Monday, January 20, 2014

Is Pete Carroll the Best Football Coach of This Generation?

Pete Carroll is on the precipice of history, even if few are talking about it.

Lost in Richard Sherman’s audition for the upcoming WWE Network is what Carroll could accomplish with a victory in Super Bowl 48. He would join Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer as the only men to coach a college national champion and an NFL champion. Of those, Switzer never gets full credit – and maybe he shouldn’t – since he was driving the keys of the car Johnson built.

cool pete carroll
And the tie with Jimmy Johnson makes sense because Pete Carroll is essentially the 21st Century version of Johnson. During “The U” documentary, Dan LeBatard astutely pointed out that Johnson should’ve coached “with two middle fingers in the air” because of his arrogance.

Is Pete Carroll that much different?

Johnson told his players, both at Miami and with the Dallas Cowboys, that if they won, he would take care of everything else. Carroll’s players have been under similar scrutiny. While the Cowboys of the 90s famously had their “White House,” Carroll’s Seahawks have played under a cloud of drug suspicion.

While this doesn’t seem to be a glowing recommendation of Carroll, it is. A good coach goes to bat for his players. A good coach defends his players. A good coach gets the most of his players. And there is no doubt that for the past 13 years, no coach has had his players play harder for them than Pete Carroll.

Who is the best coach of this generation? Many will point to Bill Belichick for his Super Bowl success. Others will point to Nick Saban for his BCS success. I’d listen to arguments for Chip Kelly, who has essentially revolutionized offensive football.

What stands out about Pete Carroll? His USC teams won game after game by being better than their opponent. They played a traditional, pro-style offense. There was no flashy sets – just continually dominance.

With the Seahawks, Carroll hasn’t taken the game by storm like Kelly or focused so aggressively on one side of the ball, like Jim Harbaugh and his monster defense.

Carroll doesn’t do anything special or exciting when it comes to coaching football. He is simply relentlessly positive and the results seem to follow.

But that positive attitude and the power of optimism is revolutionizing football the same way that Chip Kelly is doing in Philadelphia or the Tampa 2 changed defensive football.

As a Jets fan, I have a longing sense of regret when it comes to Carroll. While Patriots’ fans despise the Carroll era, his time with the Jets left nothing but questions. In 1994, as the Jets were still terrible and still trying to create a winning culture, the team was 6-5 and on the verge of making a playoff run when the Dolphins and Dan Marino came to town.

The Jets took a lead. They did not hold on. I am not reliving it for you but “fake spike” should suffice. The Jets wouldn’t win another game that season, Carroll wouldn’t be back in 1995 and the Jets replaced him with…let’s just move on.

So when USC hired Carroll, the national reaction was a shrug of the shoulders. I was intrigued. There was this notion – turned out to be accurate – that Carroll’s personality would fit more in the college game. USC was a dead program, regardless of what the hindsight columnists say. It was not a sleeping giant – it was done. Save for on Keyshawn Johnson-led season in 1995, the program was a national afterthought.

Under Carroll, they won 2 national titles and four Rose Bowls while playing in 7 straight BCS bowl games. If not for the arguably the single greatest performance by a quarterback in college football history – Vince Young’s mind-altering performance in the 2006 Rose Bowl – Carroll’s Trojans would be remembered as the undisputed greatest dynasty in college football history.

Instead, they are merely in the discussion. The Reggie Bush fiasco followed and Carroll hightailed it out of town again. And again, there were skeptics.

This time, I was similarly intrigued. While veterans on the Patriots rejected Carroll in the late 1990’s, things were different in Seattle. The majority of players had grown up respecting Carroll for his USC success – he was a proven winner. The Seattle franchise had no history of success. Would Carroll’s act have worked at a traditional winner like Green Bay or the New York Giants? Who knows, right?

But it is working in Seattle. It is working far better than most outside of Washington state could have imagined. The skeptics believed Carroll succeeded in college because he had better players and that advantage would be removed in the pro’s. Instead, Carroll has used his eye for talent to develop a roster that is still superior than most of its opponents.

Remember, another NFL team took a punter before Russell Wilson was drafted. And that punter was not Ray Guy.

As Carroll stands on the precipice of history, his legacy is unfinished and debatable. Is he a cheater – the man who was caught by the NCAA and whose players have been suspended and fined routinely by Roger Goodell?

Or is Pete Carroll the archetype for the future of football coaches? Think about today’s college football coaches. While the old-school firmly remains in place thanks to people like Nick Saban, there are more and more coaches that utilize fun as a recruiting and coaching tactic.

No, Pete Carroll isn’t the first coach to use optimism and positivity to get the most out of his players, but he is arguably the most successful.

In the week leading up to the NFC Championship Game, I read more about the game’s possible impact on Jim Harbaugh’s legacy than Pete Carroll. Maybe in the upcoming fortnight, Richard Sherman’s rant will fade – okay, not likely – and the focus will rightfully turn to Carroll.

In my opinion, Pete Carroll is criminally underrated when it comes to the game’s greatest coaches. Maybe it’s due to his past, maybe it’s due to the lingering questions and maybe it’s due to the fact many think his act is shtick and not genuine – but it won’t matter for long.

If the Seahawks win Super Bowl 48, there will be no further doubt that Carroll should take his place among the sport’s very best coaches.

If the Seahawks lose Super Bowl 48, the questions will continue and Carroll will find a way to use the loss to motivate his team next season.

As long as Pete Carroll is coaching the Seahawks, they will be an annual contender. Maybe we should get ready for them at Super Bowl 49, and Super Bowl 50, if his USC track record is any indication.

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4 comments:

  1. Rob says it so it must be true!

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  2. Great article. Another key to Pete Carroll's success is his amazing ability to coach defensive backs. Its no accident that every corner who comes onto the field for Seahawks can flat out play.

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