Pete Carroll may be the NFL’s oldest head coach (he turned 69 Tuesday), but his program in Seattle is humming so well — tied for the fourth-most wins in the NFL (101) since he was hired in 2010, and seven playoff appearances the last eight years — that he doesn’t feel the urge to retire anytime soon.
“I’m feeling great, and I’m kind of on a five-year plan,” Carroll said Wednesday. “It was five years last year, five years this year. We’ll figure it out when the time comes.”
Carroll is riding high, benefiting from 48 years of coaching experiences. He has reached the highest of highs, winning a college football national championship and a Super Bowl.
But Carroll also has benefited from a few low moments, two of which came at the hands of the Patriots.
“I hate learning the hard way, but sometimes you have to,” said Carroll, who this week is preparing his Seahawks to host the Patriots on “Sunday Night Football.”
The biggest pill to swallow, as you well know, was losing Super Bowl XLIX to the Patriots. The Seahawks' decision to throw a slant pass on the 1-yard line, and not hand off to Marshawn Lynch, goes down as one of the biggest coaching blunders in all of sports history, not just the NFL.
Malcolm Butler intercepted the pass, the Seahawks lost both the Super Bowl and their chance at becoming a dynasty, and they haven’t been able to get back.
“There was a grieving process that you had to go through,” Carroll said. “Get to the truth of what happened, and make sure we get on the same page, and then with the truth move forward.”
Carroll is perhaps fortunate that the Patriots have embarrassed other teams in the Super Bowl. Thanks to 28-3, the Falcons have replaced Carroll as the go-to Super Bowl punch line.
But Carroll has helped repair his image by building a dominant program. Most of the initial core players — Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Lynch, Kam Chancellor, and Doug Baldwin — are long gone, but Carroll and general manager John Schneider have rebuilt the Seahawks on the fly.
Despite the turnover, the Seahawks have made the playoffs and won at least 10 games in four of the last five years. They won a playoff game in three of those seasons, had a dominant win over the Falcons last week, and remain annual Super Bowl contenders with Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, and Carroll.
His three games against the Patriots have all been epics: A 24-23 Seahawks win in 2012 dubbed the “U Mad Bro” game, a 28-24 loss in the Super Bowl, and a 31-24 win at Gillette Stadium in 2016 that came down to the final play.
“They came in here and handled us in 2016,” Bill Belichick said this week. “I have a ton of respect for Pete. His consistency, his record, his ability to handle whatever comes, and do it in a way that doesn’t distract the team.
"They go out there and play hard, play competitive every week. It doesn’t matter where it is or who it is or what the circumstances are.”
Carroll didn’t defend the decision to throw from the 1-yard line Wednesday, but he did point out that the Seahawks are one of two teams this century (along with the Patriots) to go to back-to-back Super Bowls.
“You see most teams that win the Super Bowl don’t do very well the next time around, so we were right back there again,” he said. “I was really proud of that.”
There was another dark time with the Patriots that helped Carroll become the coach he is today. His three seasons as head coach (1997–99) ended with a respectable 27-21 regular-season record, but no trips to even the conference title game. Robert Kraft fired Carroll after a playoff-less 8-8 season in 1999 and brought back Belichick, who has been the head coach for 21 seasons and counting.
Carroll recalled there wasn’t great communication between him and the Patriots about how the team would be structured. He had been the defensive coordinator for the 49ers, and thought he would have total control over the Patriots' schemes.
“I was kind of under the impression that we were going to bring in the 49ers system, coming from San Francisco and all that, and that’s not really what happened,” Carroll said. “The philosophy and approach was really a blend of what had been and what they had done and all of that.
"So it didn’t quite work out the way I intended when I got in there, so I was frustrated by that.”
Carroll took those lessons with him to the University of Southern California, where he won four Rose Bowls and a national championship — a second was vacated — in nine seasons. And he took those lessons with him to Seattle, where he has built a consistent winner.
“The fact that it didn’t work out there really sent me into a mode of really uncovering the philosophy, really a greater depth than ever,” Carroll said. “And we’ve done things the same for the last 20 years at SC and here, in our approach and mentality and how we treat people.
“The standards of the program were all developed, really, coming out of the New England experience.”