Green: Super Bowl's leading figures are duds no more

Jerry Green
Special to The Detroit News
Tom Brady, drafted in the sixth round, and Bill Belichick, a failure with the Browns, lead the Patriots.

Phoenix – The Super Bowl is supposed to match the sleek and the shiny, two stellar football teams trying to pound the stuffings out each other. It is supposed to show how much wizardry is involved in pro football – the genius of the general managers, the personnel directors and the scouts and the club owners.

America's foremost sports event is supposed to pit perfection vs. perfection, two champions playing to master the other.

It would be inaccurate to describe the matchup between the Seahawks and Patriots in Sunday's Super Bowl XLIV as a comedy of errors.

But then again, the rival head coaches are guys who were dumped by NFL teams. They were considered failures in their jobs.

And then again, the rival quarterbacks are virtual rejects. Neither of these team leaders was projected as worthy of future stardom in the NFL draft grab bag of college athletes.

Seems like a bunch of duds cavorting in a sandlot outing.

Professional football is the most wisely sophisticated and stylized of all of America's professional sports. The personnel guys trust computers and scouting recommendations to assemble their teams. The owners check references and sage advisers when they hire – and fire – their head coaches.

Coaching failures

Bill Belichick was groomed for coaching. His career started as a $25 a week apprentice coach with Baltimore Colts. Soon he became a studious assistant under Rick Forzano as an assistant coach with the Lions back in the Silverdome years of 1970s. Forzano thought he had hired a coaching prodigy.

Belichick gravitated through the ranks, groomed further by Bill Parcells with the Giants. Parcells eventually promoted Belichick to his defensive coordinator, and the Giants won two Super Bowls. Belichick was the hottest NFL assistant when he was hired as head coach of the original Browns in Cleveland. He was the victim when the franchise skipped out of town for Baltimore.

The Browns moved – and Belichick was fired. His teams had flopped. Belichick left with a 36-44 record.

Meanwhile, Pete Carroll drifted through nine assistant coaching positions, first in college football, then in the pros. He became another adroit defensive coordinator. Carroll parlayed those achievements into the head coaching job with the Jets.

He was another sharp assistant who would fail as a head coach. Carroll was dismissed by Jets ownership after one season, with a 6-10 record.

After two more seasons as a defensive coordinator for the 49ers, Carroll was rewarded with another head coaching position.

This time it was the Patriots. He survived three seasons in New England before getting the boot after the 1999 season.

Pete Carroll was a double failure with New England – despite two playoff appearances.

The way it goes in the NFL – the guy hired to succeed Carroll as head coach of the Patriots was the re-emerging Bill Belichick.

Carroll went back into college ball at Southern California. He won a national championship at USC. USC also was slapped with NCAA sanctions for football plus and basketball infractions during Carroll's years.

Then, Carroll skedaddled back to pro ball, hired by the Seahawks in 2010. He essentially escaped from USC, with the football program left in the lurch.

Isn't that a coincidence

Belichick did not need a rookie quarterback with the Patriots for the 2000 season. But he wanted a quarterback for training camp, a fourth-stringer who might have some potential.

Six college quarterbacks were selected in the 2000 NFL draft before the Patriots' turn in the sixth round. Mulling it over, the Patriots decided to select a youngster named Tom Brady over another collegian, Tim Rattay. Brady had had a checkered career playing quarterback for Michigan.

Now the Patriots drafted him for the pros, basically as cannon fodder. He was the 199th player selected. In camp he worked his way upward from No. 4 quarterback.

Five quarterbacks were drafted ahead of Russell Wilson in 2012.

Russell Wilson was not the classic pro-style quarterback, as Tom Brady was. Playing for North Carolina State and then Wisconsin, Wilson was more run-around, out of the pocket, scramble perhaps, or maybe pass.

The Seahawks decided to take shot at drafting Wilson in the third round in 2012. Five college quarterbacks, including Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, were drafted ahead of Wilson. Wilson was bypassed until he came off the board as the 75th pick.

So here we are at Super Bowl XLIV, a shiny and spiffy matchup in the University of Phoenix Stadium in suburban Glendale.

Coincidences abound:

The opposing coaches are the twice-fired Pete Carroll vs. the once-fired Bill Belichick.

And the opposing quarterbacks are sixth-round draftee Tom Brady vs. third-rounder Russell Wilson.

Brady became Belichick's starter as a rookie. He advanced from backup to emergency starter when veteran Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury. Bledsoe never got his job back.

Wilson likewise was Carroll's starting quarterback as a scattering rookie.

Arriving with baggage

This Super Bowl is chock full of irony.

Brady has won three Super Bowls and is seeking to win No. 4 – and join Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana for Super Bowl victories. This is to be Brady's sixth Super Bowl.

Wilson won Super Bowl XLVIII last year in New Jersey – dominant over Peyton Manning.

Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick are now praised as two coaching geniuses. Belichick, a prodigy as Rick Forzano believed three decades ago, is considered the Vince Lombardi and/or Don Shula of the 21st Century. Carroll seeks to become the first Super Bowl winning coach since – Belichick a decade ago.

Each reached this Super Bowl shrewd football tricksters.

Carroll's Seahawks overcame a 16-0 deficit in overtime against the Packers via a fake field-goal pass for a touchdown; an onside kickoff; and a two-point conversion. Plus Wilson's successive 35-yard passes in OT.

Belichick moved forward in the playoffs with tackle-eligible passes – and won out over the Colts suspected of using under-inflated footballs.

Both coaches have dragged baggage along with them to this Super Bowl.

But that hardly matters in this era of the NFL.

Carroll and Belichick are likely the best coaches in the NFL with the best teams.

And those teams on Sunday will endeavor to pound the stuffings out of each other.

Retired Detroit News sports writer Jerry Green has covered every Super Bowl.