Although the Pete Carroll feature we ran on Sunday was lengthy, there was quite a bit that didn’t fit in the paper, so I thought I would toss in a few more things and give the blog folks a little background on the story.
Coach Carroll gave me about a half hour of time in his office. I think he liked the idea that the story was going to be about some of his off-field passions and not so much about football. When he was hired, we covered almost every possible football angle, anyway, and I was intrigued by what I’d read about his involvement with A Better LA foundation, a non-profit outfit he helped establish that works to funnel funds and resources into the toughest neighborhoods to fight the spread of gang violence.
This guy is hyperkinetic. He was at his computer with music going (Moby Grape, he pointed out at one point). As he answered questions about the foundation, he played with a soccer ball almost non-stop. To almost every question about his direct influence, he deflected the attention to the people in the community who “are doing the real work.”
He said there had been some concern in LA that his move to Seattle would disrupt the program. “The work is way bigger than me,” he said. “All that I can do to help support it I’ll do. In talks with the Seahawks about coming up here, they made it clear they were more than willing to help the process. I know that Tod (Leiweke) is committed to generating the same kind of impact in areas of the community … to extend whatever we can in this direction as well.”
As I researched A Better LA, I saw an interesting name on the board of directors … Tim Leiweke, Tod’s brother. If we wondered why Carroll’s name came up so quickly as a candidate for the Seahawks, it would appear that’s an obvious connection.
I interviewed a lot of sources before talking to Carroll. To be real honest, my initial impression of Carroll was that he was one of those “pep-talk” kind of coaches. Sometimes when coaches are glib and shiny, it seems like a veneer, that it hides an absence of substance. Here’s what turned me around in a hurry on Carroll: When I started talking to LA police officers, and they were in absolute awe of the guy. There were a couple long-time cops, with decades of experience dealing with gang violence, that I talked to. Both of them, independently, called Carroll their “hero.” These are hard-edge, no B.S. guys. Guys who have lost partners to gang violence. They said that Carroll’s ability to bring attention to the problem is one thing, and it’s important, because he can tap into the money down there. But the bigger thing is that he’s for real, and goes out there in the middle of the night for heart-to-heart talks with these kids and their families. Very impressive.
One of the cops described some of the gang members Carroll addressed. He said some of them were the absolute baddest of the bad-asses, who would listen to nobody. When Carroll showed up … they listened. I asked them if they thought this actually translated into lives being saved. They said they were certain of it.
Sgt. Curtis Woodle said: “I’ve been in the force for 25 years and we never had this kind of support.”
Another source that was very moving was Joe Danelo, the old Cougar placekicker who had a nice NFL career. I had talked to him a time or two years and years ago. I remembered that his son, Mario, was a kicker for Carroll at USC and had died after a fall off a cliff. I didn’t want to stir up bad memories, but I wondered if Joe would want to talk about Carroll’s reaction to the tragedy. I got Mrs. Danelo first, and she said they loved coach Carroll, but it was just too hard for her to talk about, although she was sure that Joe definitely DID want to talk about Carroll. Joe, a longshoreman in San Pedro now, said that Carroll donated money from his speaking engagements to set up a scholarship fund in Mario’s name, and that he came out to the house several times. Aside from his appreciation for all the thoughtfulness, Joe said: “I wish I was 30, 35 years younger so I could have played for him … the guy is an unbelievable coach.”
More background on Carroll and his involvement can be found on-line by digging up a “60 Minutes” feature that was done in December of 2008. I thought it was all a pretty interesting look at another side of the guy you’re going to be seeing on the sidelines.