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When Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick face off Sunday, it will be the first time two coaches of Croatian ancestry meet in the Super Bowl. But the coaches have an unusual football connection, too. Belichick replaced Carroll as the coach of the Pats.
Now the upbeat Carroll and the decidedly less-than-upbeat Belichick will put their coaching styles to the NFL's ultimate test.
In his tenure as owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft has hired two head coaches. The first was Carroll, and Kraft remembers exactly what he liked about him.
“He’s pretty special to be around. He's a lot fun and he’s not your typical head coach in the NFL. He’s also very smart,” Kraft said Tuesday.
"[Carroll's] pretty special to be around. He’s not your typical head coach in the NFL."Patriots owner Robert Kraft
When he bought the team in 1995, Kraft inherited Patriots head coach Bill Parcells. Parcells resigned in 1997 after a well-publicized management dispute.
To replace the coach Kraft considered former Parcells assistant Belichick, but instead hired a coach with a different style: Carroll.
Carroll says he and Kraft worked well together.
“Robert really was a really good partner to work with back in the day. And he gave me an opportunity that I’ll always be grateful for," Carroll said. "And he also sent me out the door too, I remember that.”
Overall Carroll had a winning a record in New England, but 10 wins became nine, which became eight wins and out of the playoffs. That’s when Kraft let him go. Looking back, Kraft realizes he contributed to the slide.
“I think coming off the situation I had been in, although I had a great coach [in Parcells], I believed in more checks and balances like my other businesses,” Kraft said.
Then Kraft made an adjustment when he brought in Bill Belichick.
After Carroll’s high energy positivity, Belichick’s gruff demeanor was a big culture shift in Foxborough. Kraft has given Belichick more room to work. And since 2000, the team has had just one losing season, made six Super Bowl appearances and won three championships.
New England wide receiver Brandon LaFell credits his 62-year-old coach’s no-nonsense intensity for the team’s success.
“It’s not an option of a choice. You are going to give him your best and he’s not going to expect nothing but the best from you," LaFell said. "And he probably got higher expectations than you have for yourself.”
As Belichick built his empire, Carroll spent nine seasons coaching the University of Southern California. In 2003 and 2004, Belichick won back-to-back Super Bowls as Carroll won consecutive NCAA national championships.
In 2010, Carroll brought his upbeat, relaxed style back to the NFL joining the Seahawks. The 63-year-old has music playing in Seattle’s meeting rooms. Comedian and Seahawks fan Will Ferrell once made a visit to the locker room. And while other coaches might cringe and think of twisted ankles and torn ACLs, Carroll set up basketball hoops at the practice facility.
To linebacker K.J. Wright, the team's pick-up games are fun and important.
“We do it every single day. And we just play basketball to try to see who the best hooper is on the team," Wright said Thursday. "It’s another factor to try to get our minds off of football a little bit and just have a little fun and get, you know, less uptight.”
Encouraging individuality, Carroll says, is part of his plan in the Pacific Northwest.
“We allow our players to function where they are at their best, which is really representing who they are. Along with the coaching and the development that we can bring to them, we give them the chance to be at their best," Carroll said. "That’s why we do celebrate their uniqueness. We look for the qualities that they have that nobody else has. And then we try to coach it into our style of play so that they can do things that they’re really good at.”
Players for both teams are quick to praise their coaches. But this week in Phoenix, the famously tight-lipped Belichick has been heaping praise on Carroll.
“What he’s done at USC and now in his five years with Seattle is beyond impressive," Belichick said. "I’ve tried to study him closely and learn from many of the things that he and his organization have done.”
Carroll’s not going to argue that point, and this week he called Belichick’s Patriots a really smart football team.
This segment aired on January 30, 2015.
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