LOS ANGELES, April 6, 2014 — At the 2014 NFL league meetings in Orlando, a highlight was meeting and interviewing Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll. Fresh off of a blowout victory in Super Bowl XLVIII, Carroll was basking in the glow of being a champion while maintaining humility and guarding against complacency. It was satisfying for those who admire Carroll to see an unfairly maligned man take his greatest criticism and turn it into his strength.
Carroll’s critics have always accused him of being too nice. Nice guys finish last, and Carroll was too soft for the tough world of football. Every step of the way, without publicly complaining, Carroll proves his diminishing number of detractors wrong.
He had the 6-5 New York Jets in first place in the AFC East Division heading into their showdown with the Miami Dolphins. The Jets led with less than 30 seconds to play, but Dan Marino’s legendary “fake spike” touchdown pass sent the Jets reeling to five straight losses. Carroll was fired after one season. His replacement took a 6-10 team to 3-13 and 1-15 records the next two years.
Carroll went to rival New England, where in four seasons he had a slightly above average 33-31 record. For some reason that tenure was labeled a failure because Carroll was sandwiched between coaching legends Bill Parcells and Bill Bellichick. Bellichick was given total power over personnel decisions, which Carroll never had. In the first “Tuna Bowl” battle, Carroll’s Patriots won an overtime thriller against Parcells’s Jets 27-24.
Carroll went to the college ranks, leading the USC Trojans to consecutive championships. The Trojans ended up only a few heartbreaking seconds away from three straight championships, settling for two. Still, Carroll’s rah-rah cheerleading style was dismissed as being unfit for the professional game. “Real” coaches like Parcells and Jimmy Johnson did not laugh and smile with their players. They scowled and kicked over water coolers.
While Carroll was with the Patriots, they faced a season finale showdown at Jimmy Johnson’s Dolphins with the division on the line. Carroll out-coached Johnson and the Patriots went on the road and stunned the Dolphins 14-12. One week later in the playoffs, the Patriots were at home. The defense dominated in the rematch as the Patriots eliminated the Dolphins 17-3. This time Dan Marino had two interceptions returned for touchdowns by Carroll’s defense.
Carroll came back to the NFL, and Seahawks owner Paul Allen gave him a chance to build a roster in his image. In four years, Carroll did what even legendary Mike Holmgren could not do. Carroll brought the first Super Bowl championship to the Pacific Northwest.
Perhaps because Carroll was treated so undeservedly shabbily, he makes a conscious effort to treat ordinary people with dignity. While some coaches and owners at the NFL meetings avoided the press, Carroll was very generous with his time. During one radio interview, rather than merely discuss a football move, he got into a stance and physically showed the radio hosts what he was teaching. Even dressed for meetings, he will still coaching.
When asked who his three football heroes were, the coach known for tough defenses focused on the tough guys. His choices were Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers, San Francisco 49ers defensive back Ronnie Lott, and perhaps the greatest player to ever play football, Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown.
When asked for his non-football heroes, Carroll chose to stay within the realm of sports. At first he even stayed within the football world, citing legendary Minnesota Vikings Coach Bud Grant. He then offered baseball hero Willie Mays. After those two, Carroll felt there were no comparable others.
When asked what advice he had for people first entering the world of football in any capacity, his answer would fit any career. People must “know themselves.” Whether you are meant to be a football player, teacher, or firefighter, do what you are meant to do.
Carroll is a very funny guy. His sense of humor is terrific. When asked how he wanted to be remembered in 100 years, and what people would say about Pete Carroll the person, he quoted the Roy Hobbs character from the baseball movie “The Natural.” Carroll laughed as he said he wanted to be remembered as “the best there ever was in this game.”
Although the interview had technically concluded, an accidental running into Carroll later in the day caused him to reconsider his last answer. He did not want to be seen as arrogant. Upon being reassured that sports fans everywhere would know he was obviously kidding about his Roy Hobbs answer, he felt comfortable leaving it alone. He is self-effacing, without a trace of arrogance.
One more question again allowed Carroll to show these modest qualities. When asked who was more fun to party with, him or Seahawks Cornerback Richard Sherman, Carroll did not miss a beat. He responded “Richard Sherman is way more fun. I’m no fun at all.”
Carroll is plenty of fun. He plays music and dances with the players in the locker room. He lets his players express their individuality. For a guy too nice and too soft to succeed in football, he certainly produced some tough, nasty defenses.
Carroll may not ever be the best that ever was. The Vince Lombardi Trophy will not be renamed after him. He will have to settle for being a great coach, great person, and winner on the field.