How We Play Football in Seattle
Welcome to Tuesdays with Richard on Thursdays, a weekly multimedia series featuring Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. Throughout the 2016 season, Richard will provide a unique and intimate glance at his life behind-the-scenes and on the field, across articles, photos and videos.
I was angry … no, I was pissed.
It was a Saturday evening in April. The 2011 NFL draft had just concluded. The Seahawks had taken me in the fifth round with the 154th pick. I didn’t know much about Seattle, but I knew I would be playing for Pete Carroll, a coach I knew well from playing against him at USC when I was at Stanford. I wasn’t angry that the Seahawks drafted me. I was excited for the opportunity, and to play for Coach Carroll.
I was angry because I knew I was better than a fifth-rounder. Better than 154th overall. Better than a Day 3 prospect. Better than most, if not all of the 33 defensive backs taken ahead of me.
Inside, I could feel my own fire. I was burning. I was ready to go to Seattle to compete and prove all the doubters — all 31 teams that had passed on me — wrong. And one of the first things I did when the draft was over was pick up the phone and call somebody else who I knew had that same fire.
I called Doug Baldwin.
“I want you in Seattle with me,” I told him.
Doug and I played together at Stanford, and I knew that after watching all seven rounds of the draft go by without hearing his name called, he was sitting at home just as angry as I was — maybe even angrier. I called him because he’s the kind of guy I want on my team. He had that chip on his shoulder — he still does. He’s like the receiver version of me. And I knew that on a Pete Carroll team, he would have a chance to compete and show what he was capable of, just like I would.
Compete, compete, compete.
If there was an over/under on how many times Coach Carroll would say that in a day, I’d take the over every time. His coaching philosophy is to create a culture of competition. I didn’t recognize it right away when I got to Seattle. I was a part of his second Seahawks draft class, so Coach Carroll hadn’t yet fully implemented it. It takes time to change the culture of an organization. But over time, you could see the change. He started purging the guys who didn’t buy in. There were older guys who thought they were too good for practice — that they could sit out most of the week and just play on Sundays. They were the first to go, replaced by Doug and me and other guys who were also hungry and ready to work, including Ricardo Lockette, Bobby Wagner and Jermaine Kearse. By the end of my second season, Coach Carroll’s philosophy had started to manifest itself.
You could tell, because it felt like college.
When you’re getting ready to make the jump to the NFL, people tell you that it’s a business. That you’re not going to make friends. That everybody is trying to butter their own bread, trying to feed their families. That it’s every man for himself.
Then, you get to Seattle and play for Pete Carroll and …
Nah. It ain’t like that. Not here.
Coach Carroll is the coach who plays music in the meeting rooms and throughout practice. Macklemore, Future, Ice Cube — whatever we want. He likes old-school Snoop Dogg and Ice-T, and he’ll slide in some of his golden oldies like James Brown every now and then to mix it up, too. He’s the coach who’s known for stopping everything in the middle of practice to take the whole team to ride go-karts.
Eighty-some football players out there dragging on a go-kart track. Can you imagine that?
We have a full-size basketball hoop in our meeting room, too, and we have a shooting competition that runs throughout the season — it’s heads-up, bracket-style, and you get 30 seconds to hit as many shots as you can … in front of the whole team. Winner moves on. At the end of the season, the last man standing gets a huge trophy and bragging rights.
Coach brings in guest competitors, too. One year, it was Jason Kidd. Steve Kerr came in once and lost in a shootout to Bryan Walters, one of our receivers at the time. He was a sharp-shooter.
Just recently during camp, Isaiah Thomas came in and shot a perfect 12 for 12 to take down Tyler Lockett. The whole meeting room went crazy.
And all this happens first thing in the morning. So before we’ve even really started the day, we’ve already competed.
Compete, compete, compete.
That philosophy carries over into practice each week as well.
It starts with Competition Wednesday. This is where the one-on-ones take center stage. We focus on the individual battles, and at our team meeting on Thursday morning, Coach Carroll plays a highlight tape from the day before. He also keeps a chart where keeps track of which side won the most one-on-one matchups, offense or defense, to determine who won the day.
It’s really a point of personal pride. You don’t want to be the one who contributed to your side losing. And remember … we’re watching the highlights as a team, so we’re all seeing who got beat, and how badly.
That in itself is motivation enough to handle your business. Nobody wants to be on the wrong end of a highlight.
It’s the same idea for Turnover Thursday (or, for the offense, No Turnover Thursday). That’s where the defense focuses on hunting for the ball — trying to get that golden egg — and the offense does its best to protect it. We focus on turnovers every day, but it’s particularly relevant on this day because the next morning, in the team meeting, Coach Carroll will have his highlight tape ready, and we’ll see who won the day.
Then we have No Repeat Friday, which basically means, Do it right the first time. No repeats. And Coach Carroll will call attention to individual matchups and poke and prod guys to try to get them to make a mistake.
His tactics may sound like gimmicks, but they’re much bigger than that.
They promote his culture of competition.
I remember in 2014 when I was renegotiating my rookie contract. John Schneider, our general manager, asked me, “Who are you going to be after you get paid?” It was a fair question. You’ve seen it before: A guy signs a huge contract, then stops playing hard because he’s already gotten paid. He’s made it.
I reminded John: fifth round, 154th pick, 34th defensive back taken. I had that chip on my shoulder. I still do. It’s permanent. I told him that I don’t play football for the money. I’m playing to prove people wrong and to be the best to ever play the game. That’s still true today.
