NEW YORK – Ask Pete Carroll about the scar on his left cheek. He turns sheepish. He grins. Then he relents.
“OK, I’ll tell ya,” he begins the story.
At practice last Friday, the Seahawks were working on special teams, and Carroll decided to relieve a tired Percy Harvin as the kick returner. The team went nuts as their coach jumped into the action. He caught the kickoff and started running, only to be tackled by Derrick Coleman. And Chris Maragos finished off the play, scraping the side of Carroll’s face.
“I was cheap-shotted,” Carroll joked.
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No helmet, coach? No pads?
“Oh, no!” Carroll said, pretending to be offended at the thought.
Introducing you now to the newest, coolest, liveliest Super Bowl-winning coach.
Isn’t Carroll fun?
And isn’t his redemptive tale riveting?
You can now consider him one of the best football coaches of his era, period. He might wind up being the best. No more qualifiers. No more saying “he was a great college coach, but …” No more putting his failures with the New York Jets and New England Patriots on the same level as what he has accomplished at USC and with the Seahawks.
Carroll now resides with Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer as the only coaches to win championships in college and the NFL. But it’s the Super Bowl that defines all of their careers. Success in college football is mostly about recruiting, and the three coaches on this list led programs that are easy to recruit to — USC (Carroll), Miami (Johnson) and Oklahoma (Switzer). They maximized the resources available, which other coaches have failed to do at powerhouse programs. But in terms of strategy, Johnson admits “it’s much more difficult in the NFL.”
“Honestly, I won because I had better players at the University of Miami,” Johnson said. “There aren’t many teams that can beat you when you’re that talented. In the NFL, that’s not the case. You have to bring more to the game.”
So Carroll leaves the New York/New Jersey area with his face scratched and his greatness enhanced.
What the Seahawks did to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII was ridiculous. It was superhuman, a 43-8 thrashing in what was supposed to be a showdown of Denver’s No. 1 offense and Seattle’s No. 1 defense. Sunday’s performance verified that Carroll is onto something historic at his third NFL stop. At USC, he truly did concoct a method that translates to all levels of football, and the Seahawks are the beneficiary.
Carroll is the mastermind behind a defense that just shut down the most prolific offense in NFL history. And while the Seahawks offense is still under construction, there’s potential for that unit to become elite, too, with Marshawn Lynch leading one of the league’s best rushing attacks, with Russell Wilson establishing himself as a franchise quarterback in only two years and with a young, underrated receiving corps capable of handling more responsibility.
Carroll and general manager John Schneider have put the Seahawks in an enviable position. Though they’ll have to pay top dollar for their elite players soon, they have a plan in place to retain the core of this championship team. And for at least another season — before Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Wilson all get paid — they should still have the flexibility to create a deep roster. The days of having the deepest roster in the NFL might be numbered, depending on how well the Seahawks draft from here on, but they should be a contender for the next five years or so.
Carroll will have ample opportunity to add to his accomplishments. He’s as aware of his personal narrative as anyone I’ve ever met, but that’s mostly because he didn’t want to be defined by the early part of his head-coaching career.
“I’ve had some bad times,” Carroll said. “It didn’t dampen my spirits. It didn’t slow me down. If anything, it kicked me in the butt in a better way.”
Now that he’s making history regularly, Carroll isn’t consumed with his own greatness. He wants to leave a mark, to be John Wooden-like in the sense that he created a model for success.
But he won’t revel in what it all means for him. Not now. There’s too much to accomplish, still.
“This is exactly what we envisioned from Day One,” Carroll said. “We were going to be right here and win this football game in the fashion that we were able to. We deserved it, and we earned it because this is exactly what we’ve been preparing for, and we expected it. That may sound cocky. That may sound arrogant. But it’s a mentality that you can’t get in one week.”
At 62, Carroll is the third-oldest coach to win a Super Bowl. But he seems 20 years younger as he runs the sideline during games and runs back kicks in practice.
No football coach has ever had more fun with his players while being in total command. Few coaches have led teams to such consistent dominance on the big stage.
Super Bowl XLVIII was a lot like the 55-19 USC victory over Oklahoma in the 2005 BCS national championship game. It was a lot like USC’s Rose Bowl blowouts or the Seahawks’ dominant victories against elite competition during nationally televised games. Carroll’s teams love the stage. It’s because, to them, there is no stage. They play at this level all the time. It’s normal.
“I really can’t tell you exactly what it is, but something’s going on because I sat back there at the end of the first quarter and said, ‘Shoot, here it goes,’ ” Carroll said of the Super Bowl. “Bang, bang, bang, bang, and it’s 22-0 at halftime. There’s a lot to it, and we’re very proud of it, and I’m thrilled that we’ve seen it in one area (USC), and we’ve been able to bring it to the NFL and recreate it.
“There’s something pretty powerful about that understanding. Hopefully, we’ll start stepping into the next one. We’ve done this before. We’ll see how we do.”
On Monday morning, Carroll left the stage wearing the same suit and tie he donned upon his arrival eight days earlier.
It was symbolic. Nothing changes about him, not his energy level and especially not his irrepressible winning style.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.