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Third time’s the charm for Pete Carroll


It’s hard to remember this now, after Pete Carroll spent nine years coaching the most successful program in college football and is now a game away from the Super Bowl in his return to the NFL, but there was once a time when Carroll was considered something of a joke.

After the 1999 season, in which his Patriots went 8-8, Carroll got fired for the second time as an NFL head coach. Back then, most people thought Carroll was just a defensive coordinator who was in over his head as a head coach. In fact, when Carroll was hired as USC’s head coach in December of 2000, he admitted at his introductory press conference that he was “an unpopular choice,” and USC’s athletic director confessed that he had received a lot of angry phone calls from Trojans fans and boosters who didn’t think Carroll had what it took to lead their program.

So what changed? Chris B. Brown wrote an enlightening piece at Grantland that details Carroll’s coaching philosophy, and particularly Carroll’s new spin on an old brand of defense, which is actually a lot like the much-derided defense that Monte Kiffin runs in Dallas. (Carroll’s second job in coaching was as a graduate assistant at Arkansas in 1977, when Kiffin was the Razorbacks’ defensive coordinator.)

Carroll and Kiffin don’t run exactly the same defensive schemes, and Carroll deserves credit for changing with the times and finding the right way to put the talent on his team in the right places to succeed. Of course, it’s also important to recognize that the talent Carroll has to work with is substantial: Seahawks General Manager John Schneider, who came on board a week after Carroll was hired in Seattle in 2010, deserves an enormous amount of credit for drafting the Seahawks’ starting secondary (Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor in 2010, Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell in 2011), drafting the Seahawks’ starting linebackers (KJ Wright in 2011, Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin in 2012) and being smart about free agent signings like defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, both of whom were bargains. Carroll’s defensive schemes wouldn’t look so impressive without Schneider finding the right pieces.

But by any measure, Carroll has done an excellent job in his four years in Seattle. After being a disappointment as a head coach of the Jets and Patriots in the 1990s, Carroll has far exceeded expectations as a head coach, first at USC and now with the Seahawks. That might serve as a cautionary tale for those who think they know what to expect of the new coaches in Detroit, Tennessee, Minnesota, Washington, Tampa Bay and Houston. Sometimes all a coach needs is a change in scenery and the passage of time to go from failure to genius.

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56 Responses to “Third time’s the charm for Pete Carroll”
  1. JSpicoli says: Jan 17, 2014 10:52 AM

    He really did not have a team even close to this one before.

  2. marcuswelby70 says: Jan 17, 2014 10:56 AM

    Jeeez, Pete looks real old in that picture.

  3. The League's Crusade Against The Steelers Continues says: Jan 17, 2014 10:56 AM

    Unfortunately, no it’s not.

  4. fwippel says: Jan 17, 2014 10:56 AM

    Will be interesting to see if the Seahawks and Patriots face off against each other. I had forgotten that Pete Carroll was the Patriots most recent coach before Belichick.

  5. elliottcovert says: Jan 17, 2014 10:58 AM

    When you’re strategy on defense is based on telling your players to engage in holding and pass interference on a regular basis, it doesn’t take a genius to win.

  6. patriotsdefense says: Jan 17, 2014 10:58 AM

    Pete wasn’t fired from New England, his 3 year contract ran out and Kraft didn’t re-new. So while not bringing him back and letting him go is a form of being fired, it wasn’t like the Patriots terminated his contract or anything. Both sides competed the terms of the deal.

  7. jimmymfb says: Jan 17, 2014 10:59 AM

    Cautionary tale? See Bill Belichek. Cleveland was thrilled to chase him out of town with pitchforks

  8. agreen182 says: Jan 17, 2014 11:00 AM

    So he’s a failure as a coach, cheats in college and leaves his program in shambles, and then has an NFL team with more PED suspensions than anyone else, and is suddenly successful. And we’re supposed to praise him for that? Really? Wow, amazing why modern medicine can do. That has a lot more to do with their success than anything Pete Carroll has done.

  9. harrisonhits2 says: Jan 17, 2014 11:01 AM

    Carrol was terrible with the Pats, taking a team that Parcells had gotten to the Super Bowl and made it progressively worse each year. Terrible drafts too.

