Nine days is more than enough time to digest the stunning final quarter of the Super Bowl, and while we have a national obsession to call everything we just saw as the best or worst play we’ve ever seen, it’s simply not the case.
First of all, the Patriots played a brilliant final quarter in rallying from a 10-point deficit to score two touchdowns against one of the best defenses in the last 10 years. Tom Brady was sharp in his decision-making, accurate in his passing, and his confidence was peaking when it needed to be.
The end-of-game play call by the Seahawks was questionable because they had the game’s most effective power back in Marshawn Lynch ready to run the ball against a tired defense that was playing on fumes. Having said that, there was no guarantee that Lynch would have scored and if Ricardo Lockette had run through the ball the way Malcolm Butler had attacked on the game-winning interception, he may very well have caught the ball and the Seahawks would have won their second straight Super Bowl.
If you want to bury Pete Carroll, that’s foolish. He has proven himself as one of the NFL’s best coaches. Carroll’s biggest problems in earlier coaching stints with the New York Jets and Patriots was an inability to control his players and impose discipline on them. That’s no longer the case.
When he replaced Bill Parcells with the Patriots in 1997, he had players who were absolutely thrilled to see Parcells go. The Big Tuna was tough, demanding, unsparing, and his truthfulness often hurt players who were not perfect. Parcells was an old-school style coach who did not hesitate to criticize and threaten a player’s job when he did not perform up to the standards that he demanded.
While that style is inherently honest – he never told players what they wanted to hear – it is draining to be in that environment every day.
Carroll was a breath of fresh air for the Patriots. He was sharp, creative, open, and friendly. Players loved him throughout his first year with the team and there was plenty of good will in his second year. The Patriots were playoff teams in both seasons.
But human nature being what it is, Carroll lost his effectiveness in his third year with New England. No longer new and exciting, players found it easy to take advantage of Carroll’s trusting nature and the Patriots didn’t show the same hunger on the field or get the same results.
It didn’t necessarily manifest itself in their record – the Pats were 9-7 in 1998 and 8-8 in ’99 – but that was enough of a difference to keep New England from making the playoffs.
A coach can easily rationalize a one-game differential from one year to the next as a matter of circumstance or luck, but that was simply not the case. Anyone who saw the Patriots in 1999 after watching them the previous two seasons knew that there was a difference in effort, attention to detail, and execution. Owner Robert Kraft had seen enough, and he fired Carroll.
Outwardly, Carroll remains true to his warm, friendly, enthusiastic, and creative nature. But he knew why the Patriots got rid of him after the ’99 season, and he did the hard work to make subtle changes in his coaching style.
He made those changes in a college environment, and many thought he was cut out for that game and was never going to be a top NFL coach. However, Carroll was evolving during his time at USC, and he worked on his weaknesses.
Carroll was never going to be the disciplinarian that Parcells was, and while he was not going to remind anyone of Jimmy Johnson or old-school martinets like Don Shula, Chuck Noll or (bow your head in reverence) Vince Lombardi, he knew he could be successful.
John Madden had an even better winning percentage than Lombardi (.759 vs. .738), and both men coached for exactly 10 years in the NFL. Madden was not a hard-nosed, threatening coach. He was open, honest, and had high standards, and Carroll knew that Madden’s success meant he didn’t have to change his nature to be successful.
Instead, he used his experience to help him become more effective in the areas that doomed him earlier in his career. He knew exactly what to look for when players were taking advantage or going through the motions, and he passed those tell-tale signs to his assistant coaches as well.
The result has been stunning. The Seahawks were a strong playoff team in his second year in Seattle and a Super Bowl winner in his third year.
He made a play-calling mistake at a crucial time that cost his team in his fourth year, but it was not indefensible or unforgivable.
Carroll may be the modern-day Madden, and his team should remain at or near the top for years to come.
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