January 31

Steve Solloway: Funny how Pete Carroll turned out

The former Patriots coach is getting the last laugh.

Pete Carroll pumped his fist too much. He threw back his head and cheered too much. His words ran together so quickly at times, it seemed he was hyperventilating.

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Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll watches members of his team warm up during practice Thursday in East Rutherford, N.J. The Seahawks and the Denver Broncos are scheduled to play in the Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday.

The Associated Press

He was the head coach of the New England Patriots for the 1997, 1998 and 1999 seasons. He followed the sharp-tongued grandeur that was Bill Parcells, and gave way to the dour and brilliant Bill Belichick. He was very quotable, could be goofy and gave every impression he was in over his head. He heard the laughter right up to his firing by the owner, Bob Kraft.

Early Sunday night, Pete Carroll will take his Seattle Seahawks onto the field at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey to play Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. The television cameras will catch Carroll laughing at some point. If the Seahawks do win, the last laugh will most certainly be his.

Fifteen years after you laughed at Carroll, here’s your chance to laugh with him. Take it. If Seattle’s defense stops Manning’s offense and the Seahawks win, the laughter should set Patriots fans free. No more guilt at running a good man but a not-ready-for-prime-time football coach out of Foxborough. No more worry that Manning will replace Tom Brady in the pantheon of great NFL quarterbacks.

At least not for this year.

I was part of the Patriots media mob during the Carroll years. We went from Parcells, who could belittle with a phrase, to a head coach who wanted to befriend. Carroll inherited a locker room of hardened Parcells holdovers. His Joe College, rah-rah optimism did not play well.

Who knows when the disconnect between head coach and players started. It was visible after the 28-10 loss to Green Bay on the Monday night before Halloween in 1997. The old Foxboro Stadium crowd turned nasty as Carroll and the Patriots ran off the field at the end to the chant of “First-and-1. First-and-1. First-and-1.”

The Patriots had a first down at the Packers’ 1 and couldn’t score. A Curtis Martin run for no gain and three straight Drew Bledsoe incompletions. That Green Bay had beaten the Patriots in the Super Bowl nine months earlier in New Orleans was salt in the wound.

After the goal-line stand the Packers scored on a 99-yard drive. More salt.

In the old stadium, the media would stand behind the end zone during the last minutes of the game. It enabled us to get to the postgame interview room quicker. It also allowed us to hear the crowd up close and personal. As Carroll left the field I heard one voice cry out: “We need a coach, not a friend.”

Less than three months later, the Pittsburgh Steelers ended the Patriots’ season 7-6 in the AFC playoffs. In the locker room afterward there were angry words between the offense and defense. Ty Law, the cornerback, got in the middle: “We don’t point fingers around here.”

The 1998 season wasn’t much better. The Patriots reached the playoffs but lost their first game. A year later they were 8-8, didn’t make the playoffs and Carroll was gone. He knew it before the season ended. The day after Christmas that year, the Patriots lost to Buffalo. Adam Vinatieri missed two field goals. Make one and the Patriots win.

Carroll, as he typically did, looked up into the grandstand as he left the field. He couldn’t miss the hand-painted signs on bed sheets and cardboard calling for his head. “No repeat for Pete” was one of the few phrases I could repeat in a family newspaper. Days before the loss, damning talk was heard: Some or many players had already quit on Carroll.

Carroll resumed his coaching career at the University of Southern California. His teams went to the national championship game three straight years. There were national titles in 2003 and 2004 although the second one was vacated after running back Reggie Bush was found to have broke NCAA rules with a sports agent.

Carroll was caught up in the backlash. He moved on to Seattle.

If the Seahawks win, Carroll joins Jimmy Johnson (University of Miami, Dallas Cowboys) and Barry Switzer (Oklahoma and Cowboys) as the only coaches to win a college national championship and the Super Bowl.

Listen to the laughter.

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway

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