When the 48th Super Bowl is complete, either John Fox or Pete Carroll will have won their first Super Bowl. Not just as head coaches, but as coaches in any capacity. Though it's not like both haven't been trying for a very, very long time.
Even though they have never even coached for the same professional teams (Carroll was a secondary coordinator for Iowa State in 1978, Fox was the defensive backs coach for Iowa State in 1984; This is the only coaching stop they have in common) their histories are quite similar.
Carroll, 62, is four years older than Fox. He actually stayed in the college ranks until he was 32 (if you're my age (31) you can start to put your life into perspective and realize that when Pete Carroll was your age, he was still just a defensive coordinator at NC State -- okay, that's still pretty good, I now feel bad again) but got his first NFL job with the Buffalo Bills in 1984 as the defensive backs coach.
The Bills went 2-14 under Kay Stephenson and fired everyone, but Carroll quickly picked up the same job he had before, but now with the Minnesota Vikings.
Over Fox's first eight years as a coach, he worked with eight different teams:
San Diego State, Boise State, Long Beach State, Utah, Kansas, Iowa State, Los Angeles Express (USFL), and then finally at the University of Pittsburgh in 1986. He was the defensive backs coach for all of those teams save SD State, where he was a graduate assistant, and Pitt, where he served as both DB coach and defensive coordinator. Fox was 31 when he got his promotion to defensive coordinator and would stay there for three years, before getting a job in the same city, but now with the Steelers.
There would be just that one year where both Carroll and Fox were secondary coaches in the NFL, in 1989, when Carroll's Vikings ranked first against the pass and first in interceptions, while Fox's Steelers were 16th against the pass and ninth in interceptions. The two teams met in Week 3, however, with Pittsburgh beating the Vikings, 27-14.
Over his five seasons with Minnesota, Carroll helped construct one of the very best secondaries of all-time, if not the best. In 1987, Carroll's 8-7 Vikings made a shocking run to the NFC Championship, losing 17-10 to the Washington Redskins on a late, fourth quarter touchdown from Doug Williams. They went to the playoffs in each of the next two years, with one of the best defenses in the NFL, but lost to the 49ers in both postseason runs.
Carroll was hired away to be the defensive coordinator for the New York Jets in 1990, and once again faced Fox's Steelers. Fox quickly improved the secondary into ranking first against the pass, and also defeated Carroll's Jets 24-7.
The two would not meet again until 1996.
For four years under head coach Bruce Coslett, and just one playoff appearance, Carroll's defenses were "good, not great." However, when Coslett was fired, not only was Carroll retained, but he was promoted to head coach. He had Boomer Esiason, and Art Monk, and Ronnie Lott, and... and... and if this was 1987 that would mean something. But it was 1994 and the Jets lost their final five games of the year to finish 6-10.
Carroll was fired after one season, but quickly found one of the most coveted jobs in the NFL at that time; He was hired to take over for Ray Rhodes in San Francisco, who had left the 49ers following their 1994 Super Bowl championship to coach the Philadelphia Eagles.
Over this period of time, Fox jumped around a bit like he had in college. He spent three years with the Steelers, then two with the Chargers (still as a DB coach), before landing the defensive coordinator job for the Los Angeles Raiders in 1994. LA finished seventh in net yards per pass attempt allowed that season, and then moved to Oakland in 1995.
The two coaches did not face off against each other in '95, but they did vie for the affections of the Bay Area. Carroll was the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers while Fox held the same position with the Oakland Raiders. The Niners finished second in scoring defense, first in total defense, and led the league in interceptions, but they had an unlucky season. San Francisco lost five games that year by a combined 15 points (and also had to start Elvis Grbac in place of Steve Young for five games), then lost to the Green Bay Packers in their first playoff game.
Oakland finished 17th in scoring defense, 10th in yards allowed, 14th against the pass, seventh in nY/A allowed, and 22nd in interceptions.
