Photos by Austin Vogel.
Former USC football head coach and current head coach of the reigning Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks Pete Carroll came to the Bovard Auditorium Wednesday evening to discuss his “Win Forever/Always Compete” high-performance mindset and how his personal philosophy could be applied in business and in life.
The discussion was hosted by the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Marshall School of Business and moderated by the center’s co-director and adjunct professor David Belasco. Carroll’s appearance comes roughly two weeks after his daughter, Jaime Davern, and Seahawks team psychologist Michael Gervais led a classroom of USC MBA students in a daylong seminar about Carroll’s secrets to success.
Carroll, who won two national championships in his time at USC, started by speaking about his earlier experiences as a coach in the NFL, particularly in regard to his time as a head coach of the New York Jets and the New England Patriots. Carroll recalled a time when he was in the office of former Jets general manager Dick Steinberg. Jets owner Leon Hess was in the office, and Carroll had just come off a 6-10 season.
“I walk into Dick Steinberg’s office … and I sit down, shake hands, and [Hess says], ‘Pete, a man in your position in the business world would resign. But I know you’re not going to do that … so you’re fired,’” Carroll said. “I said, ‘This is the most amazing that’s ever happened to me … I’m going to Disney World!’”
That type of optimism was the underlying message of the event, where Carroll preached about the importance of bouncing back from adversity and maintaining a positive attitude in the face of enormous pressure.
Carroll also analogized the Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory to USC’s 2004 national title win over the Oklahoma Sooners: Both Carroll teams arrived to their respective title games with a surreal amount of composure. Carroll chalked up his success in both games to ample preparation and an intense focus on the matter at hand.
Students walked away with quotable anecdotes and inspirational aphorisms. George Andrews, a junior majoring in chemistry and accounting, was particularly inspired by Carroll’s message of giving one’s best effort, regardless of circumstances.
“My biggest [takeaway was] one word: grit,” Andrews said. “One of the examples he used was if you have a job to do, you’re going to be paid $2 but give it a $3 effort- — you’re going to go above and beyond whatever your call to duty is.”
Things took a turn for the unexpected when Carroll was explaining the story of a particular Trojan receiver. As Carroll recounted the story of a certain receiver’s lack of athleticism in an attempt to catch a Matt Leinart pass during one of the Trojans’ practices, Anchorman star Will Ferrell identified himself in the story and made a surprise appearance at Bovard Auditorium to re-enact, and defend, his poor pass-catching skills. The entrance of Ferrell drew raucous applause from the capacity crowd at Bovard.
Current USC football head coach Steve Sarkisian also made an appearance. Carroll praised his former quarterbacks coach for his “mental agility” and revealed that Sarkisian had received his full endorsement prior to his departure.
“I tried to get the administration to guarantee [Sarkisian] would be the next coach if I was leaving,” Carroll said.
Carroll closed his presentation with words of encouragement for the students. Laura Coholan, a senior majoring in political science, was particularly struck by Carroll’s delivery.
“At the last minute, he gave an inspirational talk to everyone,” Coholan said. “You really felt like he was talking to you as though he was talking to a player on his team.”
In a press conference that immediately followed the event, Carroll took time to address the issue of the NCAA sanctions that affected USC. Carroll was outspoken in his criticism of the NCAA sanctions.
“We made some mistakes along the way, but I never felt like [the sanctions were] dealt with properly,” Carroll said. “I felt like it was dealt with very poorly, very rashly and done way too much with emotions instead of facts. Unfortunately, the kids who played in the program after the fact were the ones who got held down.”
When asked if he would have done anything differently, Carroll expressed regret at the lack of knowledge of the NCAA’s intentions, saying he would have been open to fixing issues in the program if the NCAA had intended such.
“We just didn’t know what was going on. Had we known, I think we would have fixed it and did the right thing,” Carroll said. “I sat in the meetings, I heard the people talk, I listened to them talk about our program. They didn’t understand a thing about what we were about. They never wanted to hear it.”
In addition to the NCAA’s unwillingness to take a rehabilitative approach to programs facing scrutiny, Carroll was critical of the NCAA’s punitive approach, saying that the NCAA’s investigation was philosophically flawed and wrongly focused on punishing entire programs for the actions of a handful of individuals.
“The philosophical approach from the NCAA is about punishing a school,” Carroll said. “It’s people who cause these problems, it’s people who have nothing to do with the university and the direction and the focus [of the NCAA] is that, ‘well we can’t do anything about that, so let’s just punish the school.’”
Carroll’s departure from USC was marked with allegations that he took his current post as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in an effort to avoid facing NCAA sanctions. But Carroll’s return to Bovard Auditorium suggested a different tone: The audience’s chants of “We love Pete,” the arrival of comedian Will Ferrell and USC’s “Fanfare” played by the Trojan Marching Band ensured that Carroll will be a lifelong Trojan.