Harbaugh wins, Carroll loses

October, 31, 2011
10/31/11
2:56
PM PT
Two NFL coaches called risky plays Sunday, plays that seemed to have as much to do with feeding their egos as they did with giving their teams the best chance to win a game.

With time running out in the first half, on fourth-and-2 at the Cincinnati Bengals 3-yard line and down 17-3, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll decided to go for it. The Seahawks were stopped, and went on to lose the game, 34-12.

Afterward, Carroll tried to brush off the decision with a glib “confession.”

"We learned something about what happens when a coach gets hormonal and tries to jam it down their throat for a touchdown at the half -- a mistake," Carroll said.

It was classic Carroll. Funny, self-effacing, cool. He said stuff like this throughout his tenure at USC to deflect and dismiss controversy. And it would have worked well again in this instance.

If the Seahawks had won the game.

But they didn't, so instead of getting praised for his swagger and guts on Monday, he is called arrogant.

Sunday's loss dropped the Seahawks to 2-5 on the season, making Carroll just 10-15 since leaving USC to return to the NFL.

Jim Harbaugh has the 49ers off to a swaggering 6-1 start that has San Franciscans talking about home-field advantage in the playoffs, not simply making it in for the first time since 2002.

On Sunday, with his team slogging through an ugly game against the perpetually .500-ish Cleveland Browns, Harbaugh got tricky, twice.

In the first quarter, he made left tackle Joe Staley's career by calling a short pass play that Staley turned into a 17-yard gain to help set up a field goal. With three minutes left in the fourth quarter and the 49ers up just 17-10, he called a pass to nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga on a critical third-down play. The big man hadn't caught a pass since high school, but this one worked perfectly. The 49ers sideline went nuts as as he rumbled 18 yards up the field to set up another field goal.

It was classic Harbaugh. Aggressive, bold, probably a little too tricky for his own good, and quick to take a bow when it all worked out in the end.

Like many others, I've watched both coaches jump to the NFL with close interest.

For all their differences, they are more alike than either will ever admit. Take away Harbaugh's corny stories about old military heroes and Carroll's Ray Bans and circle of celebrity friends and they aren't all that different.

They are, at their core, two men fueled by swagger, competitive fire and the kind of daring arrogance that engenders love and hate in equal measure.

Right now, San Francisco is loving Harbaugh because Alex Smith completed those passes to Staley and Sopoaga on Sunday. But if the 49ers had lost to a mediocre Cleveland Browns team, would the music on Monday morning sound a lot more like what Carroll is hearing in Seattle today?

Later on, I'm sure Carroll will tweet out a song of the day.

But it always sounds a little more upbeat when his team lives up to his bravado.

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