    There have also never been as many Pats arrested in so short a period as when Carroll was here. Zero control and discipline over the players.

    Obviously he’s gotten better but Patriot Nation was sure glad to see him leave at the time.

  10. riverace19 says: Jan 17, 2014 11:04 AM

    I still consider him a joke but he is a good motivator of men.

  11. discountdoublecheck says: Jan 17, 2014 11:04 AM

    agreen182 says:Jan 17, 2014 11:00 AM

    So he’s a failure as a coach, cheats in college and leaves his program in shambles, and then has an NFL team with more PED suspensions than anyone else, and is suddenly successful. And we’re supposed to praise him for that? Really? Wow, amazing why modern medicine can do. That has a lot more to do with their success than anything Pete Carroll has done.

    So little factual information and so much ignorance here.

  12. vikesindividual says: Jan 17, 2014 11:06 AM

    great article. i get tired of hearing people not wanting a “re-tread” when Belichick and Carroll are both re-treads coaching teams on the cusp of Super Bowl berths.

  13. riverace19 says: Jan 17, 2014 11:07 AM

    Schneider hasn’t made all good moves… How about Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin? They were injury prone before they came to Seattle… How about Tavaris Jackson and Clipboard Jesus? Gotta remember the bad with the good.

  14. bbwasright says: Jan 17, 2014 11:08 AM

    I have to admit that he’s finally grown up and figured out how to have success. They also deserve credit for not drafting a QB until they had a line able to protect him. When Carroll came in, he kept a very mediocre Hasselbeck and didn’t draft any QB for the first two seasons, and took OL with the first pick in both drafts. In the meantime, he’s moved forward every year with patience while building the team into his system.

    As a Patriots’ fan living near Seattle, I’ve been impressed. I remember when Pete Carroll was in New England how badly underperforming a roster that got Parcells to the Super Bowl performed. Of course, nobody believed we would replace him with that failed coach from Cleveland, or that we would give up a draft pick to the JETS for him. My boss back then gave up his season tickets in protest (he lived in Cleveland back then and swore the Patriots would be awful).

  15. dirtyjersey9er says: Jan 17, 2014 11:09 AM

    I have yet to hear a Pats fan who was a fan before Tom Brady won a SB say good things about Pete.

    For awhile I thought it was because they went from him to Belichick so any coach would look like crap next to the best HC of the previous decade. But reading the above comment shows that it more confirms Pete wasn’t very good up there.

    But as much as I dislike Pete(wasn’t a USC fan either) can’t argue that his bounce back wasn’t impressive. I mean of course he did get to benefit from stupidity of other teams(Buffalo giving Lynch away, the Jags deciding a punter was better than Wilson), and really just is telling his DBs to hold on every passing play because refs won’t call it all the time(when a Defensive player like Matheau is tweeting about it you know it’s bad).

    I couldn’t stay positive about Pete that whole time. Had to throw that in.

  16. dirtyjersey9er says: Jan 17, 2014 11:11 AM

    My comment about Lynch brings up another point. How different would the Saints have looked had the Bills taken their better offer for Lynch? Brees would have at least one more ring than he will when his career ends. They probably also don’t trade up for Busty McIngram.

  17. granadafan says: Jan 17, 2014 11:17 AM

    Rah rah Cheatey Petey.

  18. trollhammer20 says: Jan 17, 2014 11:18 AM

    I don’t think Carroll’s West Coast attitude went over well with East Coast owners and fans. The Jets fired him after one year because the owner couldn’t stand him – the owner was aging and wanted to win RIGHT NOW, so they fired Carroll and hired Rich Kotite, who promptly went 4-28 in two seasons with the team.

  19. youcantmakemepickausername says: Jan 17, 2014 11:19 AM

    The “Pete Carroll was a failure as an NFL head coach” thing has always been kind of exaggerated.

    He made the playoffs two out of three years with New England, and before that he was canned after ONE YEAR (granted a pretty bad year) with the Jets because their genius owner decided to replace him when a coaching genius by the name of Richie Kotite became available.

  20. ijahru says: Jan 17, 2014 11:20 AM

    Most successful college football program? Mr Sabin and Alabama may have something to say about that.

