In 1999, Pete Carroll was a nearly broken man. Despite making the playoffs in two of his three seasons with the New England Patriots, he was fired from the head coach position. It appeared that Carroll just didn’t have the chops to be a successful head football coach.
Carroll wasn’t new to coaching – his first gig had been in 1977 as a graduate assistant at Arkansas University, working under the legendary coach Lou Holtz. He had spent over two decades since that first job in a myriad of different college and professional coaching positions. So, why couldn’t he make it happen in New England?
Carroll decided to take a year off from coaching, both in order to let his ego recover and to sift through the possibilities of what his professional future looked like. An avid learner, Carroll picked up “A Lifetime of Observations On and Off The Court” by John Wooden, quite possibly the most successful basketball coach of all time.
“Something I read just hit me right between the eyes. I slammed the book shut and knew my solution”, Carroll later recalled.
A life philosophy. A mantra. A guiding light. This seemed to dictate so much of Wooden’s success.
Wooden had created a pyramid of success, listing traits that he looked for in a successful team member, traits he attempted to portray.
He even boiled his definition of success into one sentence: “peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable.”
We talk about success a lot, but do you have your definition neatly carved out like Wooden?
Carroll didn’t. And he knew it.
He took on the challenge of doing the difficult internal work to get there. When was he at his happiest, his proudest, his most peaceful? What is the key piece that makes him, him?
He finally captured it. “I’m a competitor”, he thought to himself. Carroll wasn’t the biggest, fastest or toughest football player growing up, but he always competed hard and took pride in that fact.
“Reading Wooden, I realized: if I’m going to be a competitor, if I’m ever going to do great things, I’m going to have to carry a message that’s strong and clear and nobody’s going to miss the point ever about what I’m all about.”
Caroll also sought inspiration from Grateful Dead lead singer Jerry Garcia. Garcia said that he didn’t want his band to be the best ones doing something. He wanted them to be the only ones doing it.
“That’s a thought that guides me…We’re going to do things better than it’s ever been done in everything we do and we’re going to compete our asses off. And we’ll see how far that takes us.”
The next year Carroll won the head coaching job at USC, despite being their fourth choice. He restructured his coaching style to match his authentic life philosophy. Everything the team did was focused around competition, doing things uniquely and having fun.
The results speak for themselves.
Carroll’s USC Trojans didn’t just do well, they dominated. Accomplishments include winning back-to-back National Championships in 2003-2004, seven consecutive top-4 finishes, an 83% win record, and three Heisman Trophy winners. In 2007, ESPN named USC its Team of the Decade from 1996-2006.
Not bad for a guy who “didn’t have the chops” to coach.
He took this philosophy to the NFL, helping propel the Seattle Seahawks into the 2013 Super Bowl Champions and a league powerhouse.
Enough about Pete.
You didn’t come here for a football history lesson.
What about you? Do you have a philosophy? A word, a phrase, a paragraph that is uniquely yours?
Decipher my whole life in a sentence – who has the time? Or the mental energy?
I have to work, and take the kids to soccer practice and get to the gym and to church and…
I’d argue that you don’t have time NOT to work on this.
Because, like waiting for muddy water to distill, your world becomes much clearer with a life philosophy, with a mantra.
You suddenly have an answer to the questions you’re facing: the moral dilemma in your relationship, your goals for the month, and even how you carry yourself walking up the street.
Do the dirty work. Fight the internal boxing match.
Who knows: it may be exactly what you need right now.