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Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - Page updated at 07:30 p.m.

Jerry Brewer
Pete Carroll: How basketball led Seahawk coach's success

By Jerry Brewer
Seattle Times staff columnist

RENTON — You can't fully understand Pete Carroll, the animated Seahawks football coach, without getting to know Pete Carroll, the avid basketball fan. He teaches with an oval-shaped ball, but he often learns from round ball.

To show the reach of March Madness, look now at the 61-year-old who plays hoops regularly, even after a knee replacement. "I'm down to my D game now," Carroll jokes, but he's still out there shooting and sweating, using the game as his favorite form of exercise.

Hoops of various sizes are all around the Seahawks' practice facility — outside, in the auditorium, over the door of his office. In his younger days, when Carroll was coaching the New York Jets and New England Patriots, people thought it was inappropriate for a football coach to spend so much time competing in pickup games. But, over time, winning and Carroll's personality have changed that thinking. Besides, when you hear about how basketball shaped the rock-star coach he has become, it makes it easier to appreciate his fascination.

Carroll, incandescent by nature, really lights up when discussing how he has been influenced by two late, great college basketball coaches: John Wooden and Jim Valvano. You'll hear those names a lot over the next three weeks. Wooden, the undisputed greatest college hoops coach ever, is always the standard. And this is the 30-year anniversary of Valvano's improbable 1983 championship at North Carolina State.

Lessons learned from Wooden are fundamental to the coach that Carroll is now. He opened his book "Win Forever" with an anecdote: In 2000, six months after the Patriots fired him, Carroll read Wooden's "A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court" and had an epiphany about his coaching career. He became obsessed with Wooden's famous Pyramid of Success.

The biggest message Carroll took from Wooden: It is imperative to have a philosophy and be able to articulate it. Then he went to USC and dominated. Now, Carroll is rewriting the story of his NFL head-coaching career.

Carroll marveled at how it took Wooden 16 seasons to win his first national title at UCLA. Then he went on a streak of 10 championships in 12 years, including seven in a row. Carroll's "Win Forever" mantra is merely an extension of what he gleaned from Wooden, which is that success can be cloned if there is a clear vision behind it.

"It just hit me," said Carroll, pausing recently to talk hoops at the end of an interview. "It hit me then that, once he (Wooden) got it figured out, that he was untouchable almost. It hit me how important it is to have your act together. Know your philosophy and know what you stand for and make it clear so that you can transfer it to the people around you.

"That influence has never left. It's why I'm here right now."

Carroll was a defensive coordinator and secondary coach at N.C. State from 1980 to '82. Valvano took over as the men's basketball coach at the same time. The brash, quick-witted New Yorker and the California cool defensive guru became friendly. Once, when Carroll was preparing for a job interview, he confided in Valvano. Jimmy V told him, "Come on, meet me in my office."

The two spent an entire Sunday afternoon talking about Carroll's career aspirations and strategizing how to reach those goals. Valvano, a dynamic speaker who later inspired the sports world with his courage fighting cancer and his 1993 ESPY Awards speech, was engaging and passionate.

"We talked about positioning yourself for your next opportunity, so that you get the things that you deserve and that you're worthy of owning," Carroll recalled. "He took me through a whole process of finding the truth, but also interviewing and presenting yourself in a manner so that you can best show what you're all about.

"It was a cool thing. At the time, we had a blast. And he had some great principles in there. I share it with all of my guys now, so that when they interview, they can kick ass, too."

Asked if Carroll got the job he interviewed for, he laughed and said, "No. I got the next one, though."

Monte Kiffin, perhaps Carroll's best friend in football, was the N.C. State coach back then. He was fired from his only head-coaching job in 1982. Carroll used those new interview skills to get a job at Pacific, his alma mater, as the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator. A year later, Carroll went to the NFL.

Surely, he carried a basketball under his arm during every transition.

"I love hoops," Carroll said. "People think I'm jacking around playing basketball. I'm not. I'm working out. And I'm learning."

And the Seahawks are now the beneficiaries of those lessons.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @JerryBrewer.

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