The NFL's Ultimate Comeback Coach - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The NFL's Ultimate Comeback Coach

The NFL's Ultimate Comeback Coach

By Nick Fouriezos


Because yogis and NFL coaches have something in common.

By Nick Fouriezos

The prototypical professional football coach could be tall or squat, though odds are good he will have a fiery glare. Most definitely, he’ll be prone to obscene outbursts and throwing headsets. But while the common sideline strutter is a bit gruff, a more Zen approach is paying off for one of the NFL’s top coaches.

The Seahawks’ Pete Carroll just became the first NFL coach to win five playoff games in which his team at some point trailed by eight points or more.

That’s right: Neither Vince Lombardi nor Mike Ditka nor even Bill Belichick is that good. Thanks to a wild 10-9 comeback victory over Minnesota on Sunday, the guy who was twice fired as a head coach is now in the record books. Of course, since his failed stints leading the New York Jets and New England Patriots in the ’90s, Carroll also has a Super Bowl under his belt — and a couple of college national championships. But just like his recent playoff teams, Carroll never gives up, and now he’s known as one of football’s most effective motivators. The key to becoming master of the comeback?

“Mindfulness,” says psychologist Michael Gervais, who, with Carroll, is co-founder of a leadership training program called Win Forever. Yes, it seems a bit new agey, but Gervais insists the word bandied about drum circles has surprising relevance on the gridiron too. “It’s in the same vein and tone as the samurai warriors, who were attracted to the Zen tradition of mindfulness,” he says. 

If you’re down a touchdown or two, it’s easy to get discouraged. Carroll coaches his athletes to live in the present and not beat themselves up over mistakes — a mental twist to the oft-repeated wisdom of taking “one play at a time.”  Sounds simple enough, but perhaps what differentiates Carroll is how he gets the message across, which involves quoting Jerry Garcia, handing out The Inner Game of Tennis like it’s a Gideon Bible and leading meditation sessions during which grown men visualize success while focusing on their breath. “The only competition that matters,” the guru writes in his self-help book, also titled Win Forever, “is the one that takes place within yourself.” (Carroll’s reps declined to comment. Perhaps because he’s busy visualizing knocking off the Carolina Panthers this weekend.)

Of course, playoff comebacks involve some luck too. The Seahawks would be sitting at home this week if Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh hadn’t shanked a gimme. And Carroll was also on the positivity track back in the days when he wasn’t making comebacks, so … “People would dismiss him as Pom-Pom Pete,” says Rob Asghar, who studies leadership as a fellow at the University of Southern California, where Carroll once coached.

But there are also those who would say it was only a matter of time before Carroll started winning. “When there’s that [positive] DNA at the top, players really start to think it’s no sweat,” Asghar says. “Even if they’re down eight points.”

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