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Carroll comes full circle

(SportsNetwork.com) - Getting the boot for Rich Kotite has to sting.

That was the hand Pete Carroll was dealt in 1994 after one season as head coach of the New York Jets. Exit Carroll following a 6-10 record and enter one of the worst coaches to ever don Jets green. Kotite was just 4-28 in two seasons as Carroll's replacement.

When thinking back to Carroll's brief chore in New York, one of the first images that comes to mind is Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino faking a spike and chucking a touchdown pass to Mark Ingram in a 28-24 win. Type in Dan Marino on YouTube and that play near the top.

That play led to five straight losses and the end of Carroll with the Jets.

"There was a time in that game when we were ahead and doing great and it just kind of went south on us," Carroll reminisced. "That play has been a pretty famous play and I'm glad for Dan (Marino). That's the only guy I'm glad for, that he pulled it off. It was a moment when things turned."

Carroll said he thought about his time in New York when heading into the Meadowlands for Super Bowl XLVIII as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. He always enjoyed playing in New York and "loved" the chance to coach in one of the top markets in sports.

"To have a chance to be a head coach in New York is an extraordinary honor because of the history and the following and all that goes along with that," Carroll said. "Unfortunately it didn't last very long, but it still was a great experience and I remember it well."

He went on to express how proud he was to come back to a place where he once lived and worked, and said it's a "special honor" to have the opportunity.

But when Carroll was canned by the Jets, things did turn around and he replaced a legend in Bill Parcells to coach the New England Patriots. The Patriots had a longer leash than the Jets and employed Carroll from 1997-99, but a 27-21 record in that time wasn't enough to keep him on the payroll.

Known for a rah-rah style that was frowned upon at the professional level, Carroll laid his blueprint for success at the University of Southern California, winning two national championships with the Trojans and garnering much-deserved attention. Players flocked to USC to play under Carroll, whose message came across loud and clear to America's youth and translated into a winning tradition.

Now grown men are buying into what Carroll's selling. In fact, Carroll, the second-oldest coach in the NFL behind Tom Coughlin, was just voted as the most popular coach among NFL players. Something has to be said about that for a guy left for the scrap heap in the nation's greatest league.

When Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin saw Carroll's face, he instantly became a believer.

"When I first came in, I completely just threw myself into the philosophy, believing everything that Pete says, and it's got us to this point," Baldwin explained. "The compete mantra, the thought that practice is everything, and that it doesn't matter where you are or what the scoreboard is in the first quarter, second quarter, you finish games in the second half."

Baldwin admitted the Seahawks didn't completely understand Carroll's view at first and now the proof is on the biggest stage in sports. All those practices, all the speeches, all the goals set in training camp, they have led Seattle to just its second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. It may sound cliche when the Seahawks competed in every game, and the philosophy has them on the fringe of lifting the Vince Lombardi trophy for the first time.

Carroll's familiar with lifting championship trophies with USC. He worked with great coaching minds there and even compared this week's preparation for the Denver Broncos to a bowl game. On the outside that comparison sounds ridiculous, but it makes total sense.

"It reminds me of the major bowl games and the things that we've been through," Carroll said of Super Bowl week. "It's extraordinarily fun to be here. It's so much fun for our guys to be a part of this and all that. We'll learn as we go through this week that this is what it's all about, but we're well aware that we just crossed the country to play in the biggest football game you can play in and all that follows that."

Max Unger, Seahawks center and road paver for running back Marshawn Lynch, understands where Carroll is coming from in terms of comparing Sunday night's extravaganza as a bowl game because of the attention and both teams playing outside of their comfort zones. Much like the Seahawks, Denver has to travel several miles to get to MetLife Stadium.

Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and the rest of the team were informed by Carroll that this will not be an ordinary week for obvious reasons. The distractions, media frenzy, tickets, family, pressure on winning and so on take their toll.

"We're looking forward to those things, but at the same time our main focus and our only focus is to win the football game and to do everything we can to prepare the right way and play a great game next Sunday," Wilson said.

Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril is on board with his coach's mentality, too, and knows just reaching the Super Bowl isn't the goal. Fictitious Cleveland Indians catcher Jake Taylor said in the 1989 movie "Major League" it's about winning the whole (expletive) thing.

Avril agrees after cruising to a 13-3 record and the NFC's top seed.

"This definitely isn't the goal. We wanted to get here, no question, but winning the whole thing is always the goal. That's what Carroll's been preaching since we got here," Avril said. "Every game has been a championship game. So, it doesn't make this game that much bigger, other than the extra media, I guess."

Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was under the media spotlight for two reasons: Coaching one of the best defenses in recent years and missing out on becoming a head coach. Quinn was a candidate for the opening with the Cleveland Browns, but was passed up for former Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

Quinn feels no frustration that reaching the Super Bowl could have hindered his chances of his ultimate goal, saying "I couldn't be more fired up to be a part of this and moving forward here keeping the focus on our team, which it is." Quinn was grateful to have the support of Carroll and Seattle general manager John Schneider in his pursuit of a head coaching job and now shifts focus back to a much larger task in Denver's potent offense.

It's clear Carroll has earned the respect of his staff, players and bosses, and there won't be any head coaching vacancy with the Seahawks in the near future. Carroll is doing what comes naturally, enjoys being involved and doing everything he can to help the franchise win. He admitted to reaching out to an unknown source or sources on preparing for Super Bowl week, and wouldn't delve into specifics.

"I'm not going to tell you who I leaned on, but I did. I had some very important phone calls and conversations with people who know what this is all about," Carroll said. "I don't need to point out who it is, but it was important to me. I learned some good things and we got validated on what we're doing, the system and what we can expect and all of that. Hopefully, it'll all weigh in and help us out."

Aiming to become just the third coach (Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer) to win NCAA titles and the Super Bowl, Carroll needs to stay the course that got him and the Seahawks to MetLife Stadium.

Maybe a return to the area where Carroll's first NFL head coaching stint failed miserably will work in his favor.