RENTON, Wash. – Pete Carroll pumped his fist. He talked excitedly and forcefully. He chopped the air with his hands, commanding his new audience.
Even though he had stepped back up into the NFL, he was still in charge – which is exactly why he’s in Seattle now instead of Southern California.
The charismatic Carroll took over as the new coach and executive vice president of the Seahawks on Tuesday, enthusiastically seizing an authority that he says mirrors the latitude USC gave him to restore its dynasty.
“They have embraced my approach … in a manner in which they want to wipe the path clear and give me the clearest opportunity to bring everything that I have to offer. That’s really what I was looking for, the trust and belief from the top of the organization,” Carroll said a day after his public farewell from USC.
“They don’t have an agenda of how they want their football played. They want me to do that. That’s exactly and precisely what I was looking for.”
After hugging current Seahawks and former USC defensive end Lawrence Jackson in the back of the auditorium, the 58-year-old Carroll was breathless describing how he snared the exact opportunity he’s always wanted in the NFL – but never thought he’d get after New England fired him following three seasons as coach through 1999.
“I am so fired up to be here today. Right from the beginning, they undersold. This is a tremendous place to come to work,” Carroll said moments after Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke led him on a tour of the Seahawks’ luxurious headquarters for the first time.
Absorbing the scene and what the riches of Seahawks owner and Microsoft Corp. tycoon Paul Allen are affording him, Carroll said: “It’s really almost dreamlike for me.”
The coach who went 97-19 with two national championships and seven consecutive Pac-10 titles while at USC wore a dark blue suit and paisley tie patterned in Seahawks green and blue. The look was new. The Seahawks promise his role will be familiar.
“As guys get other jobs around the league, there isn’t always that level of trust and communication from the top down, and there isn’t always that willingness to let you do exactly what you feel and how you should do it. That’s what I’ve been given here – and I can’t tell you how excited I am about that,” Carroll said. “That is what I had at SC, and is when I’ve had my best success.”
Carroll had a quick answer for questions on why he is better suited for the NFL now than he was while going 6-10 for the New York Jets in 1994 and 27-21 with two playoff appearances in three seasons with the Patriots.
“Thirteen years ago I took that job in New England – 13 years ago!” Carroll said. “I’ve grown through this experience and I know so much more clearly where I’m coming from. I was not at my best in New York – I can’t tell you how far I was then from where I am now. I was not at my best in New England. I think the Seahawks are benefiting now on what I went through. … So I’m not the same. Hopefully, I’m better.”
In the back of the room, Lawyer Milloy, 36, nodded his head. “He wants to right his wrongs,” the Seahawks safety said, referring to Carroll’s NFL legacy.
Leiweke confirmed Carroll is getting plenty if not final authority on whom Seattle hires as its new general manager. Carroll and Leiweke were to conduct an afternoon interview with Omar Khan, a contract administrator with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Former Tennessee Titans GM Floyd Reese is also scheduled to interview, along with New York Giants personnel man Marc Ross and Green Bay executive John Schneider through Thursday.
Leiweke said Carroll will work “shoulder to shoulder” with the new GM, and that Carroll may have the final say on the hiring, depending on who the final candidate is.
Leiweke wants a far more harmonious relationship than the fractured one that existed between ex-coach Mike Holmgren, who was also Seattle’s GM from 1999-2002, and GM and president Tim Ruskell, whom Seattle forced to resign last month before the team finished 5-11.
Carroll is also assembling his staff, which will use the same principles and play terminology he used at USC. He said he was eager to get done with his news conference so he could run to call Alex Gibbs.
Gibbs told KRIV-TV in Houston that he has agreed to leave his job as the assistant head coach of the Houston Texans to join Carroll on the Seahawks’ staff. Gibbs will be in charge of the zone run-blocking scheme upon which Carroll wants to base his Seahawks offense.
“I know I am going to be coaching the offensive line for Seattle,” Gibbs said.
Carroll is also bringing USC offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates with him, presumably to do the same job with the Seahawks. USC linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. and offensive line coach Pat Ruel are also expected to join Carroll.
One thing Carroll won’t change on offense is the quarterback.
Carroll said he is excited to have one with as much experience as 34-year-old Matt Hasselbeck. He emphasized the three-time Pro Bowler is healthy after playing through a bad back, broken ribs and a sore passing shoulder as the Seahawks limped to a 9-23 record since their last playoff game in January 2008.
Seattle fired coach Jim Mora on Friday after less than 12 months on the job, ending the Seahawks’ worst two-year stretch since 1992-93.
“I know it’s going to be difficult,” Carroll said. “And people from where I come from want to say, ‘Gosh, why would you do that, when you win all the time in college, and here you are going into the meat grinder in the NFL?’
“I’m ready. I couldn’t be more excited about it. And I can’t wait to get started.”