The pro-football washout turned college gridiron champ on leaving USC to return to coaching in the NFL—this time with the Seahawks
I had been head coach of the New York Jets and the New England Patriots. In both cases, I was fired. I didn't know if anyone would hire me again. I never lost faith in myself, I just wasn't sure if others would believe in me.
Getting fired made me come up with my own philosophy of coaching, my own belief system of what it took to win. When I became head coach of the [University of Southern California] Trojans, I was given the autonomy to put my philosophy into practice. Over the next nine years, I had the time of my life. We built one of the most dominant football programs in the country—winning seven straight Pac-10 titles and two national championships.
There was never going to be a good time to leave. It would have been easier to stay. The fact that we were under investigation by the NCAA had nothing to do with my decision to leave. I've been dealing with it for five years—I was numb to it. The way they come at you, you really do feel you're guilty until proven innocent. It's unfortunate.
The NFL is different. That's all I'll say. I had been approached a few times by the NFL over the years, but I never felt there was the right setting to support my approach. Seattle allowed me that.
The most difficult thing was saying goodbye to the kids. I could probably never enjoy any place more than USC. I was happy there, but the level of seriousness in the NFL is different from college. It's the highest level of competition, the most difficult, and therefore also the most rewarding. Some people said I was crazy to leave, but in my heart I knew I wanted the challenge of competing at that level again.
There's no question that the years of working at USC gave me the confidence to coach differently this time around. If you structure your life around a relentless pursuit of the competitive edge—always competing to be the best you can be—you'll win in sports, or business, or parenting, or any other situation. I have a much better sense of my own belief system than the last time I coached in the NFL.