Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll rallies his players in the early morning… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
RENTON, Wash. — An entire wall is consumed by three massive televisions, each with the volume turned up. On the left, it's Lions versus Bears on "Monday Night Football." In the middle, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are going head to head in the third debate. On the right, the San Francisco Giants are securing a World Series berth.
Glued to all three at once is Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll, his eyes darting from screen to screen. He's positioned behind his desk in his corner office with three more glowing distractions in front of him: oversized computer monitors for breaking down game film.
"This is the best I've had it right here," Carroll almost shouts over the noise, watching the TVs like a transfixed trader on the floor of the stock exchange. "I've never had all this available before."
Carroll, the former USC coach, once had a brain-analysis test that characterized him as having "high neuro-agility," which apparently is the technical term for a no-huddle, hurry-up attention span.
"If he only had 13 things on, I think he'd be bored," said Chris Carlisle, Seahawks strength and conditioning coach. "He'd need that 14th thing on."
Welcome to Carroll's world, where tracking 14 story lines constitutes a slow day. Last month, he gave a Times reporter a week's worth of behind-the-scenes access to what goes on at Seahawks headquarters, what happens in meetings, and how a game plan is formulated and installed.
In a sense, the 5-4 Seahawks mirror their coach. They are energetic, competitive, and have concentration issues resulting in a string of close losses on the road. The team that is 4-0 at CenturyLink Field is 1-4 away from home.
Seattle has the NFL's third-youngest roster — including rookie Russell Wilson starting at quarterback — and the second-oldest head coach, which seems like a mismatch. But few coaches are as youthful as the 61-year-old Carroll, who seldom stops moving around the sprawling facility and always looks as if he's about to break into a jog. There's no hint in his stride of his recent knee replacement.
"It's constantly surprising to see somebody who's older than my dad have that kind of energy," said Carroll's right-hand man, Ben Malcolmson, 27, who won acclaim at USC when he went from student journalist to walk-on receiver. "Everyone has their ups and downs, times they just want to chill and relax. With him, it's never, 'Hey, I'm going to take a nap for 15 minutes.' It's nonstop."
Everywhere you turn at team headquarters there's a basketball hoop, either full-sized or miniature, including one over the door to Carroll's office. Critics snickered at his penchant for basketball games in his first NFL head coaching gigs with the New York Jets and New England Patriots. The implication was that it was undignified for a coach to be playing pickup games during any spare moment.
But Carroll hasn't changed his interactive style. He might be the only NFL coach who wears receivers gloves to practice. He needs them, because he spends half the session playing catch with Jake Briggs, 22, an assistant equipment manager. The coach isn't ignoring his players, he's simply multi-tasking.
"Yes!" Carroll shouts, raising his arms overhead to signal touchdown. An instant earlier, he'd flung the football about 35 yards through the basketball hoop on the sideline. He spends the better part of practice trying to re-create the shot, clanking several off the rim yet never matching the swish.
Carroll and Briggs play catch every practice, and even on Sundays during pregame warmups. Although he was a safety at Pacific, the coach has a good arm. He can routinely heave an NFL ball more than 50 yards but uses a smaller version for his annual birthday ritual of throwing his age, one yard for every year.
"Fortunately, we played in Denver this summer," Carroll said, referring to the thinner air. "I hit 60 about three or four times in a row. Then somebody said, 'Try this ball.' It was a smaller one, and I hit 63 or something like that."
Said Briggs of the daily games of catch: "I guess it keeps him loose."
That's key to Carroll, and a philosophy he employs with his players. He wants them to go 100 mph, test their physical and mental limits, then — at the appropriate time — to take their foot off the accelerator.
"The reason it's so important to have this atmosphere is I want these guys to be alive, I want them to thrive," Carroll said. "Think of your favorite teacher you ever had in school, the one who made it the most fun to go to class. They surprise you. They keep you guessing. They keep you coming back, wanting to know what's going to happen next."