Pete Carroll isn’t sure when he first met Jim Harbaugh. They might have briefly crossed paths in the early 1990s, when Carroll was the Jets defensive coordinator and Harbaugh was a young, dual-threat quarterback for the Bears. They might have first spoken in the mid-90s, when Harbaugh played in Indianapolis, and Carroll had stops with the 49ers (defensive coordinator, 1995-96) and Patriots (head coach, 1997-99).
“It might have been when (Harbaugh) was with the Colts, and he was running around crazy trying to win games there and doing a pretty good job of it,” Carroll said Monday.
Clearer to Carroll was the time his youngest son, Nate, received an in-home recruiting visit from Harbaugh.
From 2004-06, Harbaugh was the head coach at University of San Diego, a second-tier, FCS school with little football tradition. Nate Carroll was a quarterback, receiver and defensive back for Peninsula High School (Rolling Hills Estates, CA). Harbaugh wanted Nate to play for the Toreros.
“He did recruit my son to go to the University of San Diego,” Carroll said. “I wasn’t there for the home visit, though. (My wife) Glena took that one.”
But Nate Carroll already had a stronger relationship with the coach at USC.
“He was going to USC,” Pete Carroll quipped Monday. Serving as a backup quarterback under his father before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 2010, Nate, 26, works for the Seahawks as an offensive assistant.
In 2007, Harbaugh was hired by Stanford to succeed Walt Harris. Early in his first season, Harbaugh landed the first punch in the coaching rivalry’s six-year history, ending No. 2 USC’s 35-game home winning streak with a 24-23 win over Carroll’s Trojans at the LA Coliseum.
In 2009, Stanford routed USC, 55-21, at the Coliseum. With the Cardinal leading 48-21 midway through the fourth quarter, Harbaugh tried (and failed) to run up the score by going for two. Stanford scored four, fourth-quarter touchdowns that day, two of which came with the game out of reach.
Carroll was irked.
During the post-game handshake, television cameras caught Carroll saying, “What’s your deal?” to Harbaugh near midfield.
Harbaugh, confused, countered by yelling, “What’s your deal?” As they walked toward their locker rooms, the pair continued to shout back-and-forth. A rivalry was born.
Harbaugh, Carroll tamp down the personal stuff
Monday Harbaugh refused to acknowledge that Sunday’s NFC championship game would be more than a battle pitting two physical defenses against a pair of young, dynamic quarterbacks.
“I haven’t seen where that’s really even talked about anymore. I think that might have been something four or five years ago,” Harbaugh said of his rivalry with Carroll. “But, I haven’t seen it as of late. And, it would be as irrelevant now as it would have been then when people made a bigger deal out of it. So, irrelevant, irrelevant.”
Carroll said he didn’t envision the rivalry developing when they coached in what was then the Pac-10. At USC, Carroll was 1-2 against Harbaugh’s Stanford team. The 49ers and Seahawks split the season series the past two years, though San Francisco swept Seattle in 2011.
“No, I wasn’t thinking about that at the time, but I’m not surprised that Jim has done a good job coaching,” Carroll said. “He’s shown in every opportunity that he’s got great core principles.”
Carroll said it was natural for fans to view Seahawks-49ers as a rivalry, but that he asks his players to approach it differently.
“For us, we treat all of these games the same and we look at the opponent, hopefully, with the ultimate respect — and our preparation demonstrates that. Our performance on game day shows that,” Carroll said. “That’s how we talk. So the last thing I’m looking for is something else to get fired up about. We don’t need that here.”
The Seahawks didn’t show similar apathy earlier in the week. The San Francisco Chronicle Sunday reported that the organization blocked ticket sales to California, with the hope of discouraging 49ers fans from coming to CenturyLink Field.
Oddly, Harbaugh respected the gamesmanship.
“Well, it’s within the rules. It’s within the spirit of the rules of the National Football League. I actually respect it,” he said. “That you’re trying to do it for your team, put them in the best possible position to win that you can. And, I respect that their organization does that for their team. I think they do that in a lot of ways with their team, with their fans, with their organization. So, what do I think of it? I respect it.”
Nothing wrong with Wilson, really
On another topic of great interest, Carroll said Monday he doesn’t think QB Russell Wilson played cautiously during a five-game stretch in which his passing numbers have dropped.
Wilson completed nine of 18 passes for 103 yards in windy, wet conditions against the Saints, including a difficult, 24-yard completion to Doug Baldwin, on a third-and-three, late in the fourth quarter.
“I never play scared,” Wilson said. “I never have. I never will.”
Wilson said the offense employed a conservative approach — particularly in the third quarter — because of the rain, wind and a lead that was two scores for much of the game.
“I think the competitor in me always wants to make the smart decision. Make the decision that helps the football team in the best way possible,” Wilson said.
In the last month of the regular season, Wilson’s combined passer rating was 79.1. He completed just 58 percent of his passes. Carroll said he isn’t bothered because Seattle has used his formula — great defense, no turnovers and a strong running game — to be one win from the Super Bowl.
“I think he’s doing great,” Carroll said of Wilson. “I think he’s doing what we need to do in these games. We can always do better. He’s very concerned about leading us in a way that keeps our philosophy intact, which is take care of the football.
“It’s not about the stats.”