PHOENIX — He’s a little older, his face creased with more wrinkles, his hair much whiter.

But even at 63, Pete Carroll is still a very young man.

You can see it every time the Seattle Seahawks coach runs up and down the sideline, looking to hug one of his players or jump for joy after a big play.

This is the man who preceded Bill Belichick as head coach of the New England Patriots, before he was fired after three seasons by owner Robert Kraft.

His career has now come full circle: Carroll and his Seahawks are looking to become the first back-to-back Super Bowl champions since Belichick guided New England to successive championships in 2004-05.

If Pete Carroll is harboring any ill will toward Kraft and the Patriots, if he’s putting any added emphasis on beating his former boss, he’s not showing it this week. Instead, he has talked openly about the relationship he has maintained with Kraft – for instance, the two met and spoke between the teams’ sessions on Super Bowl media day – and his great respect for Belichick and the Patriots.

“Whenever we bump into each other, whenever there is a time for us to cross paths, we always check in, and that’s just been the way that it has been,” Carroll said.

Perhaps because that’s just the way Carroll is. He has never compromised his beliefs.

FIRING TURNED OUT TO BE A BLESSING

Carroll’s three years in New England were not without success. The Patriots made the playoffs his first two seasons and went 8-8 in 1999. But the team lost six of its last eight games and there were reports that Carroll had lost the confidence of his veteran players. The day after the season ended, Kraft fired Carroll.

Kraft told reporters Tuesday that he probably handicapped Carroll in those three years. Bill Parcells had been New England’s coach before Carroll and left under contentious circumstances. Kraft wasn’t going to allow his next head coach to have as much power.

“Although I had a great coach, I believed in more checks and balances like my other businesses,” Kraft said.

That firing may have been the best thing that ever happened to Carroll’s coaching career.

“Well, getting fired in New England sent me to a year where I had an opportunity to kind of re-evaluate what I was doing,” Carroll said. “The most important year, probably, of my coaching career happened between New England and going to USC. Because I went through the process of establishing the philosophy that you see now.

“And without that time, without that break, I don’t know if I ever would have done it.”

COACHES WITH DIFFERENT STYLES

Carroll’s teams at the University of Southern California went 97-19 and won two national championships. He became Seattle’s head coach on Jan. 11, 2010, and is one of only three head coaches to win both NCAA and Super Bowl championships.

So Kraft’s only two hires as head coaches are facing off in the Super Bowl. Not a bad track record.

And if you think these two coaches are so different – and publicly it certainly looks that way – you might be wrong.

Carroll, it has been noted, is the epitome of California cool. He bounces around the sidelines, shows his emotions and seems happy all the time. He gives names to the days of the week, like Competition Wednesday, where the practices are all about one-on-one drills. His players are given the freedom to make mistakes. He’s a player’s coach.

Belichick? Although he does occasionally hug a player and smile, he is perceived as much more dour, a glare on the sidelines, a grunt at the microphone. He mucks up the practice balls so his players have no excuse for fumbling in games. They are fearful of making mistakes. He is not a player’s coach.

But they are both innovators and great judges of talent and character. And they demand results from their players, just in different ways.

KEEPING IT LOOSE VS. TIGHT STRUCTURE

“What you see on TV is what you get pretty much from the two,” said New England cornerback Brandon Browner, who played three years for Carroll before signing with the Patriots last spring. “They have similarities too, though. Their football IQ is way up there. They are so different, but at the same time they’re the same. That is why they both have succeeded at this level.”

Browner, like every Seahawks player interviewed, said he’s never played for a coach like Carroll. The players never know what to expect from him. “He keeps it loose around there, which keeps guys loose and you’re not walking on eggshells,” Browner said.

He said Belichick is more “old-school, hard-nosed.” And that obviously works in New England, where players never know when Belichick is going to spring a pop quiz about their next opponent.

“On our way to walking into meeting rooms in Seattle you could hear music blasting, pumping, but none of that is going on in New England,” Browner said. “It’s all business-orientated. But I love playing for both coaches. I grew up with hard-nosed coaches from Pop Warner to high school. That’s what I’m used to and it brought back a little structure to my game.”

GREAT RESPECT FROM BRUSCHI, BELICHICK

Tedy Bruschi, the retired Patriots linebacker, also played for both.

And while he blossomed under Belichick, becoming one of the defensive leaders on New England’s three Super Bowl championship teams, he credited Carroll with a lot of that development. Bruschi was a defensive end in college and had to adjust to a new position in the pros.

“I always thought that Pete was a great coach, very influential in my career,” Bruschi said. “Pete taught me a lot of things about becoming a leader, becoming that leader on the team. It’s just unfortunate, I wasn’t even ready to take that step yet, because I was still learning how to survive to stay on a team.”

Bruschi sees much the same coach now with Seattle as he did on his own sideline in New England.

“I don’t think he’s changed much,” Bruschi said. “Maybe he’s grown as a coach in his own mind. I think you always try to improve. But I mean, I see that energy. I see the exuberance, the enthusiasm. The way that he speaks at the podium when I watch his press conferences is very similar to the way he handled things with us in the locker room.”

Belichick said on media day that there’s “not a coach in the NFL I respect more than Pete Carroll.”

He has watched Carroll build the Seahawks into an NFL power from afar and tried to learn new things. “I think he’s made me a better coach,” Belichick said.

On Sunday, it will be interesting to see who has learned more.