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Enter the Patriots: Appetizer to revenge

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Pete Carroll will draw on an illustrious coaching tree to try to topple his nemesis

NFL: Super Bowl XLIX-New England Patriots vs Seattle Seahawks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“… and then you have Godzilla, who is reality.”

When Pete Carroll was head coach of the New England Patriots from 1997 to 1999, Dante Scarnecchia was his special teams coordinator until Carroll installed him as the offensive line coach in the final year, a position he remains in with the Patriots to this day notwithstanding his semi-retirement in 2014-15. The way Scarnecchia notably restored stability to New England’s offensive line with his return this year, after some struggles in 2015 under Dave DeGuglielmo and despite featuring mostly a mix of unheralded mid-late-round draft picks and undrafted talent (left tackle Nate Solder is the Patriots’ only first-round starter; the center David Andrews went undrafted), might make some Seattle Seahawks fans wish Carroll had been able to coax Scarnecchia into making the comeback with his new team. Of course New England now runs the Erhardt-Perkins offensive system while Seattle’s Darrell Bevell uses a West Coast style with zone-blocking principles, but Scarnecchia able to adapt to Ernie Zampese’s Air Coryell schemes the first time under Carroll.

But my point is that though Scarnecchia technically falls under the Pete Carroll coaching tree, he was never one of Carroll’s guys, exactly. Scarnecchia had not only worked across from Bill Belichick under the previous Bill Parcells regime—he was also under Dick MacPherson and has been with the Patriots in fact since all the way back in the Ron Meyer-Raymond Berry days in the early ’80s, except for 1989-90 when he joined Meyer in Indianapolis. You can’t even joke around and call Scarnecchia a piece of the furniture in New England anymore. He’s more like the garden.

Still, since Carroll, like Belichick and Parcells, worked for both the New York Jets and the Patriots in the 1990s, it’s interesting to think about the way those coaching lineages intersect and overlap and feed back. I’ve always enjoyed marveling at coaching trees, like the way in college basketball you can trace Mike Krzyzewski through his college coach at Army, Bobby Knight, to Henry Iba, who is linked through coaching circles to John Wooden and Adolph Rupp, who learned the game from Phog Allen at Kansas, who played for James Naismith who literally invented the game. All these names, in addition to Dean Smith who also played for Allen, stand at the head of their own significant branches on the basketball coaching tree.

Likewise, in football, it’s well known that Parcells’s high school coach played basketball for Vince Lombardi as a youngster in New Jersey. But who hears how the course of NFL history might have changed if the legendary Paul Brown, namesake and coach of the championship Cleveland Browns of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s and founder of the Cincinnati Bengals, had not backed up Weeb Ewbank as the quarterback at Miami (OH) in the 1920s? Or how that never would have happened if Brown hadn’t been cut trying out for Ohio State, years before Brown, as a coach, led the Buckeyes to their first ever national championship in 1942? During the 1930s both Ewbanks and Brown made their chops at the high school level, like Lombardi, before Brown hired Ewbanks in Cleveland—and Ewbanks went on to lead the Baltimore Colts to an NFL title in the “Greatest Game Ever Played” before beating the Colts a decade later with—tra la—the Jets in Super Bowl III.

Football’s legacies are typically more fragmented, but Carroll has gathered insights by working with Lou Holtz and Monte Kiffin at Arkansas, Bud Grant in Minnesota, Bill Walsh in San Francisco (George Seifert was the coach but Walsh had returned as a consultant by the time of Carroll’s tenure in 1995-96, and Carroll was also influenced by Walsh disciple and fellow Pacific grad Bruce Coslet in New York), and assorted other mentors during his numerous apprenticeships, not to mention studying Wooden. Coslet and Walsh, of course, were together under Brown in Cincinnati from 1969-75.

Scarnecchia is, in that way, thanks to the Carroll and Parcells crossover, a link between the heritages of Vince Lombardi and Paul Brown. Carroll and Belichick are probably the closest we have to those foundational figures in the NFL today, although it’s perplexing neither of them have launched any particularly memorable branches on the coaching tree in the form of assistants becoming successful head coaches elsewhere. Dan Quinn’s had mixed results, but Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian were failures at USC, Gus Bradley is 14-42 and even though the Raiders are 7-2 their defense is last in the league in yards per play and Ken Norton, Jr., had play-calling duties taken away from him.

Belichick’s assistants have notably been grenades elsewhere too, but Belichick’s achievements with the Patriots are so towering nobody cares and, right now, together with this detail about Carroll’s coaching progeny Belichick is probably the main thing standing in the way of the grey-haired assassin’s Hall of Fame case—both for turning New England into a dynasty immediately after Carroll didn’t, and obviously by blocking Seattle’s chance at a second straight Super Bowl win in XLIX.

Carroll won’t be able to cement any possible historical legacy with an ordinary regular season matchup like this one, no matter how prime its time, but he may have to harness the full depth of his coaching file cabinets to overcome his rival and successor this time on the road. Look, you don’t really need me to break this down: The Patriots are 4-0 since Tom Brady returned, with a point differential (plus-65) that would be third in the league for the season. Seattle is 2-1-1 in its last four with a point differential of plus-three. People talk about the Seahawks’ various splits and victory totals since mid-2012 but New England has only lost at home with Brady in a non-meaningless game once since that year and it took two special teams scores and a 99-yard interception return touchdown. Oh, and the Patriots are coming off their bye, while Seattle is missing its best defensive player (although so, maybe, is New England to be fair) and last played four days ago.

It’s not that I think the Seahawks don’t stand a chance. I have every reason to believe Seattle will have studied the tape and will be as prepared for this showdown as Belichick and his staff. However, to circumvent that classic Belichickian readiness and guide his team to victory I think Carroll will have to do things with the offense—and force Brady and the Patriots to do things with their offense—that haven’t been on tape yet this season.

So I suspect this game will be an experience where, as fans and viewers, we have to reroute our analytical gateways and assumptions and take this one straight into the body, into the nervous system, the way you can listen to music in a foreign language and feel it without understanding the words. New England is the NFL’s seemingly unstoppable monster, and the Patriots ended Seattle’s repeat dreams in horrifying fashion, as you remember. The Seahawks have been as near to a juggernaut as pro football gets otherwise, but the call to overthrow New England makes anybody into an upstart. Seattle—and you—would like to lift that curtain. Boston after all is a place where some original patriots once started a revolution by pretending to be natives and throwing Old England’s freight into the harbor. For all his pedigree, Pete Carroll is also an original. Carroll once tried to inspire his team at practice by having a player fake his own suicide. I don’t think that stunt is in John Wooden’s book, and I don’t know what’s in store for Sunday, but it may take some time to figure out what’s really going on.

Then again Foxborough isn’t Boston. It’s like an hour away.

What is the difference? Ooooh Sunday night!