  21. stoptrippn says: Jan 17, 2014 11:21 AM

    People in Seattle love the Seahawks…but not Pete. Some think he’s just a lucky person and has good assistants. He’s still a liar and snake

  22. patfanken says: Jan 17, 2014 11:22 AM

    Pete got a bum rap here in NE. Th4e mediots were on his case from day one, merely because he wasn’t Bill Parcells, who gave great press conferences. He was also the victim of some HORRIBLE drafts in which he had little input, which produced teams with very good starting lineups, but no depth whatsoever. So when the inevitable injuries happened he was doomed

    What most people forget is that beyond Kicking the Pats to 3 superbowls, Adam Veniteri was also critical to Bill Bellichick getting the HCing job here. In that final 8-8 season, Adam missed 2 makeable FG’s that cost the Pats 2 games. At 10-6 Carroll would have been very hard to fire. BB would still be the HC of the Jets and NFL history is completely changed.

    Thanks Adam, even you misses were in the best interests of the team. 😀 Carroll clearly has always been a better HC than he’s been given credit for, but it would have been hard for him to have succeeded in NE over the long term. But he’s a great fit in Seattle. I wish him the best…. in every game not played in February

  23. unbridledsexy says: Jan 17, 2014 11:23 AM

    Huh, so what you’re saying is that people can learn from their mistakes and improve in their given field? Amazing.

    Also, I know a lot of people like to call the guy a cheater for what happened at USC. Yes, things happened there that were not within regulations, but to call someone a cheater indicates that they didn’t play the game by the rules. Whether he helped student athletes get jobs with agencies or not,(and he did) has absolutely no barring on game day performance and coaching. Should he have done it? that question isn’t easily answered. There are a lot of rules in college ball regarding student income that just don’t make sense to me. That is a different conversation for a different time. That doesn’t make the man a cheater IMHO.

  24. bolts0621 says: Jan 17, 2014 11:23 AM

    Characterizing his pro coaching pre USC as a joke is wildly overstating it. He completed his contract at NE, and he went .500 in NY with a crappy team. Trust me – if he was a joke – he wouldn’t if landed as head coach at USC….it would’ve been UTEP

  25. jayniner says: Jan 17, 2014 11:25 AM

    “but there was once a time when Carroll was considered something of a joke.”

    It really hasn’t changed.

    Having a lot of great talent around you and on your team will make any coach look good.

    Even if the Seahawks win a Super Bowl, the players will get all the credit, not Pete.

  26. tigersfandan says: Jan 17, 2014 11:30 AM

    The Jets replaced Pete Carroll with Richie Kotite. The Patriots replaced Pete Carroll with Bill Belichick. Once can only imagine what the Seahawks have in store!

  27. marcuswelby70 says: Jan 17, 2014 11:30 AM

    Pete was in a no win situation when he followed Parcells in New England.
    That being said I believe he went from 10-6, to 9-7, to 8-8, with a pretty good team.
    He also had to deal with jerks in the press like Ron Borges who knows nothing about football.

  28. nflgiant says: Jan 17, 2014 11:33 AM

    Seattle 24 San Fran 10.

  29. dansardo says: Jan 17, 2014 11:37 AM

    Pete Carroll took over a pats team that had just been to the SB and pretty much ran it into the ground.

  30. thejuddstir says: Jan 17, 2014 11:39 AM

    ” there was once a time when Carroll was considered something of a joke.”……………he still is in 49 states!!……………….”So what changed? Chris B. Brown wrote an enlightening piece at Grantland that details Carroll’s coaching philosophy”…….another easy one, once pete figured out that “he was a joke” he changed his philosophy to “cheating”. When M. Lynch , P. Harvin, S. Rice, Sherman, etc. all figured out that Pete would allow them to smoke and do PED’s it was easy to want to go to the great northwest.

  31. MasMacho says: Jan 17, 2014 11:45 AM

    Read his book (Win Forever). It’s not earth-shattering but it will give you a good view on where he’s coming from. He has a lot of good leadership traits and is naturally inclined to do things that good leaders do.

