Pete Carroll knows what it’s like to be told “You aren’t cutting it here” and needing to find a different avenue towards greatness. Though he’s had countless “stop and go” moments in his life, perhaps the most notable was after Carroll was fired as head coach of the New England Patriots in 2000. After a year off from coaching, Carroll emerged as the new guy in charge at USC, his first job below the pro level since 1983. Even at that, Carroll was not the Trojans’ first choice, but after some other candidates turned them down, he was the best man standing.
Coming off of a 5-7 season under Paul Hackett, the expectations could not be that high for Carroll right out of the gate, and sure enough USC went just 6-6. But there were bright spots: Out of three early season losses to ranked opponents, the Trojans lost by just four points, two points, and three points. All of those teams were in the top 12. Oregon, the national runner-ups in 2001, needed a last second field goal to beat USC.
Then in the final regular season game, needing a win to get a bowl game, the Trojans beat 20th-ranked UCLA by a score of 27-0. Pete Carroll was in Southern Cal = defense was in Southern Cal. They lost the Las Vegas bowl 10-6 to Utah, but did allow just 37 total points in their final four games. After finishing 79th in scoring defense in 2000, USC ranked ninth in Carroll’s first season. The star of that defense? Safety Troy Polamalu, certainly. But not far behind, and the highest-drafted Trojan in the 2002 NFL Draft:
Cornerback Kris Richard.
The 2001 USC team was obviously not the one that Carroll had a chance to recruit. These were mostly the guys he was dealt by Hackett and few would go onto success like the players that Carroll would bring in over the next decade. However, something clearly clicked between Carroll and Richard, who coincidentally (now) became a third round pick of the Seattle Seahawks.
Richard spent six years in the NFL, mostly bouncing around, rarely playing, before ultimately coming to the conclusion that so many 20-something former pro athletes must come to: “I need to find a new job.” That led him back to USC as a graduate assistant in 2008, a year after the Trojans finished third in the AP poll and were looking to find their way back to a national championship.
That team finished 1st in points allowed, but a Week 3 Thursday night loss to Oregon State sealed their fate. Despite winning their next nine games, including three shutouts and two games of allowing 3 points, USC was held out of the national championship and sent to the Rose Bowl, where they beat number six Penn State 38-24. The BCS championship instead featured 12-1 Oklahoma vs 12-1 Florida, with Tim Tebow getting the better of Sam Bradford. We’ll never know if Mark Sanchez (but really: the Trojans defense) was more deserving of a shot at Florida but ... probably.
A year later, with Carroll and his staff beginning to get questions from the NCAA on potential violations, USC fell to 9-4 and relative mediocrity. In January of 2010, as you know, Carroll left college and went back to the pros. One of those going with him: Richard.
He spent the first year as assistant DBs coach, then was promoted to cornerbacks coach in 2011. From 2012-2014 he served as “Defensive Backs Coach” as the Seahawks made history centered around their secondary, which as we know now features anywhere from 2-3 future Hall of Famers. When the team lost Dan Quinn to the Atlanta Falcons, a few names for promotion came up, but Richard ultimately landed his first pro job as defensive coordinator, some 14 years after meeting Carroll, seven years after joining him at USC, and five years after his first assistant job in the NFL.
In 2015, Seattle’s defense ranked fourth in DVOA, including third against both the pass and the run.
In 2016, they ranked fifth, but fell to 13th against the pass and were third against the run.
But in 2017, with injuries to Cliff Avril, Kam Chancellor, and Richard Sherman, the Seahawks dropped to 13th overall, 13th against the pass, and 14th against the run. It’s still pretty impressive given the injuries, but Carroll must have felt pressure to do things differently as Seattle missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
On January 10. 2018, it was reported that Carroll would allow Richard to leave for another position if he wanted to. Interpretation: Go find work. I love ya, but we’re making a change.
Richard went to work as a defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, while the Seahawks re-hired Ken Norton, Jr to be the new defensive coordinator. (Richard and Norton both joined Carroll’s staff at USC the same year, both went with him to Seattle.) It seemed as though Carroll felt he was doing the best he could do for Richard while also trying to do the best he could for the Seahawks.
And maybe the best case scenario for both worlds really worked out.
As Seattle and Dallas prepare to face off this Saturday in the wild card round, the hottest name in the coaching circuit among them is not Brian Schottenheimer. It’s not Norton. It’s not Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. And it’s certainly not their offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Nope. It’s Richard.
In the season after getting (basically) fired, Richard is now getting immeasurable credit for turning Byron Jones into a Pro Bowl cornerback and getting increased value from slot cornerback Anthony Brown and perhaps safety Xavier Woods. He’s not the DC, but he’s the one guy on the staff that Dallas fans are dripping sweat over the idea of losing.
It seems as though they may have no choice.
Richard could be the third defensive coordinator under Carroll in Seattle to land a head coaching job after Gus Bradley and Quinn, which is impressive considering he’s only had four DCs with the Seahawks including his current one. Richard’s got options, but are any of them at this point, good?
The Jets have the most apparent upside at quarterback with Sam Darnold, plus a rising star safety in Jamal Adams, but plenty of work left to do as they lost nine of their last 10 games on the year. Is it possible that Tom Brady is finally at the end of his career? Or is the next New York head coach in line just the next one to fall in Bill Belichick’s wake?
Double goes for the Dolphins. They have some good DBs that Richard could covet — Minkah Fitzpatrick, Xavien Howard, Reshad Jones — but a lot of work left to do on the roster, including at quarterback. Consider this when looking for an opening at head coach: Does the team have a QB in place? Because there aren’t likely to be any good ones on the market or in the draft this year.
Finally, the Bucs have Jameis Winston, but is that a good thing or a bad thing? Tampa Bay has some talented players, but what are the odds that the Bucs will overtake Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and the Carolina Panthers in the NFC South next year? Or the year after?
For now, Richard can just focus on trying to stop Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, the team that let him go a year ago, before worrying about those questions. It’s the opportunity he’s been waiting for, and the opportunity that Carroll wanted him to have.