JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Coaches Pete Carroll and John Fox have taken distinctly different paths to the NFL’s ultimate game.
Carroll, 62, gambling on personnel and jamming to Seattle rapper Macklemore along the way, has made the most of his return to the NFL after working in the college ranks. In two previous NFL heading coaching stints, he had been an epic failure.
Fox, 58, who started his NFL coaching career under the great Chuck Noll, the only coach to win four Super Bowls, has guided a second franchise to the game’s biggest stage after a near-death experience.
Carroll and Fox, both appearing extremely grateful on Monday, will lead Seattle and Denver, respectively, into Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
In addition to holding their first practice, Carroll was also inclined to mention Macklemore had won four Grammy Music Awards the night before.
“It was really fun for us, Carroll said. “Knowing that he loves sports and he loves Seattle and he’s so connected to the 12th man and all that, it’s been a blast. He’s been a big factor. Every time we score a touchdown, we play his music. It’s a big deal to us.”
The Seahawks kept the stadium DJ busy this season. That is, in part, because the Seahawks were willing to take a third-round gamble on quarterback Russell Wilson and make an assortment of personnel moves to finally shape a Super Bowl roster.
Five years ago, this was almost unthinkable. Previously, after a one-year stint as the New York Jets coach and a two-year stint in New England, Carroll ended up in the college ranks. While he dominated at USC, posting a 97-19 record, NCAA sanctions vacated some of those wins.
He returned to the NFL in 2010 to take over the Seahawks, though his pro football pedigree was still in question. Critics contend he scurried out of town after he suspected the NCAA investigators were closing in. USC was subsequently hit with four years of probation.
“I thought I would never leave USC,” Carroll said. “It was a perfect situation and I loved it.”
After two 7-9 seasons, the Seahawks went 11-5 last season with Wilson as a rookie. They were eliminated from the playoffs by the Falcons in the divisional round on a last-second field goal by Matt Bryant.
While the Falcons dipped to 4-12 this season, the Seahawks continued to flourish, using their brand of power football in the postseason to defeat New Orleans 23-15 and then San Francisco 23-17 in the NFC title game thriller.
“The way we treated people at USC and the way we went about the expectations for the individuals as they fit into the team was something that I really wanted to carry into the NFL and see what would happen,” Carroll said. “We’ve been rewarded well in the four years that we’ve been in Seattle. I’m really thankful for that.”
Carroll got his NFL start under former Minnesota coach Bud Grant in 1985. He also spent time with former San Francisco coach Bill Walsh later in his career when he was a consultant with the 49ers.
“Bud is an amazing man,” Carroll said. “(The) confidence that he exudes, going with what he believes in his gut was extraordinary to me. … He didn’t care what anybody else thought.”
Carroll admits to stealing San Francisco’s practice plans for this game.
“I was really clear that we installed the game plan last week, which was great for today,” Carroll said. “We went out today and brought it right back up and guys knew what was going on so we’ll get the whole week to repeat it again. That’s the San Francisco style. That’s the Walsh deal from way back when.”
Fox is no stranger to Falcons fans. He roamed the sidelines in Carolina from 2002-10 and took the Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII, where they were defeated 32-29 by New England on a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
It was during a North Carolina golf outing in early November during the Broncos’ bye week when Fox’s started having trouble breathing. Two days later he had heart valve surgery and missed four weeks of the season.
“You know, it’s really remarkable about my health and I just have to say this: I am 180 percent better than I was eight months ago,” Fox said. “I had a valve that was the size of a pinhead. Now it is the size of a 50-cent piece.”
The episode helped Fox to put some things in perspective.
“What you do is that you learn to deal with stuff in life. And I attribute it to, of course, some of our hours some of the time,” Fox said. “I might have been a little tired, getting old. This is a cause of age. Really, it’s been a blessing. I’m way better than I was physically the last 10 years of my life. So it’s really been kind of an upgrade and I feel tremendous.”
Fox reflected on his start with Noll and the key lesson that he learned from the great Steelers coach. After getting blown out by Cleveland (51-0) and Cincinnati (41-10) in 1989, he noticed something peculiar in Noll.
“Everybody was down,” Fox said. “And of course, fans, as they are, were a little bit honest. He stayed even keel. That is the most valuable lesson: to be the same guy and don’t go through the highs and lows because it is very easy to do, especially with outside influences.”