    Or you can stick your head in the sand and complain about holding and PED’s, and spend your days commenting on sports blog.

  32. dalcow4 says: Jan 17, 2014 11:58 AM

    Guessing next week’s articles won’t be about Pete Carroll.

  33. ianwetpantscom says: Jan 17, 2014 12:01 PM

    Hate to tell ya, but he’s still a joke!


  34. pmars64 says: Jan 17, 2014 12:03 PM

    Wow, we can please get over the righteous hypocrisy over players, coaches, teams, programs, franchises, etc., that cheat? You’ve got to have your head up your arse if you don’t think cheating is rampant, particularly in major athletic programs where millions upon millions of dollars are at stake. What’s the old saying? If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying? Baseball players were cheating and injecting themselves with hormones 100 years ago to gain an edge. Bounties have been part of the NFL for decades. Sports Illustrated showed that players taking speed in the 70s-80s had much better results than players taking steroids. The Miami Hurricanes (and maybe others, too) had a guy on payroll to get street drugs for their athletes so these kids wouldn’t get busted by the cops. Star recruits are wined and dined with drugs and prostitutes, etc.

    Pete Carroll has done a phenomenal job in Seattle. He and Schneider took one of the worst rosters in the league and transformed it into maybe the best. For my money, he’s had a much more difficult challenge than what Harbaugh’s had to do. Harbaugh stepped into a largely stacked roster that only needed a couple of pieces and better coaching. And how many coaches would have had the guts to throw away the money they gave Flynn and start an under 6 foot rookie QB and think they can win?

    I don’t know if the Seahawks win on Sunday because their offense is struggling and they still need to upgrade their receivers, but, win or lose, Carroll has done a great job.

  35. brend0 says: Jan 17, 2014 12:04 PM

    How (specifically) does he cheat again? 2 positive PED tests (adderall) in 4 yrs? Woah. Kick him out of the league!

  36. boisestatewhodat says: Jan 17, 2014 12:09 PM

    Seahawks better seize the moment now because, at some point–probably next season, they’ll have to pay Russel Wilson more than $350K. Once that happens…the legion of boom will be reduced by the salary cap just like every other team.

  37. TheDPR says: Jan 17, 2014 12:13 PM

    He’s 15 years older in 2014 than in 1999.
    That’s the biggest difference. You grow and mature and become better at what you do.

    I’m WAY better in my job today than I was in 1999. Anyone worth a damn ought to be.

  38. ripster65 says: Jan 17, 2014 12:16 PM

    Harbaugh/Baalke have done more in less time.

  39. bobwhitequail says: Jan 17, 2014 12:22 PM

    MDS this is an excellent article and thank you for the research you must have done to write it.

    One thing I would add is that his current philosophy and success is not so much a result of “change of scenery and passage of time” but more in him “finding himself” in the sense of finding his core values/mission, learning “what works” to reach players and get them to reach their full potential, and then creating a thorough system for the players and organization that integrates both. I totally agree about Schneider’s contribution.

    I think if you look at the change in Earl Thomas from his rookie year until now, he embodies the system Carroll has put together. He is reaching his full potential athletically, skill-wise, and most recently as a leader. In their most recent loss to S.F. Earl took responsibility and said “What can I do to lead the defense better”. All of a sudden he has goals and leadership quality that I don’t think were there when he came in as a young rookie.

  40. gudy2shoes says: Jan 17, 2014 12:42 PM

    Remember when Browns fans were holding up signs that sais “Bevis and Belichek”? Whose the Bevis now?

  41. rajbais says: Jan 17, 2014 1:11 PM

    Maybe he wasn’t a failure after all.

    If Marvin could get a pass for being a playoff win drought then so should Carroll for how he did in New England.

    Face it, he only got a bad rap as the Pats coach because he was nicer than the American Media’s beloved dictator, Bill Parcells.

    Plus, how can you be a failure after the Jets fired you for winning 6 games during your one and only season there.

  42. cornerstone2001 says: Jan 17, 2014 1:11 PM


    Forty Niners!!!

