"After Bill left, [Kraft] wanted to decentralize power and make it more of a family-type organization and structure," says Sidwell. "[But] that didn't work." Instead of being grateful for a coach who displayed none of Parcells's ogrelike tendencies, players such as linebacker Chris Slade aired their doubts about Carroll, while others climbed the back staircase to complain in the office of player personnel vice president Bobby Grier. This undermined Carroll's message and authority. "No coach can win under those circumstances," says Sidwell. "I think Pete was excellent and said all the right things in team meetings, but I'm not sure the players were listening all the time. They were not sure that Pete had the hammer. They respected him but didn't fear him."
Although Carroll took the Patriots to the playoffs for two straight years, he finished 1999 with an 8--8 record and no future with the franchise. "It was more difficult than I wanted it to be," he says. "It was tough coming in after Bill. He's one of the greats. But it would have been O.K. if the organization hadn't still been pulled in his way of doing things. Bill was such a figure there that [players] thought it should still be done the way he did it. They questioned things. It wasn't their fault. They were young and didn't know any better than I did. The job that I didn't do well was this: I didn't convince them to give us a chance to do things differently. I didn't get it done off the field as much as on the field."
Carroll could make sense of the dismissal: bad fit, bad timing. This was a firing he could learn from. But the first one, with the Jets? That was a baffling blur. A season that started decently (6--5) unraveled in Miami on Nov. 27, 1994, with one play: the Dan Marino fake spike. The Dolphins' quarterback stunned New York defenders when, after hustling to the line and motioning for a spike to kill the clock, he fired the winning touchdown pass to Mark Ingram. It was a pie in the face of a Jets franchise already up to its ears in banana cream. Joke's on them—again.
"Everyone said, 'Same old Jets,'" said Ronnie Lott, a Hall of Fame defensive back who played for New York then. "It changed the whole season." The desultory end—another four straight losses—triggered a rash decision by owner Leon Hess. "I'm 80 years old," he said. "I want results now." In a flash he swept out Carroll and hired the recently fired Eagles coach Rich Kotite, a move that prompted the New York Post to run full-page photos of Carroll and Kotite with the banner headline DUMB AND DUMBER.
Carroll surprised himself with how quickly he recovered his equilibrium. "I didn't believe in [the Jets' reasoning]," he says, "so it didn't register." He doesn't indulge in the negative. He absorbed the body blows in New York and New England and emerged with his self-confidence intact. "He is resilient," says Jeff Diamond, who spent nearly three decades in NFL front offices and was a Vikings executive when Carroll coached defensive backs in Minnesota from 1985 to '89. "I think what is so likable about Pete is that he can go through anything and come out as the same person."
Carroll believed he was a good coach, with a great mind. "The buzz back then was that Pete Carroll was an ideal college coach but wasn't suited to be in the pros," says Sidwell. "I always disagreed with that theory, because I saw him as a forward-thinking, bright football coach. He was not an outward hard-ass, but if he'd had enough power, that wouldn't have mattered. The sad part about professional coaching is that the public thinks, well, these players are paid and entitled, and they [need] a coach who gets on their asses. That's wrong. All Pete ever needed was to have the show be his to run."
The morning meeting at the Seahawks minicamp was lights-out. Carroll darkened the room and hit the switch on a grainy YouTube clip showing a cheering, frothing crowd circling two competitors at a fight club. One fighter, with a long, wild mane, bounded into the clearing in silky white boxing trunks. He looked high on Red Bull: He fist-bumped the fans, did break-dance moves, then trotted tauntingly around his opponent, a clean-cut kid in black shorts who didn't play to the crowd. The bell rang, and as the preening fighter emerged from a cartwheel, the quiet one decked him with one roundhouse punch. Silky white trunks in a crumpled heap. Fight over.
The Seattle players were stunned. What a clip! What a way to start the day! The video shook the cobwebs out of their heads and focused them on a message dear to Carroll. "It was about finishing," says Hasselbeck. "You clearly thought the showboat was going to win—and then, with one punch, the showboat was out. Pete understands what's necessary to get through. I think especially with the generation right now—it's a multimedia, visual generation—we'll all remember that clip. It'll stay with us."
Carroll sent a message his way. That's what Seattle had wanted: a coach who could hold smelling salts under the nose of a franchise three years removed from its last playoff appearance and fresh off a 5--11 season. "Paul Allen knows every day counts," Leiweke says. "He asked us, 'Who's out there?' It was urban legend that Pete wouldn't leave USC." Leiweke flew to Los Angeles in early January and made his pitch. Carroll's excitement about the opportunity was tempered by not wanting to abandon the community. "I saw him tear up once," Leiweke said. "He got emotional talking about A Better L.A."
Leiweke asked Carroll what he needed to win. Control, Carroll said. "It's exactly what they offered," Carroll says. "You have to be yourself. If it's a divided self—if it's two thirds you and one third someone else—the message isn't whole."