Looking back, the first thing Pete Carroll remembers about being pink-slipped by the New England Patriots on the third day of the new millennium is the embarrassment.
But given the perspective of time, Carroll on Wednesday was able to capture the painful ambivalence of a disappointment from which tough lessons are learned: “It was a great change … unfortunately.”
It not only turned out to be one of those rare occasions that worked well for all principals, but it also is suddenly relevant again, 12 years later, as Carroll and his Seattle Seahawks on Sunday entertain the Patriots and the coach who so successfully replaced him – Bill Belichick.
Belichick has led the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles in five appearances. Carroll regrouped, rebuilt the USC program into a national powerhouse, and has been with the Seahawks since 2010.
“It really is classically one of those deals when you get kicked in the tail and you come out better,” Carroll said.
Not one for moping, Carroll responded to the firing by acting as if he’d been named Super Bowl MVP … he took his family to Walt Disney World.
He said he’s not a fan of learning the hard way, but that’s sometimes what triggers the most honest introspection.
“Everything that is now the philosophy, the approach, the mentality, the language, everything, came out of that experience,” he said. “It gave me the opportunity to put something in motion that I’m really, really proud of.”
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, at the time, said that firing Carroll was one of his toughest decisions. “A lot of things were going on that made it difficult for him to stay, some of which were out of his control,” Kraft has said. “And it began with following a legend (Bill Parcells).”
But the problems that caused Parcells to leave the Pats – conflicts with the front office over personnel – were those that also hampered Carroll.
Parcells famously commented that if you’re going to be responsible for cooking the meal, you should have input on shopping for ingredients.
Carroll still had fresh ingredients in 1997, when the Patriots went 10-6 to win the AFC East. It was only a slight decline the next two seasons – 9-7 and 8-8 – but finishing 2-6 in the second half of 1999 had him packing for his trip to Florida to find whatever consolation Mickey Mouse might offer.
He said Wednesday that he felt as if he had been close to finding solutions for the Patriots’ decline if given time, but “that was a time in the franchise (when) they had to make a big pitch to build a stadium and they needed momentum, and they obviously made a great pick in Bill (Belichick) – he’s done an awesome job for them.”
In a comment that seems sincere, Carroll told Boston media on Wednesday that he is looking forward to facing Belichick and Kraft. “I always like playing against people that I like and that I know. It always adds something a little bit special to it.”
When Carroll said “I think Robert (Kraft) really came together as an owner through that transition,” it seemed in recognition that Kraft granted Belichick autonomy over personnel.
And when 10 successful seasons at USC opened the door back into the NFL in Seattle, Carroll drew from his experience in New England.
“What I learned from that situation is, to be a really successful head coach, you need to have control, otherwise it’s somebody else’s job you’re dealing with.”
Carroll was thusly empowered in Seattle, and took part in the hiring of general manager John Schneider. From the start, it was proclaimed that on any disputes over personnel, all ties go to the coach.
“Everything that came out of that (New England) experience changed me,” he said. “And I’ve never been the same since.”
It turned out to be a great change for him … fortunately.
PETE CARROLL’S RSUM
A look at Pete Carroll’s NFL coaching record
1994New York Jets6-10.375None
1997-99New England Patriots27-21.5631-2
* Through five games in 2012dave.boling@ thenewstribune.com