Given the opportunity to articulate what they'd want in a head coach, most players would say similar things. They'd covet honesty, fairness and intelligence above all else. Dictatorial is a quality they'd do without. Players basically desire a coach they can trust -- with their careers and with their dreams -- and they'd relish the chance to find such a man. That probably explains why Seattle's Pete Carroll is held in such high regard. No coach in the NFL can make players feel so good about coming to work.
A survey recently conducted by ESPN.com of 320 players revealed that Carroll is far and away the most appealing coach to play for these days. Carroll received 72 votes, or 23 percent of the final tally. Those numbers are more revealing considering that the second-ranked coach on that list, Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin, received only 44 votes, and the third, Denver's John Fox, garnered 25. Rex Ryan of the New York Jets ranked fourth with 23 votes. New England's Bill Belichick, a man with three Super Bowl victories, wound up fifth with 22 votes, tied with Kansas City's Andy Reid.
What these results tell us is that the bottom line isn't the most important factor in determining player happiness. If all they cared about was winning a championship, they wouldn't have picked five head coaches in the top seven who haven't hoisted a Lombardi trophy. Many players want to enjoy the journey as much as the final destination. This is where Carroll's true genius resides.
Carroll has gone out of his way to separate himself from nearly every other head coach who has worked in this profession. One visit to the Seahawks' offseason practices should tell an outsider that much. Carroll will blast music from players' iPods during full-team drills, interact with guests who come by to watch and carry himself as if he's the host of a house party instead of the multimillion-dollar face of an NFL franchise. He seems capable of having more fun in one afternoon than most coaches have in an entire season.
That unbridled pleasure is something players notice and share with their peers around the league. It leads to inspiration and interaction while creating a bond that is the foundation of Carroll's success in Seattle. He hasn't built the NFC's best team this season solely by knowing what kind of talent he needs to win. He also has done it by understanding the optimal way to use that talent once it arrives.
Carroll has introduced his team to such outside-the-box ideas as brain-performance testing. He has worked with a team psychologist who keeps "status profiles" on players -- charts that track how much sleep they're getting, how they're coping with stress and whether they're reaching their goals. Yoga and therapy are sold as reliable ways of maximizing potential. It's almost as if Carroll should be strolling the sideline in a tie-dyed T-shirt and Birkenstock sandals.