Seattle’s Pete Carroll is the Rah-Rah coach. New England coach Bill Belichick is Blah-Blah coach.
Carroll approaches life like a game-show host. Animated. Energetic. Talkative.
Belichick’s public persona is more like a librarian’s. He speaks in a dull monotone. Respectful but boring.
Regardless of their methods, they get results. And going into Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday, both Belichick and Carroll are on the verge of carving a legacy that few will match.
Belichick is one of four NFL coaches to win three Super Bowls, and he could join Pittsburgh’s Chuck Noll as the only one with four. But he is the only one to have coached in six Super Bowls, and unlike Hall of Famers Noll, Joe Gibbs and Bill Walsh, who won three Super Bowls each, Belichick has done in it in the ultra-competitive era of unfettered free agency and the salary cap.
Carroll, in just his fifth year with the Seahawks, is bidding to become the first coach to win back-to-back Super Bowls since Belichick’s 2003-04 Patriots. While Belichick was winning those two Vince Lombardi Trophies, Carroll won consecutive college championships in 2003-04.
After joining Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson as the only coaches to win both a national college championship and a Super Bowl, Carroll could become the only coach with two of each.
Yet both have their unscrupulous side.
Belichick is infamous for his role in Spygate, when he was fined $500,000 and the Patriots lost a first-round draft pick in 2008 after the Patriots were found guilty of videotaping New York Jets signals on the sidelines. And now he’s in the eye of the storm of Deflategate, as the Patriots were accused of deflating the air pressure in footballs during the AFC Championship Game.
Carroll left behind a Southern California program that vacated the 2004 BCS championship and was penalized by a two-year bowl ban, loss of 30 scholarships and forfeiture of Reggie Bush’s Heisman Trophy. But Carroll’s name does not appear in the NCAA report, which some called a witch hunt.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft knows them both well. He fired Carroll following the 1999 season after three seasons and a 27-21 record as New England’s coach. And he hired Belichick, who is fourth in career NFL coaching victories with 232, including a record 21 in the postseason.
“When I hired Pete, I was coming off my first experience as an owner,” Kraft said. “He’s pretty special to be around. He’s a lot of fun. He’s not your typical head coach in the NFL. He’s also very smart, and especially in defenses, very capable.”
Kraft, after working with Bill Parcells, was uncomfortable giving Carroll control over football operations, but when Kraft hired Belichick, he gave the former Parcells disciple total authority.
“I think I handicapped Pete from doing as good a job as he could have done …” Kraft said, “so when I was privileged to hire Bill Belichick, I matured as an owner to the point where I knew how to set it up and then see how the person performed. Having Bill Belichick as my head coach, I don’t think I could have a better one.”
Carroll, meanwhile, as executive vice president of football operations, has the authority in Seattle, even handpicking his general manager, John Schneider, who together with Carroll has churned the roster, making more than 900 roster moves in their five seasons.
“Pete demands a lot from you,” said former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who played for both Carroll and for Belichick’s three Super Bowl champions. “He expects a lot and puts a lot on his players in terms of ownership of the team …
“I don’t think he’s changed much. 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 handles things with us in the locker room. Turnover Thursday, No Repeat Friday, things like that. The naming of the days. And the way that he’s able to relate to the new modern athlete, I think that’s new, on how he’s done that.”
Belichick is equally demanding, Bruschi says, “but I wouldn’t call him a player’s coach. He’s a coach that knows what he wants and then expects his players to get it done.”
Despite his success, Belichick’s reputation for pushing the envelope of the rule book has tarnished a Hall of Fame resume, and his gruff personality hasn’t endeared himself to the public.
“I guess for a lot of people he’s a hard person to like,” Bruschi said. “You don’t get Rex Ryan up there. You don’t get a coach who’s going to give you what you want all the time. He wants his players to conduct themselves a certain way, and he can’t expect that unless he’s that way in front of (reporters).
“So there’s a lot of people that have maybe skewed opinions of him based on the past, based on the way he’s handled certain things publicly. I mean, this is a guy that all he does is want to win football games and is a great coach to all of his players. His players love him. So if people have a problem with him in terms of perception, I think that’s their problem, not his.”
In other words, it’s what has become known as The Patriot Way.
Belichick shined a little light on his coaching style when he admitted the Patriots try to make the football muddy and wet in practices to make it harder on his players.
“The ‘Patriot Way’ is a hard way to live, if you ask me,” Bruschi said. “There’s always pressure. What Bill said about making the ball … imagine that type of approach to every single thing you do basically is what it is.
“That even comes to meetings, when you’re anticipating questions out of the blue of who the third tight end is, or if you’re on the punt team, who is the rusher on the wing … always under constant pressure.
