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What We Can Learn From Pete Carroll: How to Explain a Bad Call on the Fly


The sound you heard yesterday was a cry of anguish going up in the PayScale offices, as the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl at the last possible moment. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell called a slant pass that resulted in quarterback Russell Wilson throwing an interception, giving the game to the Patriots … and spurring a lot of not-even-Monday-morning quarterbacking by critics eager to point the finger at coach Pete Carroll. Carroll’s response shows us a lot about how to handle bad calls in our own working life.

pete carroll 

(Photo Credit: Keith Allison/Flickr)

“There’s really nobody to blame but me,” Carroll said. “I made the decision. I said, ‘Throw the ball,’ and we went with the play that we thought would give us a chance to get in the end zone. We had great matchups for the call that we made, and it didn’t work out. They made a better play than we did.”

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What can we learn from this?

1. Take responsibility.

Carroll’s willingness to step up and take the blame not only lets Bevell and Wilson off the hook, it strengthens his team’s chances of holding it together in the wake of what could be a devastating psychological blow.

“This will be a critical repair job by Carroll that will test all his famous skills of motivation and morale-building,” writes Larry Stone at The Seattle Times. “Losses like this have the potential to take on an afterlife. Though most players refrained from criticizing the play call at the end, some second-guessing leaked out. I’d suspect the majority wondered the same thing as the rest of the world: Why in the world didn’t he give the ball to Beast Mode?”

2. Be able to back up what you’re saying.

The elegance of Carroll’s mea culpa was blighted only by his explanation of the reasoning behind the call.

“We were going to run the ball in to win the game, but not on that play,” Carroll said. “I didn’t want to waste a run play on their goal-line guys. It was a clear thought, but it didn’t work out right. The guy [Butler] made a play that no one would have thought he could make.”

If that seems like an odd choice to you, you’re not alone.

“With less than half a minute to play down 28-24 in a Super Bowl, he thought it was sound strategy to kinda, sorta waste a play. Lynch was ready to clean up the mess, anyway,” writes Ian O’Connor at ESPN. “But every coach and player and fan knows an incompletion isn’t the only unfortunate thing that can happen when a quarterback looks to pass. He can get sacked. He can get stripped of the ball. And he can get outsmarted by an undrafted rookie out of West Alabama.”

3. Understand that there’s never just one way to make a call — and sometimes, your choice will be wrong.

Seahawks fans can take some solace in the fact that not everyone agrees that Carroll blew the game. Justin Wolfers at The Upshot lauds the call as an example of what game theorists refer to as a “mixed strategy.” The idea is that if you’re an NFL coach debating which call to authorize, you also have to take into consideration that you’re not making the decision in a vacuum — there’s another coach on the opposing side, also thinking strategically. Thinking randomly, the theory goes, is the best approach.

Regardless of whether you’re looking at the outcome from the perspective of a game theorist, a sports journalist, or a pro football player, the bottom line is clear: you won’t make the right call 100 percent of the time. All you can do is make the best choice you can, give the information you have, and then take responsibility for what you chose.

Tell Us What You Think

What do you think of Carroll’s explanation? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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