By: Bob George
E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Super Bowl. You can’t get any more pumped and jacked over the Big Show.
For Pete Carroll, it’s his first trip here as head coach. On Sunday, his Seattle Seahawks take on the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium. Seattle has never won a Super Bowl, and neither has Carroll. Carroll, one of the best defensive masterminds in the NFL during all his years as both a head coach and a defensive coordinator, brings the NFL’s best defense into battle against the NFL’s best offense.
But this game means a lot to Carroll, maybe more to him than any other competitor in this game, and that includes Peyton Manning.
Seattle is Carroll’s third NFL head coaching stop. He had two unremarkable years at New York Jets head coach, then inherited Bill Parcells’ unfinished reclamation project in Foxborough and led the Patriots to two playoff berths and three declining years before being fired in favor of the current head coach, Bill Belichick.
Carroll then embarked on a nine-year masterpiece in Los Angeles, taking over the storied football program at USC. He led the Trojans to two national championships and two BCS championship games, and rose to prominence as one of the best college coaches in the country before NCAA sanctions rained down in 2010 and eventually led to the vacating of 14 of his 97 wins at USC. Still, despite the messy ending, he was viewed as a premier collegiate football coach, and it would be looked at as folly if he ever tried to make another go in the NFL again.
But in 2010, he did return to the NFL, taking over the Seahawks. Four years later, here they are in the Super Bowl. How did this happen?
Let’s focus only on his three years as a Patriot. If Carroll wins on Sunday, it would represent the ultimate vindication for him. Carroll left the NFL with a tarnished reputation, looked on as a soft coach with no ability to control his team or maintain discipline.
There are two things that are being exposed at present, the biggest thing of which is, or should be, the examination of Bobby Grier’s tenure as director/vice president of player personnel during Carroll’s tenure as head coach in New England. The second thing that is being exposed is that, if given the chance to, as Parcells would say, “shop for the groceries”, Carroll can really run things quite well at the NFL level.
It was Grier, with help from Bob Kraft, that drove Parcells out of town. And it was Grier who helped to undermine the coaching tenure of Carroll in New England. If you go back and look at the record, and remember all the behind the scenes stuff that was going on, Carroll really had no chance to succeed in New England. No Patriot fan claiming sanity would in any way impugn the dismissal of Carroll and the hiring of Belichick in 2000. But Carroll is showing everyone out there that he deserved a better shake than what he got.
Parcells left New England because he was overruled by Grier and Kraft on draft day of 1996, when he was told to draft Ohio State wide receiver Terry Glenn instead of Texas defensive lineman Tony Brackens. Parcells left the Patriots after losing Super Bowl XXXI to Green Bay, and Carroll took over. As Patriot Nation looked on in horror as a future Hall of Fame head coach was ready to defect to the Jets, Carroll took over the Patriots and put together a really good team in 1997. That team won the AFC East, defeated Miami in a Wild Card playoff game, then went on the road to Pittsburgh and held the Steelers to only 7 points. But the Patriots were too injured on offense to score more than 6 points. This 1997 Patriot team remains one of the best defensive teams in franchise history.
Of course, one could argue that Carroll did well in 1997 with Parcells’ guys. But as the next two years unfolded, Carroll was screwed from the start.
Over the three years that Grier presided over the Carroll Era, the Patriot drafts were terrible. The Patriots got six draft picks for the departures of Parcells and Curtis Martin and whiffed on all of them. Of every draft pick between 1997 and 1999, only Kevin Faulk had a decent NFL career and only he, Rod Rutledge, Damien Woody, Brandon Mitchell and Tebucky Jones played in a Super Bowl with the Patriots. The Patriots went downhill during Carroll’s tenure as head coach, and Carroll’s laid-back demeanor was largely blamed for it. But he had far less material to work with than Parcells did or Belichick would eventually get.
Even more troublesome for Carroll was his constantly being undermined by upper management. The players knew that Grier had an open door where the players could go over the coach’s head and complain if they saw fit. Because of this, Carroll was never able to lay down the law in the manner he should have been able to.
Kraft fired Carroll after the 1999 season and expressed regret over doing so. In bringing in Belichick, he took a chance on a coach who fell on hard times in Cleveland and who, like Carroll, was perceived by many as nothing more than a defensive coordinator. But like Carroll, Belichick had exigent circumstances which shot him down in Cleveland; 1995 was the year Art Modell announced his moving the Browns to Baltimore, and the Browns’ season went down the toilet, through no fault of Belichick.
Carroll is showing everyone in Seattle that, if given the keys to the car, he knows how to drive it. He wears all hats in Seattle, and look at the results. He had no such power in New England. He was hamstrung by Grier and his bad drafts and improper hierarchical influence on the players. This Super Bowl appearance is all Carroll. His team is a monster at home, a monster on defense, and might walk off the field on Sunday as Super Bowl champion.
Grier was let go shortly after Belichick took over. He had help from Scott Pioli, who took Grier’s place, but Belichick would bring Super Bowl wins to Foxborough in his second, fourth and fifth seasons in New England. Grier would wind up in Houston, where he currently works in the scouting department. To his credit, Grier would be instrumental in coaxing Belichick and Pioli in drafting Tom Brady in the 2000 draft (thanks, Wikipedia), but Grier was fired soon after. But given how well the Patriots have done since Grier’s departure, and given how well Carroll has done in Seattle being both head coach and general manager, one can draw their own conclusions as to Carroll’s coaching acumen as well as his ability to run a football organization, as well as what might have been in New England if he had the autonomy he enjoys right now.
Carroll didn’t follow a legend in Seattle like he did in New England. He strode into town, took over the show, and now stands one game away from a championship. Carroll is on the threshold of perhaps the biggest redemption in the NFL in the last few decades.
No, nobody in New England will give back Belichick and put back in Carroll. But if you remember how things were 15 years ago, you have to feel good for Carroll, and, especially if you don’t like Manning, you hope he and his Seahawks do well on Sunday.
Belichick shed “Little Bill” years ago. It may now be time for Carroll to shed “Aunty Pete”.