“It’s hard … with your coach that’s always putting pressure on you, a fan base that constantly puts pressure on you. You’ve got to love the pressure and live for the pressure to play in New England. That’s the way it is. You also have to know you’re getting pressure from outside sources. And they feel inside that locker room sometimes that everybody out there doesn’t want them to win. That’s the way we felt.”
Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington respects the effort and extremes Belichick goes to in preparing his team.
“He’s dedicated,” said Arrington, who is in his sixth season. “Of all the dedication it takes to put in to be a pretty good player in this league, it takes even more dedication to be a good coach. He’s the first one to show up, he’s the last to leave. I don’t even think he leaves the facility some nights. He does a great job of putting players in positions to succeed.”
And, Arrington says, it’s not all business all the time.
“Bill’s a surprisingly funny guy,” Arrington said. “Not a lot of people get that. There’s one side of Bill that he shows with the media. He doesn’t want to give it all away. Just like a game plan, you don’t want to give it all away.”
Neither Belichick nor Carroll reached the pinnacle of success on their first go-round.
Belichick toiled five years as Cleveland Browns coach before Kraft gave him a second chance in 2000. Carroll lasted just one season with the New York Jets (Belichick was Jets coach for one day before backing out) and three with the Patriots before going the college route.
Only the New York Giants’ Tom Coughlin, 68, and a two-time Super Bowl winner in his second coaching job, is older among NFL coaches than Carroll, 63, and Belichick, 62.
“Well, coming from a ‘retread’ multiple times, it’s just experiences,” Carroll said. “This is a really difficult job the first time. There are so many things that happen in this position that you just can’t predict and you just don’t know and you don’t see it coming in your preparation.
“You just have to deal with it as it hits you. Everybody is going to falter and make mistakes and say, ‘I wish I would have known then what I know now.’ What unfortunately doesn’t always happen is guys get enough time to work through those early years so that you can find your way and you can find your voice and you can find your perspective. So, often guys get kicked out. I got kicked out after one year at the Jets. I didn’t even get started figuring that thing out, I was a mess.”
Carroll’s current players never would have believed that. Most days begin with a competitive shoot-off at a basket stationed in the team’s meeting room. And then it’s time to get down to business.
“What I think makes coach Carroll so successful is his consistent approach,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “You know what you’re going to get every day. You know that he’s going to be that positive coach. You know that he’s going to be uplifting. You know that he’s going to challenge us. You know that he’s going to make us compete at a high level.
“He’s a difference-maker and he’s unique in his own way. Not many people can be like him and that’s what makes him arguably the best coach in the National Football League in my opinion.”
Deep snapper Clint Gresham said: “One thing I love about coach Carroll, it doesn’t matter what game it is, we prepare for the fourth preseason game, which most teams kind of mail it in, the way we prepare for a playoff game.
“That’s a testament to the type of coach he is and one of the reasons we’ve been able to play at a consistently high level.”
Predictably, Belichick downplays his role in the Patriots’ run of winning six AFC championships, 12 of the last 14 AFC East titles and what a fourth Super Bowl championship would mean.
“It’s really not about that right now for me,” Belichick said. “What it’s about for me is this week and our matchup with the Seattle Seahawks. What did or didn’t happen in any of other five, six Super Bowls I coached, five as a head coach, three that I was involved in as an assistant … this is the one that is really important.
“My philosophy is to give the players a good plan and opportunity to play and put them in a position that they’re able to be competitive and be aggressive and let the players play. They’re the ones who have won our games, they’re the ones that make the plays out there … and they have gone out there and performed well and made the plays we’ve needed them to make to win.
“That’s really what this game is about — it’s about players making the plays that your team needs to win, and a lot of them that have done that. I think as a coach, you want to make sure you don’t screw that up.”
Carroll appreciates the significance of adding a second Super Bowl title to his two college championships.
“There are a lot of similarities,” he said. “It’s really difficult to get there the first time and then if you’ve done it like you like to, you kind of pave the way for the next time. I’m thrilled about the opportunity. This is very difficult to get to this position … but we had been planning to do this for some time in hopes that we could.
“It’s a real statement that we had a bunch of guys that were determined to get this done and they made the adjustments that we needed to make to stay on track so that we could put together a season that would put us in this position. So, we’re real excited about that and thrilled to be in the middle of all that.”
It’s also meaningful that he has come full circle to be coaching in the Super Bowl against the Patriots.
“It was a real challenge,” he said of his time in New England. “It’s a great place to be in sports … a great town, a great following, much like it is (in Seattle). We did some good stuff while we were there, but it didn’t work out, and it was time to move on.
“All of a sudden I sound like Bill.”