If things had turned out differently, the mention of Bill Belichick could be a sore subject for Pete Carroll. After all, Carroll was fired 20 years ago by the New England Patriots so they could replace him with Belichick, the second time Carroll was fired by an NFL team in five years.
Instead, that decision by the Patriotsand let's face it, it turned out pretty well on their endbecame a turning point in Carroll's career, paving the way for him to not just someday get another NFL job, but to become one of the league's most successful coaches.
And now, 20 years after Belichick replaced Carroll, the two will face off for the fourth time as coaches of the Patriots and Seahawks, and they'll do so not just as two of the league's longest-tenured coaches, but also representing the oldest combined age of opposing head coaches in an NFL game in league history, per NFL research.
"The fact that we're still coaching and our paths are still crossing, I guess that means we've done pretty well or somebody would have replaced us," Belichick said on a conference call with Seattle-area reporters this week. "I have a ton of respect for all that Pete's accomplished, both at Seattle and at USC and at other places in his career. He's a great coach."
As Belichick referenced, Carroll ended up at USC after being fired by New England, but an important part of that story is the year he took off between those jobs, using that time to more clearly define his philosophy.
When he was introduced as Seattle's head coach in 2010, Carroll said of his previous NFL jobs, "I didn't know who the heck I was as a football coach." Losing an NFL head coaching jobagainforced Carroll to regroup and made him a better coach, one who would not just get another crack at the NFL, but who would use it to become, after Belichick, the most successful coach of the past decade, winning one Super Bowl, leading the Seahawks to two, and reaching the playoffs eight times in 10 seasons.
"It was a crucial year for me," Carroll said in 2015 prior to coaching against his former team in Super Bowl XLIX. "& It gave me an opportunity to really collect my thoughts about moving forward and to get pointed in the direction that, really, we have maintained since. I had a tremendous opportunity to reflect on the time that I had had. It's such a whirlwind when you're coaching and you're flying so fast that sometimes, we don't figure out that we need to step back and revisit all of the stuff that's important to us. That's what happened, and out of that came every word of our approach and every philosophy that we stand by now.
"I didn't regret anything that happened at New England. It needed to happen for me to get to the point where I had to dig in and figure out what was right, so I'm proud of the way that process went because it really worked out."
And while Carroll and Belichick might seem like opposites, personality wise, it's their similarities, from their defensive backgrounds the disciplined way they run their programs, which in turn leads to consistency, that have made them to of the best at their profession.
"I think what's similar is our defensive background," Carroll said. "We've both been defensive guys our whole life, and we look at the game from that perspective I think in general. We both had the opportunity to be involved in our offenses a lot over the years. We've tried toI know he does, I know I dotry to influence what we do on offense, how we do it. We both have really I think strong commitments to our approach and philosophy; it doesn't really matter much what happens, we're going to be pretty much the same with who we are, what we want to get done with our teams. I know that he is, and I know that I am, very fundamental coaches in this game as far as the tactical part of it, the technical part of it, the principles of playing good ball, executing, not giving your opponent much. We're both real committed in that sense. I think it's kind of a general football outlook. The two of us, the two teams, have really played similar in a lot of areas in terms of big numbers and stuff, turnovers, winning games, divisions, stuff like that. They've been way ahead of us with a lot more wins than us, but we're out there kind of. So there's been some similarities in the consistency."
The consistency shows up in the repeat playoff appearances for both teams, and there's no bigger indicator of both coaches' commitment to fundamentals than the fact that, since Carroll's second year in Seattle, New England ranks first in turnover differential over that nine-year stretch, and the Seahawks rank second, with a pretty significant gap between them and the No. 3 team on the list.