But think about it: Even after I signed, I still had to go back to those morning meetings. And contract or no contract, I never want to be the guy on the wrong end of a highlight. Accountability is built in. If you stop working and playing hard, your teammates will notice. And you won’t stick around long.
So because of this culture Coach Carroll has created — and the players he’s brought in to support it — the highest-paid, most acclaimed players also tend to be the hardest-working guys on the team, setting the tone for everybody else and giving the young guys examples to look up to.
Establishing a culture is a difficult task. But it won’t help you win if you can’t find players who will thrive in that environment. I think Coach Carroll and John Schneider have done a great job of bringing in guys who embody their philosophy. Guys who have that chip on their shoulder, who want to compete.
A true competitor understands that competition brings out the best in people, so he embraces it. When you get a locker room full of true competitors, like we have, you get guys who are not afraid to help the men behind them improve, promoting even greater competition. A guy is gunning for your job, but you push to make him better anyway because you know it will force you to work that much harder to beat him out, and in turn make you better.
When you have that kind of culture, and players who appreciate and admire each other, you can win a lot of football games.
Any time Doug makes a big play, I get so juiced. I’m usually the first one on the field to celebrate with him. The same is true when I make a big play. If I break up a pass or get a pick, there are guys on the field who don’t get to me as quickly as Doug. He’s always there.
It goes back to our time at Stanford. We had this saying — a motto.
Be happy for another man’s success.
Doug and I each went through a lot of struggles together around the same time at Stanford. I saw him get stuck on the scout team his junior year when he should have been the No. 1 receiver playing with Andrew Luck. He saw me struggle as a junior when I moved from wide receiver to cornerback. Throughout those struggles, we picked each other up. We helped each other along. So we’ve always found great joy in each other’s success.
That’s why I called him after the draft. I wanted a guy like him on my team.
I don’t think either of us realized that when we got to Seattle, we’d eventually be surrounded by a bunch of guys just like us.
When you see guys compete every day and you see how hard they work, you develop respect for them. You see them struggle and you see them grow, and they see you do the same. You become invested in one another’s development and excited for each other’s success — like Doug and I have been since our days at Stanford.
The culture of competition cultivates these types of relationships. When you care about each other as football players, you organically begin to care about each other as individuals, as human beings.
Take Earl Thomas, for instance. If you’re having a tough day at practice, Earl might come over and clap his hands together — SMACK! — right in your face. “C’mon. Wake up!”
On another team or in another camp, a guy might see that as a sign of disrespect. His machismo might kick in and he might get defensive like, Why you comin’ at me like that, bro?
But in Seattle, when somebody like Earl does that, there’s no conflict or confrontation because you know he’s coming from a place of love. He’s trying to wake you up and get you to where you’re supposed to be. Everyone knows Earl is the energy — the spark plug in our practices — and that you can depend on him to be flying around, giving it 100% every day. If there’s a day when you feel like you just don’t have it, you can look to Earl and find it. He’s a guy who’ll break his back to help you, and he expects the same in return. Nothing less. You respect that.
He’s the same guy who makes sure my kids’ birthdays are on his calendar so he can send gifts.
And you respect that, too.
I can’t do what I do on the field without Earl. I can’t do it without Kam Chancellor or the rest of my Legion of Boom brothers. And without guys like Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and the guys along the defensive line, there would be no Legion of Boom, because it all starts up front. Those guys don’t get nearly the credit they deserve.
But they’re O.K. with that. They, like the rest of the guys in our locker room, know it’s about something bigger than themselves.
Take Jermaine Kearse, for example. Another undrafted guy with something to prove. The Pete Carroll special. Everybody remembers my play on Michael Crabtree (and what came after) from the NFC championship game in 2013. What they don’t remember is that it was Jermaine who scored the touchdown that gave us the lead late in the fourth quarter. And when people talk about our run in 2014, they talk about the Super Bowl. They forget that Jermaine caught the touchdown in overtime against the Packers in the NFC championship game.
Two years in a row, Jermaine made the play that sent us to the Super Bowl. And people don’t even realize it.
But he doesn’t care. He’s not interested in getting the credit. He’s just interested in winning.
Those are the kinds of guys we have. It’s all part of the plan for Coach Carroll and John Schneider.
Sometimes, when we bring new guys in and they see the way we practice and the way Coach Carroll runs things, they say, “Is it always like this?”
Yes. We have fun at practice. We compete every day. We keep it loose, and when it’s time to go to work, we go to work. All Coach Carroll requires of us is that we do our jobs and be ourselves, because that’s the reason all of us are here — because of who we are as individuals as well as football players.
Doug and I try to have dinner together as often as we can. We talk football, mostly. We eat, sleep and breathe it. It’s hard to turn off. But sometimes we talk about our journeys from Palo Alto to Seattle. How we ended up here, together. Sometimes we can’t believe how it all worked out.
Every day, I feel lucky to have been drafted by the Seahawks. We have a crazy team with some chaotic dudes — a bunch of alphas. Wolves that could each lead their own packs, but instead come together to achieve something greater than any one of us.
And it’s no coincidence that Doug and I are among them. I think Coach Carroll and John Schneider knew exactly what they were doing.
For more from Richard Sherman throughout the 2016 NFL season, visit his Tuesdays with Richard on Thursdays page.