  43. iangas33 says: Jan 17, 2014 1:48 PM

    He started cheating, that’s what changed

  44. youhurtmyfeelings says: Jan 17, 2014 2:19 PM

    The Redskins WILL be the Redskins. Maybe in 5 years, maybe in 50 years. The name IS staying. And then we’ll look back and notice that the name is STILL the Redskins.

  45. realitycheckbaby says: Jan 17, 2014 2:32 PM


    Lots of jealousy.

    You all mad bros?

  46. gochargersgo says: Jan 17, 2014 2:45 PM

    I use this as an example to all the birds who laugh at anyone who considers an organization stupid for considering Josh McDaniels. Not everyone has all their stuff together for their first coaching gig, in fact most coaches seem to require one failed job as a learning experience before becoming successful.

  47. rahavort says: Jan 17, 2014 3:02 PM

    I respect Pete as a coach, but he really needs to grow up. He’s like a little cheerleader on the sidelines all the time, especially at the end of that controversial game with the seahawks and packers, and whether that last hail mary was an interception or a touchdown. Pete was in the refs face and on the field until he made the call then threw his arms up screaming and acting like he won the game….no Pete, you didn’t

  48. musicman495 says: Jan 17, 2014 4:13 PM

    The Seahawks and 49ers are both living on borrowed time, thanks to the fact that they tripped over their starting QB’s in the 2nd and 3rd rounds and are paying them about $1.98. For their sake, these teams had better win now, because once their QB’s go to market rate contracts in a couple of years, they will be millions over the salary cap, and this stockpiling of talent and free agents from other teams will end.

  49. seahawksbmx says: Jan 17, 2014 4:32 PM

    …and ironically, his team will be squaring off against the Pats on the Jets’ turf in 2 weeks. Life can be a trip sometimes.

  50. realdealsteel says: Jan 17, 2014 4:56 PM

    He took the Jets to a 9-7 season and got fired after one season??? And we wonder why the Jets have been so bad for so long?

  51. ydousuk says: Jan 17, 2014 5:12 PM

    musicman495 says:Jan 17, 2014 4:13 PM

    The Seahawks and 49ers are both living on borrowed time, thanks to the fact that they tripped over their starting QB’s in the 2nd and 3rd rounds and are paying them about $1.98. For their sake, these teams had better win now, because once their QB’s go to market rate contracts in a couple of years, they will be millions over the salary cap, and this stockpiling of talent and free agents from other teams will end.
    So does posting that make you feel better about your loser team?

  52. ratsfoiledagain says: Jan 17, 2014 5:56 PM

    ripster65 says:
    Jan 17, 2014 12:16 PM

    Harbaugh/Baalke have done more in less time.
    Carroll & Schneider transformed one of the oldest rosters in the NFL to one of the youngest in three years.

    They made over 300 roster moves in about 3 years trying to find the right mix of players.

    Meanwhile, just about every NFL pundit (and a lot of San Fran fans) were wondering why Singletary couldn’t get his team into the playoffs with all the talent he had.

    Yep, Harbaugh sure walked into a mess.

  53. abreathofsanity says: Jan 18, 2014 4:14 AM

    Just remember at one point in time they called Eric Mangini Eric Mangenius

  54. txnative61 says: Jan 18, 2014 4:38 AM

    Schneider did the drafting and trades, and welcomed a number of free agents and walk on’s to try out, but Pete offered an open competition and saw that everybody had a fair chance to make the roster. He also saw that they were coached up to play at their highest level, and demonstrated loyalty to the players that earned. As irritating as his rah rah exuberance can be on screen, his players universally play their hearts out for him, both for genuinely caring, and for giving them the chance to excel. The Pats have long allowed players to leave in free agency and depended on subs to step up. Unlike Belicheck, Carrol might just be able to have some loyalty in return when the salary cap hits them as it does every successful team.

  55. micknangold says: Jan 18, 2014 4:51 PM

    He was 6-10 with the Jets. Pats fired him after he went 9-7. Idiot.

  56. mrseaballs says: Feb 7, 2014 3:11 PM

    He’s not only a great coach but a great man too. You never hear a bad word about anybody come out of his mouth. You jackasses that assault his character with words and zero facts should take a few lessons from him on how to act. Even if his football team did make yours look like a bunch of little girls.

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