Pete Carroll on his Seahawks: “They have this grit about them that could really be called upon like it’s a chip on their shoulder.” (Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images)
New York — He was a 110-pound imp when he showed up to try out for his high school football team with his pads, cleats — and a special document.
The document was absolutely required. It was a certification from a doctor that Pete Carroll, despite his lack of heft, had a clearance to play football as a freshman at Redwood High in Larkspur, Calif.
Pete Carroll, in my view, has remained an imp — mischievous, demon-like — all these last 50 years or so. He was an imp when he won a couple of national championships coaching Southern California — before he left those champions in the lurch. And he is still an imp, back in the NFL, coaching the Seattle Seahawks to their conference championship. And now on to the ultimate championship, Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII versus the Denver Broncos.
And if the Seahawks play a chippy style of football, that reflects the style of Pete Carroll.
“There’s no question that the guys that we have brought in primarily have had that nature,” Carroll told us the other day at a media session in Newark — in New Jersey, across America’s great divide, the Hudson River.
“They have this grit about them that could really be called upon like it’s a chip on their shoulder.”
For sure, Carroll has that chip as he works the sidelines in the NFL.
There have been great coaches in Super Bowls through the years. Vince Lombardi was an immovable statue with the Packers. Tom Landry was austere and calm with the Cowboys. Chuck Noll was barely noticeable with the Steelers. Bill Walsh oozed wisdom, never denying that he was a genius with the 49ers. Don Shula coached with dignity with the Dolphins. Marv Levy coached with bookish intelligence with the Bills.
Pete Carroll is not a throwback to any of those coaches, now honored by bronze busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He is a guy who paces back and forth along the sidelines, shrieking at his athletes and hectoring the officials. I first noticed Carroll when he was head coach with the Jets, a game I was watching on television. He was all over in front of the bench — never standing still, pacing continuously, seemingly never quiet, showing lack of decorum.
An imp, to me.
Carroll deserves plenty of respect as a coach. He wins. Whether he has any likeability? That I debate.
He did wonderful things at Southern California when he coached there after he was fired as head coach by the Jets and then the Patriots. He was choice No. 4 to become USC’s head coach in 2000. He campaigned for the job when Dennis Erickson and others rejected it.
Carroll rebuilt USC football. He recruited Heisman Trophy winners. He won national championships with the Trojans in 2003 and 2004. USC won seven successive Pac 10 championships.
But oooops, the NCAA stripped the Trojans of the ’04 national championship. And the always imperious NCAA slapped USC extra hard with sanctions.
The sanctions stemmed from major violations, including gifts presented to one of the Heisman winners, Reggie Bush. The infractions supposedly included use for his family of a house in San Diego. Bush, now a running back with the Lions, was required to return his Heisman.
Carroll denied any knowledge of the infractions.
But the Los Angeles Times, and other media outlets, said in many articles that Carroll knew of the infractions — and that he himself had committed a hiring violation. Pete was simultaneously cheered and condemned by USC adherents in L.A.
Carroll had said when USC was at the heights that it likely would be his final stop on the coaching carousel. But a few months before the NCAA dropped the heavy sanctions on USC in 2010, Carroll jumped to the Seahawks. USC was left to suffer while Carroll was free to flee to another job.
Pete also left L.A. with the good-guy reputation for roaming through the city’s downtrodden areas after nightfall, rapping with the kids, preaching goodness to them.
I stood at one of those interview podiums listening to him at the NFL interview session in Newark the other day. I looked and saw a glad-hander. I saw a lot of teeth and listened to machine-gun staccato statements, mostly platitudes. I envisioned George Allen, another Super Bowl and Hall of Fame coach — a flimflam man. A con artist.
Funny — Carroll, from his comments, would want to be a throwback to the stoic, iceman Bud Grant, who coached the Vikings in four Super Bowls. All losses.
Carroll worked on Grant’s staff in Minnesota in one of his way stops.
“He didn’t care what anybody else thought and he was really clear about how he expressed that,” Carroll told us about Grant. “I thought it was empowering when you get to a certain part of your life, and in your coaching career you could have a really strong opinion whether everybody agrees with it or not.”
In mid-interview at a Super Bowl session, Carroll heard a gray-haired lady in her 70s — she told me her age — yell among the questions.
Carroll grinning — playing to the mob — jumped down from the podium and kissed the lady on the cheek.
This imp is an enigma, for sure.
Southern California football is bleeding still from the NCAA punishments stemming from Carroll’s coaching era — guilty or not. Meanwhile, Pete is in the Super Bowl, free, showing lots of teeth, coaching in denial.
Jerry Green is one of two newspaper writers who have covered every Super Bowl. Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger is the other.