Pete Carroll hasn’t appeared to age much since the New England Patriots fired him after the 1999 season.
His hair has a few more strands of white today than it did in the late ’90s, but Carroll always was prematurely gray. What has changed for the Seattle Seahawks’ head coach since his three years of disappointment with the Patriots is his public persona, which has forced the world to turn around him.
Carroll is still rah rah. He’s still a players’ coach, and he still has the same positive outlook. Now that’s translating into success rather than failure.
Carroll has come a long way since he took over the Patriots in 1997. He’s still viewed as a bit of a joke by New Englanders, but he also was put in an impossible situation during his time here.
Bill Parcells had taken the Patriots to the Super Bowl in 1996 and decided to jump ship for the New York Jets the next season. Parcells was known as a no-nonsense coach, cut from the same mold as Bill Belichick. Players were cut down by Parcells for failure. Parcells famously referred to Terry Glenn as “she” while the wide receiver recovered from an injury during his rookie season.
Carroll was and still is the complete opposite. And when the Patriots’ players finally were allowed some freedom, they walked all over their new head coach. As the team got more disobedient, New England’s record suffered for it.
After going 11-5 in 1996, the Patriots dropped to 10-6, 9-7 and 8-8 in the next three seasons under Carroll. They went 1-2 in the playoffs, and it didn’t help that Drew Bledsoe, once believed to be the savior of the franchise after going No. 1 overall in the 1993 NFL draft, worsened year after year. In 1999 — Carroll’s last season — Bledsoe threw 19 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions with a 56.6 completion percentage and a 75.6 passer rating.
Carroll probably wouldn’t have succeeded as a head coach regardless 15 years ago, but he was put in a terrible situation with a team that needed control.
It looks bad that Belichick was able to come in and take the Patriots to their first Super Bowl title just two years after Carroll left. But the Patriots also went through a 5-11 season in 2000 and, of course, Belichick won that title with a new quarterback at the helm — just some guy who’s gone on to be one of the best signal-callers of all time.
Part of Carroll’s success in Seattle, besides turning himself into a great coach during his nine years at USC, was building confidence — not only in himself but also in his future players and the fans around him. By the time Carroll took over the Seahawks in 2010, few (outside of New England) viewed him as the coach bookended by Super Bowls with the Patriots.
Carroll had become the fiery USC coach who won two national championship and whom opposing college coaches and players feared. Carroll brought in so many Pac-12 players in Seattle not only because he knew them but also because they knew him.
Carroll built his team around young, homegrown players — ones with short memories who grew up hearing of Carroll’s dominance, not his ineptitude. Everything Carroll convinced his players was true, of course. He’d just done an amazing job of making the world forget about the Pete Carroll who couldn’t control his players and nearly sank a Super Bowl contender.
The Carroll of 1999 would have been blasted for allowing Richard Sherman to rant against Michael Crabtree. But that’s just the way the Seahawks are run under Carroll. And as long as they’re having success, it doesn’t matter who’s in the headlines and for what reasons.
Failed NFL head coaches should look at Carroll’s nine years at USC as a blueprint — fail, find success elsewhere, convince the world you’re a winner and it might just come true.
Carroll has the chance to complete his turnaround Sunday. As the second-oldest head coach in the NFL, Carroll has found new life. And with a ring and a win over Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLVIII, Carroll might even make New Englanders forget those three lost years in Foxboro. Follow @DougKyedNESN
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