Must be weird for Pete Carroll this week. Seattle is host to what amounts to football royalty at the Clink — the USC Trojans Saturday against the Huskies and the New England Patriots Sunday against the Seahawks.
Carroll was once king of both empires, run out of one and ran from the other.
In Boston, Carroll was the man between legends, head coach of the Patriots from 1997 to 1999 after Bill Parcells won a Super Bowl following the 1996 season, and succeeded by Bill Belichick, who has been to five Super Bowls, winning three.
In Los Angeles, Carroll presided over seven Pac-10 titles and two national championships, then left for the Seahawks before NCAA sanctions bashed the Trojans.
Hard to say that there’s much connection between the career periods except for the man himself. But pop-culture cruelty being what it is, departures are how he is most remembered in two of the biggest sports markets in America.
Throw in the sideshow that two of his premier coaching apprentices, Lane Kiffin at USC and Steve Sarkisian at Washington, are in town doing harm to one another while validating his coaching tree, Carroll would really, really like to win Sunday, for more than the W.
Not that he would admit it, of course. Carroll’s been gone a long time from the Pats and three years from USC, so it would be easy for a guy who lives in the now to trapdoor the past.
When Carroll was first asked Wednesday about his tenure in New England, where he twice made the playoffs, he looked upward wistfully and mumbled, “I didn’t want to talk about that.”
But he was smiling. Carroll can’t resist talking about himself, good or bad.
The Foxboro firing was bad, no doubt about it. Owner Robert Kraft canned Carroll after a playoff-free, 8-8 regular season and 27-21, three-year mark that was better than Parcells’ 32-32 regular-season mark. Kraft later said the Carroll boot was one of the most difficult decisions he has made in his long tenure.
“A lot of things were going on that made it difficult for him to stay, some of which were out of his control,” Kraft told Los Angeles Times in 2000, shortly after Carroll was hired at USC amid some controversy. “And it began with following a legend.”
At the time, Carroll, a San Francisco native, admitted he was out of his element in the over-wrought Boston sports culture.
“I think I fit better in other places,” Carroll told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The style that (then-49ers coach) Steve Mariucci has there in San Francisco has been, I think, widely accepted. He’s an excellent football coach, [but] if he were [in the East], he’d have been run out a long time ago, just because of the style.
“It’s the culture. It’s different on the Eastern Seaboard.”
He found a fit in SoCal, winning almost forever with a 97-19 record, his practice sideline becoming a Hollywood-celebrity vortex second only to the Kardashian pool. But the Trojans gig went south when the NCAA, after a five-year investigation, found rules violations regarding Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush that merited serious sanctions.
Carroll took the Seahawks job prior to the punishments, maintaining all along that the job was too good to pass up, rather than fleeing the federales, a story few in LA or Seattle believe. But now that he has the NFL’s No. 1 defense, even fewer care in Seattle.
Naturally, Carroll now looks upon the his sour departure from Boston as a chance for re-invention, which he exploited.
“Getting spanked and getting knocked out of there was a great chance for me to regroup,” he said. “I needed to get my act together or I was never going to get another chance. That gave me real insight to create what is so important to me now as a coach and deal with the position.
“I was embarrassed to get fired. I was ready for the next (job). Fortunately, I lucked out and got an opportunity at USC.
Now he’s on to another new opportunity in Seattle. He has no empire yet, but what he has is control — he was hired before his nominal boss, general manager John Schneider, so there’s no doubt about where the final call rests. Just as was the case at USC — for better or worse.
“What I learned from that (New England) situation is that to be a really successful head coach you need to have control,” he said. “Otherwise its somebody elses job that youre dealing with.”
That control has helped lead him to a dramatic early season meeting with the Pats, where for 12 years quarterback Tom Brady has been so good for so long that his instructions for the next play are given in single words, making the huddle obsolete. The withering pace has allowed New England become the No.-1 ranked offense, which set a record by gathering 101 first downs over its past three games, an NFL record.
The Patriots and Seahawks don’t play much, only twice in 20 years, Seattle winning in Foxboro 30-20 in 2004 and losing at home 24-21 in 2008, pre-Carroll. So it’s his first chance to make a statement on the field, which follows up a pretty good one Wednesday:
“Everything that came out of that experience (of being fired in Boston) changed me, and I have never been the same since.”
Sunday, then, becomes the chance to prove to the world that he is better than he ever was.