Foxy Foxy was let go, and he would become a "consultant" with the St. Louis Rams in 1996 (he clearly had a penchant for teams that left Los Angeles). He may have not had great influence with the Rams that year, but Carroll was able to even up the score in the head-to-head battle as coaches. The 49ers swept the Rams in 1996, winning both games by a combined score of 62-11.
Carroll parlayed his success with San Francisco under George Seifert into the head job with the New England Patriots in 1997. (Surprisingly, current Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman was the offensive coordinator for San Francisco in 95-96 but took 16 years longer than Carroll to get his first NFL head coaching gig.)
Fox was able to revitalize his own career, going from consultant to defensive coordinator of the New York Giants under Jim Fassel.
Carroll stayed with the Patriots for three seasons, making two playoff appearances, but never breaking through to rise to the expectations that they had for the team. New England's defense was sometimes great, mostly average, and when he was fired, Carroll actually took a year off from football, mostly acting as a media personality and consultant.
Just think about that.
Fifteen years ago, Carroll was nearly 50, out of football (he could have probably landed a defensive coordinator position but opted to take time off instead) and certainly a pariah where the NFL was concerned. At least as a head coach. In the same year that Carroll's career had seemingly bottomed out, Fox's was flourishing.
The Giants went to the Super Bowl in 2000 and finished fifth in total defense and scoring defense. New York lost the Super Bowl to the Baltimore Ravens and Fox stayed on for one more year before landing the first head coaching job of his career at age 47 with the Carolina Panthers. (Six degrees of Pete Carroll: Fox was taking over for Seifert.)
Fox hired Jack Del Rio to be his first defensive coordinator (Del Rio was the linebackers coach for those Ravens that beat him in the Super Bowl, and is now Denver's defensive coordinator) and the team improved from 2-14 to 7-9 in their first season. It probably also helped that they replaced Chris Weinke with Rodney Peete, and elected to draft Julius Peppers instead of Joey Harrington.
Carolina finished second in total defense with Fox, and Del Rio was hired to coach the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The next year, the Panthers went 11-5, pulled off shocking upsets in St. Louis and Philadelphia in the playoffs, before losing 32-29 to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Oh yeah, remember that? Carroll's Patriots won a Super Bowl two years after he was fired, and then won two more in the next three years.
Luckily for Carroll, he was winning a national championship with USC.
He'd spend nine years with the Trojans before making his "triumphant" (from a USC perspective, they might not use that word) return to the NFL with the Seahawks. And 15 years after he had last coached against him in any capacity, Carroll again faced off against John Fox. This time, they were finally both head coaches.
In Week 13 of the 2010 season, Seattle beat Carolina 31-14.
The same as it was the year before he arrived, the Panthers went 2-14 and Fox was fired after nine seasons. He hadn't won a playoff game since 2005, the same year he was knocked out of the playoffs in the NFC Championship against... the Seattle Seahawks.
The last time the NFC West faced off against the AFC West in the regular season was 2010, so Fox and Carroll have not faced each other since in the regular season, though they've met a couple of times in the preseason. (Seattle winning those last two contests) Overall in their careers, the team that Carroll works for is 4-2 against the team that Fox works for. He has won the last four of those games now, and is 1-0 against Fox in their careers as head coaches.
Carroll is 5-4 in the playoffs in his career, while Fox is 8-5. It will be the first time that Carroll has coached in a Super Bowl, in any capacity, while it will be the third for Fox.
They both had pit stops at Iowa State, they both came up as secondary coaches, they both experienced success on the defensive side of the ball. They've both seen the high's and low's of coaching, they both found themselves at crossroads in their careers long before they would wind up right here, right on the precipice of the highest point you can reach in the world of football.
There's not much to the history of "Carroll versus Fox" but surprisingly, their careers share quite a few interesting parallels. I just hope it's our guy that's first to say, "I won a ring."
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