RENTON, WA.—Pete Carroll took his Seahawks on bowling parties. He brought in high-profile guests and enlivened evening meetings so much the players' roars often shook team headquarters.
He had hip-hop and dance music blaring through training camp practices. There was even a VIP tent off the end zone - complete with a small, stocked bar in the middle.
Now that the rollicking camp some dubbed Club Carroll is officially over and the players leave the hotel and go back to families and video games each night, Carroll says he's learned lessons from his first NFL training camp since 1999.
Yet the former USC coach says there's still way more to accomplish with a team that is 9-23 the last two seasons.
"Camp has been really competitive. I really appreciate the focus from the players, and really the atmosphere we've had around it with the people being close to us. It's added to it to make this a really good event," Carroll said Thursday, minutes after he chatted and smiled with Seahawks owner and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen following practice.
"We needed to have a solid camp," Carroll said. "This part's gone well. We've practiced well. That doesn't necessarily you mean you will win the games, but hopefully it will help us out."
Winning over his new players is no longer one of his many needs in Seattle. They are crowing and tweeting over how cool Carroll is.
"Coach is soo tight! Team bowling match" rookie wide receiver Golden Tate posted on his Twitter page Tuesday night.
Veteran wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh saw two full days off inside the first 10 days of camp. He noticed Carroll had scheduled just five two-a-days in the entire preseason. And he proclaimed it the best camp he'd ever been in.
Then Carroll canceled one of those two-a-days.
When they practiced, these newly charged Seahawks often pummeled each other. Tackling wasn't encouraged - but wasn't punished, either.
Safety Lawyer Milloy was with Carroll when he coached the New England Patriots from 1997-99. He says Carroll has since learned how to preserve players.
Carroll said this is the way USC worked while winning seven consecutive Pac-10 titles and two national championships under him.
"Always been the approach. Really high, energetic practice really demands that they focus in on it - we don't stop from the moment we get out there," he said. "I want to make sure they don't wander in there focus and all of that, so that's part of the part of the energy that we generate around it.
"And then we rest well."
The tough-love part of that care is the competition Carroll constantly preaches. The coach and new, first-time general manager John Schneider have made a whopping 125 transactions since Carroll arrived in January. More than half the roster has been turned over since Seattle's last game of the 2009 season.
And even though the opener against San Francisco is only three weeks away, the roster churn isn't over.
"We are going to keep competing to find out if we can upgrade the roster at all times," Carroll said. "It's the theme of the program. We are going to let it live."
The biggest accomplishments of his first NFL training camp in 11 years:
-Finding a pass-rush defensive end to replace retired former Pro Bowler Patrick Kerney. Carroll calls Chris Clemons, acquired from Philadelphia in March for smaller end Darryl Tapp, "a great surprise for us. Chris has really sharp every day, and it's such a needed position to beef up the pass rush."
-Converting seldom-used 335-plus pound tackle Red Bryant into one of the biggest ends in the league.
-Getting proof former All-Pro Leon Washington, acquired from the Jets in April, is back from a compound leg fracture. Washington is likely to make his Seahawks debut Saturday night against Green Bay.
-Learning Mike Williams is ready for a return to the NFL. Carroll's former star at USC and former top-10 pick of the Lions ballooned out of the league for two years. But he's gone from a free-agent tryout in April to the third wide receiver with the starting offense on the first play of Thursday's scrimmage.
-And having successful surgery on his left knee. Carroll's nagging limp is almost gone.
As for what the Seahawks still need to do, Carroll almost sighs.
"Oh, there's everything," he said.