Monday, February 3, 2014
Pete Carroll: From Jets castoff to champion
By Rich Cimini
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Nineteen years before his confetti shower Sunday night at Super Bowl XLVIII, Pete Carroll was a guy without a job. It was early January 1995, and he walked into his owner’s office, carrying a binder that included his offseason plan for the New York Jets.
Carroll had gone 6-10 in his first season as head coach, but he had worked a week of 15-hour days when the season ended. Now he was looking forward to presenting his strategy to 80-year-old Leon Hess, best known for his expertise in oil, not football. Carroll sat in an anteroom with colleagues; it was like being outside the curtain, waiting to see the Great Oz.
His meeting with Hess lasted only 45 seconds, according to a person who was there -- a dark chapter Carroll has refused to discuss.
"I'm done," a stunned Carroll told a friend as he walked out.
Rock, meet bottom.
Carroll rebounded from that low point, reaching the top of his profession on the same plot of swamp land in New Jersey on which he failed in his first head-coaching gig. The Super Bowl was over almost as quickly as his meeting with Hess all those years ago, as the Seattle Seahawks jumped Peyton Manning and cruised to a 43-8 rout of the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium.
A nice guy finished first.
Afterward, Carroll stood at an interview podium, with two pieces of green confetti shimmering in his silver hair. At 62, he was the third-oldest coach in history to win a Super Bowl, a twice-fired NFL head coach who bolted his USC dynasty before the NCAA posse arrived in town.
Now, he's a Super Bowl champion.
"Is this vindication for the 'spike' play?" he asked, alluding to Dan Marino’s legendary fake spike in November 1994 -- the play that doomed Carroll.
Looking into the cameras, Carroll said, "Hey, Marino, you got a lucky freaking play, all right? It happened. That was a long time ago."
Carroll never got a chance to use that meticulously prepared plan in New York, but he saved it and -- with help from general manager John Schneider -- rebuilt the Seahawks with that very blueprint. It was on display on the sport's biggest stage. To say the Seahawks dominated would be like saying their owner, Paul Allen, is rich.
The Seahawks captured their first Super Bowl with a performance that reflected Carroll's personality. They were loose and confident, energetic and California cool -- not bad for a team that had no players with previous Super Bowl experience.
Carroll set an early tone with trickeration, an end around for Percy Harvin and a throwback pass to quarterback Russell Wilson. The latter didn’t work, but it sent a message.
Carroll, all about having fun, was going to play this game the same way. Hey, maybe he learned something from funny man Robin Williams, an old high school classmate. In contrast, the Broncos were tight, and it showed on the first play -- a miscommunication that resulted in an errant shotgun snap and a safety.
Twelve seconds into the game, the score was 2-0.
It felt like 22-0.
Before it was over, the Seahawks had scored almost every way imaginable -- a safety, an interception return and a kickoff return. All three phases contributed to a monster performance.
"That’s exactly how we try to play," Carroll said. "We’ve put that up pretty consistently for a lot of years -- not just [in Seattle], but for a lot of years. I'm thrilled that it came out so clearly, so obviously, because that's how we wanted to put a stamp on a world championship."
Throughout the blowout, Carroll never stopped being Carroll, bouncing around, patting rears and slapping shoulder pads. Back in the day, he was mocked for his player-friendly style, and critics claimed he was too nice to be a leader of men.
The criticism resurfaced in 1999, when he was fired by the New England Patriots after three seasons. The daunting challenge of succeeding Bill Parcells proved too great for Carroll. It ended with another owner, another meeting and another pink slip.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll stayed true to his coaching beliefs -- despite a couple of NFL pink slips -- to earn his first Super Bowl title Sunday night.
Carroll never changed his ways. He just became an older version of himself. He wore a badge of that enthusiasm on his left cheek, a three-inch scratch. He revealed that it occurred in Friday’s practice, when he volunteered to return a kickoff in a drill. He stepped in because he wanted to give Harvin a rest, and -- sans helmet -- he received a glancing blow from Derrick Coleman.
He laughed about it. Why not? Carroll became the third coach in history to win a Super Bowl and an Associated Press national title in college. He joined Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson in that small fraternity.
"It feels very much the same," said Carroll, comparing a bowl win with a Super Bowl win.
Carroll put the Seahawks in the right frame of mind by balancing fun and X's and O's. Not known as a micromanager, he actually practiced halftime in Friday’s practice. That’s right, they orchestrated the entire thing, minute by minute, familiarizing the players and staff with the longer-than-usual halftime for the Super Bowl.
"I think Pete does a great job of making every day seem like a championship," cornerback Byron Maxwell said.
The "score" was 14-14 when they did it in practice. On Sunday, the halftime score was 22-0, which became 29-0 when Harvin returned the second-half kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown. That came with 12 seconds gone, same as the safety at the start of the game.
It truly was a testament to the 12th Man, Seattle's home crowd.
"He's the most forward-thinking coach for the players of today that I've ever seen," said Allen, marveling at Carroll's halftime prep.
Carroll was thinking that way in 1994, when the Jets -- a backward franchise at the time -- took their forward-thinking coach and sent him packing with a "You’re fired!" that was so quick and cold that it would've made Donald Trump blush.