Author's influence has GM John Schneider focused on obstacles, ego

RENTON, Wash. -- When John Schneider got a call about the Seattle Seahawks general manager opening back in 2010, one of his first orders of business was to rip out 30 pages from the binder that contained his plans for how to run an organization -- specifically, the part about identifying head-coaching candidates.

The Seahawks presented an unusual situation. They had already hired Pete Carroll. And because of Carroll's previous experiences with the New York Jets and New England Patriots, it was important for the coach to have final say on personnel matters before taking the job -- a qualifier that might have scared away some GM candidates.

"The way those guys sold the opportunity, and then meeting Pete, it was like, 'OK, this is going to work,'" Schneider said. "He wanted to make sure that he had input into who the person was going to be that was running football operations and that he could have legitimate influence. He hadn't had that before. He had it at USC when he was picking high school players, so he didn't want to just drop that."

In their six seasons together, the Seahawks have made the playoffs five times, gotten to the Super Bowl twice and won it once.

Asked last offseason for the key in building harmony between the coaching side and the personnel side, Schneider said, "No ego. Ego is the enemy."

It's a phrase he repeats often, and "Ego is the Enemy" is also the title of a book by 29-year-old author Ryan Holiday that Schneider has read and handed out to members of his staff.

Schneider first heard of Holiday while at Marcus Mariota's pro day workout in 2015. Schneider was talking to Mike Lombardi, who was working for the Patriots at the time. Schneider was peppering Lombardi with questions about Bill Belichick, and Lombardi mentioned another book by Holiday: "The Obstacle is the Way."

"He said, 'That's really where you would get a great vibe for what [Belichick] is like and what his philosophy is and how he approaches life and his football culture and all that,'" Schneider recalled. "I went out and purchased it right away, and it was awesome.

"Because you can have your core philosophies and be plugging along every day, but no matter what happens -- in any industry, but in this industry especially because it's so public people know what your issues are -- things come up every single day that you have to embrace. Otherwise, they'll just crush you. That's really what that book is about -- all these different cool leaders and people who have done special things and why they were able to do the special things."

"The Obstacle is the Way" uses examples from Marcus Aurelius to Ulysses S. Grant to Mahatma Gandhi to show how people have not only overcome obstacles but also benefited from them.

It's an idea that has spread throughout the Seahawks' organization. Carroll, for example, pumped his fist earlier this week when he was reminded that the Seahawks' roster is made up of 27 players (50.9 percent) who were originally undrafted.

"That means that we've chosen guys on the team that bring the right stuff," Carroll said. "That have the right attitude, right kind of grit, the mentality, as well as the ability to persevere and hang on and fight through the challenges of being kind of an underdog. We don't treat them like underdogs, but I know they think they are. They feel like that when they start here."

Carroll and Schneider have become infatuated with building a culture of grit and have researched how to identify those traits during the pre-draft process.

Holiday visited Seahawks training camp in August and discussed with Schneider the idea of finding players who have overcome obstacles on their way to the NFL.

"We were talking about that in the sense that if you make it in the NFL, you've already been really good at football at different stages in your life," Holiday said. "You were good in high school. You were good in college. But undoubtedly, this is going to be the hardest thing you've ever done. So if you fall to pieces, if that's the first time that you've ever bumped into your capacities as a human being, that's a really bad time for that to happen.

"So I think one of the reasons they probably look for adversity is the same reason ... wouldn't you rather find out what you're made of when everything wasn't on the line? I think that's why they look at that. The book is about people who not only dealt with obstacles but somehow were improved by them. It's not just, 'OK, they can deal with stuff?' But actually this person gets better when they're tested and challenged. Undoubtedly you're going to be challenged and tested throughout the course of a season."

In "Ego is the Enemy," Holiday references the Patriots and how instead of patting themselves on the back for selecting QB Tom Brady in the sixth round, they used the selection as a tool for self-evaluation. What signs did they miss when passing on Brady in the first five rounds?

It's an idea Holiday refers to as "maintaining your own scorecard," and Schneider finds great value in it.

"The self-scouting never stops," Schneider said. "You're constantly evaluating where you're at, where you're going, and where you've been, what you've done. We've made plenty of mistakes, and the sooner that you're able to identify what you perceive as mistakes or deficiencies, the quicker you can overcome those deficiencies."

Schneider encourages members of his staff to keep their own book with notes on how they'd handle certain situations.

"It always helps me to go back and read about the previous year's draft -- what happened in a specific draft, what this round looked like, what that round looked like," Schneider said. "If that player was going to be there, who was there, how did it go? Kind of like a map of how the draft went. Same thing in free agency with different negotiations. How would you change? You are constantly going back and evaluating what you are doing. We have strong, core beliefs. But we don't think we are smarter or better than anybody else. We are just going to keep pushing and trying to learn from each other."

Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett had Holiday sign copies of the books when he visited. And it's clear the ideas are having an impact even on players who have not read the books.

In Week 12, the Seahawks turned in their worst offensive performance of the season, managing one field goal on 11 offensive possessions in a 14-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Afterward in the locker room, much of the focus was on finding a way to get something good out of the loss.

"That little bit of adversity is OK," running back Thomas Rawls said.

Added wide receiver Tyler Lockett, "Everybody needs these types of games. It's not like something where we're just going to put our heads down and give up. Everybody needs those games."

The next week against the Carolina Panthers, the Seahawks scored a season-high 40 points. Since Russell Wilson became the quarterback, Seattle has never lost back-to-back games in the second half of the season.

"Winning and losing is obviously important, but the stoics talk a lot about making the distinction between what you control and what you don't control," Holiday said. "What you control is your own performance, and you have influence over the end result, but you don't control it."

In "Ego is the Enemy," Holiday begins with what he calls "The Painful Prologue." It's a first-person account of critical points in his own career when it seemed the wheels were coming off. His personal story was one that Schneider connected with. He was vice president of player personnel with the Washington Redskins in 2001. The team went 8-8, and owner Daniel Snyder fired Schneider and others after the season.

"I went through that in Washington," Schneider said. "I was here for a year. I was 29 years old. And then I went to Washington to run football stuff, and I thought I had all the answers. And I didn't. It was a huge learning process."

There have been many factors in the Seahawks' recent run of success. They found their quarterback and used the draft and player development to build an elite defense.

But the relationship between Schneider and Carroll, scouting and coaching, has been key.

"The times that I had worked with coaches that were unable to see the personnel side, it was not a good fit," Schneider said. "You had these walls. And we don't have walls. Just try to work together all the time. [Co-director of player personnel] Trent Kirchner can go to [offensive line coach] Tom Cable's office and go to [defensive coordinator] Kris Richard's office. Everybody just works together because we have that common goal. Usually, if somebody does get out front with an ego, we give them enough s--- to pull them back."

Holiday wrote the two books hoping they could have an impact in the business community. Instead, they have spread throughout the sports world.

Alabama coach Nick Saban invited Holiday to talk to his Crimson Tide squad during the summer. Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is a fan of Holiday's work. And others – such as Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon -- have also read the books.

"I thought that there would be this hunger in the business community to read, and actually it's in the sports community that they want that mental edge," Holiday said. "And they'll do whatever it takes to get it."