By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - With his unbridled enthusiasm, high octane energy and unusual motivational techniques, Pete Carroll was something of a new-age coach ahead of his time when he started out as an NFL head man nearly 20 years ago.
Now that approach is praised up and down the Seattle Seahawks organization as Carroll has the club within one win of their first Super Bowl crown.
Carroll, at 62 the league's second oldest head coach, still blares music during practice, encourages competitive basketball and bowling between the players, and exuberantly runs down sidelines during games to follow the gridiron action.
In his fourth year steering the Seahawks, he stresses intense competition as a basis for rewards and devotes himself and his assistant coaches to figuring out the best way to utilize the specific skills of each of his players.
Team owner Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft and Seattle native, is a big fan of the coach, a former defensive coordinator whose team was dominant defensively this season in posting a 13-3 record.
"I have never been around such a positive, engaging coach that connects with each player at that level of intensity," Allen told the Seattle Times.
"It's really amazing. Pete really stands out because of his positivity and his ability to connect."
The still youthful Carroll has assembled the second-youngest team to play in a Super Bowl and groomed numerous Pro Bowl players from lower-round draft picks including cornerback Richard Sherman (fifth round), safety Kam Chancellor (fifth round) and quarterback Russell Wilson, a third-round pick.
The youngsters feel no generation gap with Carroll, who fuels their high-speed practices with pounding music ranging from rap to soul, from hard rock to country and western, to be as inclusive as his football family.
Linebacker Heath Farwell, a nine-year veteran who previously played for Minnesota, said Carroll's passion and energy set him apart.
"Everything he does is just so positive," Farwell told Reuters. "His energy in practice, his energy on game day. He's always up, always positive. He always gets the most out of the guys. We love playing for him."
The modestly sized Carroll played some college football, but his future was in coaching and the Californian worked his way up the college ranks to a job coaching defensive backs with the Minnesota Vikings.
There he learned from head coach Bud Grant, who had taken the Vikings to four Super Bowls.
"The confidence that he exudes going with what he believes in his gut was extraordinary to me," Carroll said. "He didn't care what anybody else thought and he was really clear about how he expressed that."
After five Minnesota seasons he became defensive coordinator for the Jets and graduated to head coach there in 1994.
A tailspin at the end of his debut season, in which some disgruntled defensive players held a mutiny after being benched and refused to return to the field, finished a 6-10 record and Carroll was fired.
Following a stint as 49ers defensive coordinator, Carroll held the New England Patriots head coaching job for three years, succeeding Bill Parcells before giving way to Bill Belichick.
It took a move away from the NFL and to the college ranks for Carroll to prove to himself he was on the right track.
Finally given a large measure of control over selecting players and putting his own program in place, Carroll thrived at the University of Southern California.
In nine seasons he compiled a 97-19 record and claimed two national college championships, although NCAA sanctions over improper gifts received by Reggie Bush lowered his official record during his tenure to 83-19.
The Southern Cal success paved the way for Carroll's return to the NFL as Allen hired him to steer the Seahawks.
"I don't know if it's modern, it's just the only way I know how to do it," Carroll said about his coaching style. "I understand that guys do respond pretty favorably.
"They respond by the way they practice and the way they play. We've created a culture that hopefully allows for guys to be at their best."
Described as the ultimate players' coach, Carroll said he just tries to create an environment that promotes excellence.
"It's interesting to hear so many ways to explain it - laid back, free willy, whatever - we run this program with extraordinary standards in how we prepare every day, with expectations that they're going to be working their tails off every single step of every single practice.
"When we get in games, it's not a different situation for us. I don't believe that people are very good at turning things on and off when it comes to intensity."
During Super Bowl week, like every other, Wednesday's practice was "Competition Wednesday," with players getting in the mood by going full speed.
"Turnover Thursday" challenges the team's defense to get as many turnovers off the offense as they can.
The next day is "No-Repeat Fridays." Defensive end Cliff Avril explained, "You can't repeat plays. Guys have to be on point as far as the mental part of the game. It's more mental than physical."
Then there is Sunday, this week coming against Super Bowl opponent the Denver Broncos.
They call it "Win Day".
(Editing by Gene Cherry)