SEATTLE – Pete Carroll was dismissed from professional football 10 years ago, regarded as one heck of a guy with a not-so-terrible overall record who was nonetheless considered ill-suited to be an NFL head coach.
At least that’s how Carroll was seen outside the New England Patriots’ locker room.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Pete as a coach and as a person,” said Drew Bledsoe, the Washington State product who was Carroll’s quarterback in New England. “I really would have loved to have played for the guy for a bunch of my career.”
That’s a vote of confidence worth considering as the city debates whether the Seahawks are making a mistake by handing over the team to a coach fired twice in the NFL.
And Bledsoe wasn’t the only one ready to vouch for the bona fides of Carroll, USC’s coach.
“I credit Pete for really putting me on the map as a player individually,” said safety Lawyer Milloy, a former Washington Husky who played with the Seahawks this season. “He just really understood how defenses were supposed to be run. He put players in the right position according to their skill set.”
Milloy and Bledsoe both played for Carroll for the three seasons he coached the Patriots, starting in 1997. Milloy made his first two Pro Bowls under Carroll, and New England made the playoffs in two of Carroll’s three seasons.
But New England backpedaled in each of Carroll’s seasons. He was hired to coach a team coming off a Super Bowl appearance, which receded to 10-6 then to 9-7 to 8-8 when he was fired.
“It was kind of wrong time, wrong place,” Bledsoe said. “We had a bunch of injuries and had a whole ton of draft picks that just didn’t work out for us.”
And then there was the not-so-small matter of how Carroll’s personality played in New England. He was California sunshine in a city more accustomed to snow shovels and Nor’easters, and that glass-half-full approach contrasted with the pinch of old salt that preceded him: Bill Parcells.
“Pete’s style is different than that,” Bledsoe said. “His style was actually far more appealing to me. The way Pete was portrayed in the media was pretty unfair and fairly inaccurate, to be honest with you.”
Fired from New England after the 1999 season, Carroll spent the next year out of coaching before he was hired at USC in 2001.
He had the Trojans in the Orange Bowl his second season in town, the first of seven successive years in which USC won 11 games or more. The Trojans won consecutive national championships, and since his first season at USC, there have been 14 Trojans chosen in the first round of the NFL draft.
One of those is Lawrence Jackson, the Seahawks defensive end picked in the first round in 2008. He was one of four Trojans chosen in the first round that year.
“He brings the most out of you as a person,” Jackson said. “He’s a great motivator. He has great people skills.”
Carroll’s unique persona became his signature. He is good friends with comedian Will Ferrell, and one of the books he recommended to Jackson was “The Inner Game of Tennis.”
“Understanding Coach Carroll, you have to go outside the box,” Jackson said. “He’s not a traditional meathead. He understands life. He understands how to be successful in life as a person.”
One thing didn’t change, though. The energy Carroll brought to his profession. That has never waned.
“He’s obviously the same guy you see on the sidelines at USC,” Milloy said.
“That fiery demeanor. You could tell that if he could line up out there with us, he would.”
The question remains whether the live-wire approach that made Carroll such a relentless recruiter can translate into success in the NFL.
This isn’t like Jimmy Johnson, who arrived in the NFL in 1989 with a litany of college success at Miami, but a blank slate of professional possibilities. This isn’t even Dennis Erickson, whom the Seahawks hired out of Miami in 1995.
Carroll has already had his tour around the NFL, prompting almost as much hand-wringing among Seahawks fans as it has in Los Angeles over his departure.
There are people from Carroll’s past who believe this third chance as NFL head coach will be the charm.
“If in fact he does end up in Seattle,” Bledsoe said, “I would predict that would be a situation that would be a very, very successful situation. I think that Pete would be a great fit.”