Pete Carroll is known for many things. He is known for his exuberance on the field. He is known for his "Win Forever" slogan, his Always Compete mantra. The lovely silver locks on his sixty year-old head that have receded less than those on my nineteen year-old skull. He is known for these large things. He is known for stepping on an opponent’s throat.
Carroll is known for his exploits with the USC Trojans, where he won two BCS Championships and six BCS bowls.
What Carroll isn’t known for is his ability as an NFL coach. Now, he is beginning to earn that reputation around the NFL thanks to the success the Seahawks have had this season. Now, this isn’t about getting Carroll the respect he deserves. He will get that in due time if he keeps on what he is doing.
One mark of a good coach is having his team peak at the end of the season. Part of the reason Tom Coughlin is viewed as a good coach (aside from the Super Bowl rings) is because he is able to get his Giants hot at the right time. Does Pete Carroll have that same ability to get his team to play at their best when it matters most: in the playoffs?
In Pete’s first season, the team started 5-2, and then things went downhill from there, losing seven of their next eight games. At 6-9, Carroll’s Seahawks needed just a victory against the Rams at home in front of the 12th Man to secure a spot in the playoffs. They did just that, winning the NFC West and squeaking into the playoffs on the back of a weak division.
What came next shocked everyone. We all know that the greatest run in NFL playoff history gets all the attention and is the defining moment for the biggest upset ever in the playoffs; Hasselbeck’s swan song as a Seahawk was nothing less than great. 272 yards, four touchdowns to one interception on 35 attempts.
Carroll coached his team to play their best game of the season in the most important game of their season. They were beaten by Chicago the following week, but that means little. Carroll got his team to outplay their ability level by getting them to play their very best late in the season.
In his second season, Carroll led his team to another late surge. Sitting at 2-6 with a matchup against the Baltimore Ravens coming up, Seattle took a major step forward. They won at home against Baltimore and then on the road in St. Louis in a 24-7 victory. Then, the inexplicable home loss to the Redskins, the "what if" game for many fans, happened.
Then Carroll’s late-season magic took its turn once again. Seattle won its next three games with no less than a 24-point margin in any of them. Playoff contention talks abounded from fans, even if the Seahawks still needed to win out at home versus San Francisco (who was having an amazing year under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh) and in Arizona. Both games were close, but Seattle pulled out the win in neither.
The late-season surge brought about the beginning of Beast Mode taking Seattle by storm. The identity for Seattle was born in that late-season surge that had dominant defense combined with an offense that could actually do things, sometimes.
The trend had begun to show itself a little bit more, so I decided to look at the past for Carroll, and see if his previous teams in the NFL had shown the same tendencies.
I started with Carroll’s 1994 New York Jets. The Jets don’t hold this model well at all. The team started out well enough, winning their first two games, with one of them being an overtime game versus the Denver Broncos, decided on a field goal. The Jets went 4-5 in their next nine games, an okay mark, but then things fell apart for Carroll’s crew. They lost their final six.
That season shows zero of the ability Pete has displayed in Seattle, to get his team hot at the right time. He was fired after that season. He got his next head coaching gig with the New England Patriots in 1997.
The Patriots were coming off of a Super Bowl appearance Bill Parcells coached the team to. Carroll stepped in and led the team to the playoffs. They took a path to the playoffs all too familiar to Seahawks fans. New England finished 10-6 to win the AFC East thanks to a strong finish: four wins in their final five games. The lone loss in that stretch was in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
There was another theme during that stretch that was reminiscent of the Seahawks for the better part of this season. The largest margin of victory for the Patriots over that stretch was six points. Their lone loss was by three points in an extra period. Quite a few close games. Some might say he was lucky to pull out as many wins as he did during that time, and maybe he was. Regardless, he finished the season winning four of five.
Next was the playoffs, where Pete won a game and lost the next. After handily dealing with the Miami Dolphins 17-3, the Patriots traveled to Pittsburgh and lost a very close game against the Steelers 6-7. The Steelers would then go on to lose their next game to the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.
The following season doesn’t follow the model quite as well as 1997, but it still could potentially show a late-peaking team. With six weeks remaining, the Patriots sat at 5-5. They needed to play better to finish off the season if they wanted to make the playoffs. So they did, winning their next three and four of their next five to lock up a playoff spot with a game still to go. They lost their week 17 game and then their first-round playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
1999 was a tough year for the Patriots head coach. The season started out better than any had to date for him, winning his first four games, and beginning with a 6-2 record, before the wheels fell off of Carroll’s wagon.
They went into the bye week after shellacking the Cardinals 27-3, then came out of the bye week a totally different team. New England lost their next three games, and six of their final eight. They fell out of playoff contention, and Carroll was fired for the second time as a head coach.
Pete Carroll ultimately landed in Southern California, and thrived. He won, and won a lot. Over his nine seasons he compiled 97 pre-vacated wins. To look at how his teams finished seasons though, we can look at his record in bowl games. Bowl games are usually a better matchup, especially BCS bowls, than most regular season games. This lessens the probability that it was based off of wins against inferior competition.
Carroll’s career record in bowl games is 7-2. Theoretically, it would be impossible to have that career record in the NFL playoffs and not have a Super Bowl ring, unless you are currently within the playoffs with at least one win. That is all hypothetical however. November is typically when the NCAA regular season is winding down, and Carroll’s Trojans had a 25-1 record in November.
That brings us to his time at Seattle. His first two seasons have been documented above. Seattle’s late-season surge is no fluke. The team showed its mettle early in the season with victories over Green Bay and New England. Then they won in Chicago (victories at Soldier Field for three consecutive seasons) and things turned.
The Hawks have been winners of five straight and seven of their last eight. Football Outsiders DVOA has them listed as the best team in the NFL. The Seahawks are good, and are now THE hot team in the NFL, the team nobody wants to play. That was the Giants last season; the Giants several seasons ago when they knocked off the Patriots. Tom Coughlin has magic. Pete Carroll has magic. One could assume that he keeps the magic somewhere in his hair with all the sand left over from SoCal, but we may never know that.
I cover Washington Huskies basketball over at SBN affiliate UW Dawg Pound, and this ability to get your team to peak at the right time is something shared across Seattle by Lorenzo Romar. He always gets his Huskies to play their best basketball going into the Pac- 12 tournament.
When the regular season is wrapping up and the Browns are packing their bags ready for their flight home, some coaches have that ability to get his team playing their best ball at the right time. Tom Coughlin has it, and he has two rings to show for it. Pete Carroll has it, but time has yet to tell if he will have anything to show for it.
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