Pete Carroll appeared cool and relaxed on the telecast of Thursday night’s BCS Championship. He calmly questioned Texas coach Mack Brown’s decision to run a shovel pass just before halftime, resulting in an interception for a touchdown and a 24-6 Alabama lead. The USC coach, though, did not seem on the verge of a major career move.
Roughly 12 hours later, Carroll emerged as the leading candidate in the Seahawks’ coaching vacancy after the firing of coach Jim Mora on Friday.
A proposed deal between Carroll and the Seahawks to become the team’s new coach is likely, according to multiple reports. The former New England Patriots and New York Jets coach is set to sign a five-year deal at approximately $7 million a year to become the Seahawks’ president and coach, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Earlier in the week, Carroll met with Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times. During a Wednesday press conference, Mora sidestepped a question on whether Leiweke guaranteed his return next season, telling reporters “I haven't talked to Tod in a day, (he’s) busy with some other things.” The comments may suggest that Leiweke could have been courting Carroll in the days following the Seahawks 17-13 season-ending loss to the Titans.
“We’ve made a tough decision today,” Leiweke said in a statement Friday. “It became apparent after conducting an extensive internal audit, that a new direction was needed to provide an opportunity for the organization to be successful. Today’s decision, while difficult, is part of the process in building a franchise with a new vision in 2010.”
Since USC won the second of back-to-back national titles in January of 2005, Carroll has been approached by several NFL teams, most notably the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins. The previous deals have reportedly not included an opportunity to serve in a front office capacity, a probable sticking point. A spokesman in the USC Sports Media Relations Department said rumors of Carroll’s return to the NFL have surfaced for the past several years at the end of the college football season.
“Pete's name comes out at this time every year,” the spokesman said in a statement. “In the past, he hasn't commented on such reports. At this point, we have nothing to report.”
Ironically, Carroll’s four-year record of 33-31 with the Jets and Patriots is similar to the 31-33 record Mora has compiled in four seasons as a head coach in the league. In the postseason, Mora is 1-1 after leading the Falcons to the NFC Championship in January of 2004, while Carroll is 1-2 in the playoffs. Since Carroll left the Patriots following the 1999 season, however, he has won more than 83 per cent of his games at USC, including seven straight Pac-10 titles from 2002-2008.
During Carroll’s tenure at USC, Seahawks middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu anchored the Trojans’ defense for two years and received First-team All-American honors in the 2004-2005 season.
A year later, Tatupu earned the starting middle linebacker position in Seattle and led the Seahawks to the NFC Championship. In the week leading to the Super Bowl, Seahawks safety Michael Boulware told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that USC would have won the national championship, and the Seahawks would not have captured the NFC title had Tatupu remained in college.
“He (Carroll) sets the bar high—it's like a pro team down there," Tatupu said in an interview with the Press-Enterprise. "It's very structured, like a job. You're expected to perform well."
Either by fortune or design, Carroll’s defense is structured in the same manner as the scheme used by Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley during the 2009 season. Bradley is a disciple of former Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and operated a system based on the “Tampa Two,” which frequently employed two and three-deep zones.
Kiffin also served as a mentor for Carroll at the University of Arkansas in 1977, when the young coach was an assistant in the secondary in the defensive coordinator’s system. It is there Carroll learned the principles of the 4-3 under blitz, predicated on jamming the box with up to eight defensive players.
“In principle, we want to give our players a chance to know exactly what they have to defend. We also want to give them an attitude in which to do that. We want to be an attacking, aggressive football team,” Carroll said in a speech during a Nike coaching clinic. “We want to attack into the gap at the snap, get off the ball to play on their side of the field and get after the quarterback.”
One Seahawks’ player familiar with Carroll’s tendencies on offense is wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The former Cerritos (Calif.) College wideout has spent the past several offseasons working out with Trojans quarterbacks, receivers and defensive backs. This past summer, Houshmandzadeh took extensive repetitions with USC freshman quarterback Matt Barkley.
“One can only assume coming from SC, (Carroll’s) had a lot of success,” Houshmandzadeh told Seattle-area radio station ESPN 710 on Friday. “Guys are going to listen to what he has to say because of his track record. I think his experience will help him out.”
Before a deal with Carroll is finalized, the Seahawks must fulfill the requirements of the league’s Rooney Rule by interviewing a minority candidate for both their coaching and general manager vacancies. John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Minority Alliance, said in a phone interview Friday afternoon that he spoke with Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier earlier in the day.
Wooten said Frazier expects to meet with Seahawks officials, despite previous reports that the Minnesota assistant coach declined an interview. Frazier is expected to interview with the Seahawks on Saturday in Minneapolis, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
The chairman of the alliance also said Seahawks officials have indicated they will create two separate positions for president and general manager of the team. Wooten said he provided Seahawks officials with a list of minority candidates that includes: Giants Director of College Scouting Marc Ross, Lions Vice President of Pro Personnel Sheldon White, Texans Director of Pro Personnel Brian Gardner, Chiefs Director of Pro Personnel Ray Farmer and Titans Director of Pro Scouting Lake Dawson.
The Seahawks could fulfill the requirements of the Rooney Rule by naming Carroll as team president and a minority candidate such as Ross as general manager, the Seattle Times reported. Wooten added that Seahawks officials indicated to him that they would begin the interviewing process for general manager next week.
In terms of minority coaching candidates, Wooten said the list he provided to Seahawks officials includes: Frazier, Dolphins wide receiver coach Karl Dorrell, former Buffalo interim coach Perry Fewell, Saints wide receiver coach Curtis Johnson, Broncos running backs coach Bobby Turner, and Ravens defensive backs coach Mark Carrier. Carrier earned First-team All-American honors as a safety at USC.
Houshmandzadeh said the possibility of Carroll’s hire could invigorate a locker room in strife at the tail-end of the season. The Seahawks finished 5-11 and lost their final four games by a combined margin of 123-37. As the players cleared out their lockers on Monday, several openly questioned their trust in the offense.
“Everybody has something to prove,” Houshmandzadeh said of the possibility of playing for Carroll. “It’s like meeting a woman for the first time (and) taking her on a date, man. You got to do everything you can to impress her. We are all on high alert, we have to come out and do our best.”