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Super Bowl coaches: the leadership of Carroll and Belichick

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Super Bowl XLIX: Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (left) and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll talk at midfield before a game between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, October 14, 2012, Seattle, Washington (Credit: USA TODAY/Joe Nicholson)

The Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots will meet this weekend in Super Bowl XLIX (Super Bowl 49 for the less Roman numerically inclined among us). While neither team is short on personalities and star players, they are perhaps best known for their coaches. While Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick, head coaches of Seattle and New England respectively, have both built their successful runs around a culture that brings out the best in their players, they have taken what appear to be dramatically different approaches to doing so. Yet despite the apparent dissimilarities, we can learn much from the leadership styles of both men to help us in our walk with Christ today.

The first lesson is that both coaches have found success by staying true to their respective systems, even in times of trial. Earlier this season, both teams faced periods of adversity that had many analysts questioning whether or not the systems in place were still effective. In both cases, the coaches maintained confidence in the system they had set in place and the results are clearly demonstrated by the fact that they have gone a combined 20-2 since those moments of doubt en route to winning their respective conferences.

While past success is not always a guarantee of future achievement, the greatest mistakes in leadership often happen when one allows momentary concerns to trump proven principles. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells a parable about two builders. The wise man built his house upon the rock and it was able to withstand the storm while the foolish man built his house upon the sand and it was washed away (Matthew 7:24-29). If you lead from the strong foundation of God’s word and in accordance with his will, you need not be afraid when the storms come because you can be confident that your foundation is strong. Even if the house begins to shake around you, the greatest error would be to abandon what God has proven to be the right in an effort to build on something else. Have faith in the firm foundation of Christ and not only will God help to see you through the storms that come your way, but he will better equip you to lead others through those storms as well.

The second lesson comes from the way that neither Carroll nor Belichick have allowed a person’s past to put an irrevocable stain on his future. While the culture each man has cultivated is vastly different, both have found success in offering redemption to those players that other teams have passed over. Pete Carroll accomplishes this feat by encouraging his players to be themselves while still helping those around him to work together towards a common goal. As Carroll has described, this success is possible because “we’re doing this one person at a time… It’s one person talking to one person and transferring a person with a vision of despair to hope. We have to sculpt a vision for those types of people. So it isn’t so hopeless.”

Contrast that with Bill Belichick, who has found his success largely through an emphasis on conformity. As Michael Roberto has said, “under Belichick, the system is the star… It works because Belichick runs an absolute meritocracy.” Essentially, Belichick has created a culture where your ability to buy into the system and produce is far more important than your draft pedigree or previous accomplishments. While such an approach has not made him the most beloved of coaches, as former Patriots cornerback Ty Law has said, “he has the respect and the ear of every player.”

Similarly, in Christ, our past does not have to define our future and it is the same for those around us. As a leader, it is crucial that you leave room for God’s transforming power in your evaluations of a person. Do not give up on someone simply because they have made a mistake in the past. Exercise wisdom and discernment, but make sure that you leave room for grace and redemption.

Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick have both found success because they had faith in bedrock principles of their respective systems and because those principles enabled them to take chances on players that others might have rejected. My prayer is that, in Christ, you will find the strength and confidence necessary to show similar resolve as you lead according to his example, showing God’s grace to those around you in route to leading them to be more like Christ as well.