as defensive players whooped it up behind him.
He threw passes to the secondary in an interception drill. Later he got too involved, pushed away by a lineman who was trying to get into his stance.
After it all, after he had offensive players running laps for fumbles and botched snaps, the 58-year-old coach exchanged high-fives with some of the 1,500-plus fans who watched the start of training camp.
Later he signed footballs, flags, caps, his new book "Win Forever" and T-shirts — including scarlet-and-gold, USC one with "Fight On" printed across the front. He smiled at that, then signed his name across the young woman's shoulder.
Carroll didn't just conduct his first practices as Seattle's frenetic new coach on Saturday to start his first NFL preseason since 1999.
He lived them.
"It's so much fun," Carroll said following more high-fives in the evening practice. "I feel very fortunate. Feel a bit like a little kid out here playing around and having fun with it.
"I'm having a ball."
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck became Seattle's starter in 2001 and has played for three head coaches since. The three-time Pro Bowler said he was called to a meeting with Carroll this week — on the one-hoop court Carroll had installed beside the team's headquarters.
"We talked over a game of one-on-one basketball," Hasselbeck said. "And he was in flip-flops.
"Pete came in and said he wanted to change the culture ... and this culture that he's trying to establish here is so much different," Hasselbeck said of a team that was 9-23 the last two seasons. "There's just a different feel to the start of this training camp. There's a different feel every day you come to work. Not that the old one was bad, it's just very different. And it's working."
Carroll's idea is the same as it was at Southern California, where he built a dynasty for a decade then left for Seattle in January, before the NCAA slammed the Trojans with sanctions. He wants to make it ultra competitive, yet fun for his players every day.
He had a huge black scoreboard with the mandate to "ALWAYS COMPETE" painted on it installed this week. It hovers ominously over the northeast corner of the practice field to keep score during drills.
Even in July, Carroll wants practice day to simulate game day.
"Whenever you are out there stretching there is music — he's trying to make it feel like a game," Hasselbeck said. "The energy we feel off the crowd is real."
Leon Washington was running with Carroll. The recent Pro Bowl kick returner with the New York Jets participated in individual drills and was held out of team scrimmaging nine months after a compound leg fracture put his career in doubt.
"It's just great to get to accomplish one of my goals, which was to get back on the field for the first day of training camp," Washington said, grinning. "With all the energy out there, I wanted to jump right in there."
At one point in the morning, Carroll was talking excitedly inside the defense's huddle. As it broke, 325-plus pound Red Bryant grabbed Carroll and just about threw him out of the way as the tackle scrambled to get into his stance before the offense snapped the ball.
Carroll just laughed, regained his balance and backpedalled away.
"Coach Carroll, I feel like he wants to put the pads on," Bryant said about a half hour later. "He's so energetic, so I was not surprised he was in there.
"He be everywhere."
Former USC receiver Mike Williams is getting a second chance at an NFL career with his old college coach. How does this camp compare to Carroll's with the Trojans?
"It's better," Williams said. "It's a lot of fun. ... You know, players reach just like everyone else and (we know) not a lot is expected in the first year for a team going in a new direction. But we've collectively bought in, man."
His reputation as a players' coach is growing. Carroll is giving his guys the day off from practice on Wednesday, just the fifth day of camp. Five days later they have another rest.
Carroll says it's to preserve the players for the season, and to make these practices more intense.
He had them out in shoulder pads and thumping each other to the turf on the first day.
Cornerback Kennard Cox hit Louis Rankin into the sideline with a shoulder drop at the end of a running play. Starting linebacker Leroy Hill put wide receiver Deon Butler into the boundary after a catch, drawing "oohs" and hooting from teammates, coaches and fans.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh is in his 10th NFL training camp. Seattle's leading receiver said this was the first time he'd been in shoulder pads on the first day of camp.
"This might be the best I've ever been a part of," he said. "With the players' schedule he's made, you have to work hard — but they are taking care of you."
Houshmandzadeh says he and his teammates are stoked.
"With Coach Carroll everything is just like it is in a game. Really," he said. "The head coach is running around, I see him throwing the ball around in drills.
"Now, it's just a matter of next week, can we maintain this energy?"
Carroll conquered that challenge at USC, and intends to again in Seattle.
"Sure," he said of the task of maintaining this. "But this is the way we do it. It's something we are going to try to champion."