Pete Carroll's Patriots Legacy
By Kevin Saleeba
With two coaching legends manning the Patriots sidelines for nearly two decades, it can be easy to forget about the third coach sandwiched between future Hall of Famers Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick.
Pete Carroll's three year tenure in New England may have been brief, it still was a significant transitional period for the Patriots franchise. Without it, the success the team currently enjoys with Belichick following Carroll's departure may never have happened.
Carroll now coaches with the same carefree attitude for the Seattle Seahawks he had in New England from 1997 to 1999. He is likely "jacked and pumped" to be facing his former team this weekend for the first time since he left 13 years ago.
Prior to his arrival to New England in 1997, he was fired after one season with the New York Jets when he went 6-10 in 1994. Carroll served as defensive coordinator for the 49ers in two playoff seasons in San Francisco, including a 12-4 record in 1996. That same season, the Patriots and Parcells were coming off a Super Bowl lost against Green Bay.
Parcells, who was not happy with his inability to choose his own players after Bob Kraft bought the team, would quit after the Super Bowl to become the Jets head coach.
Carroll was soon hired as the team's 13th head coach with Bobby Grier taking over player acquisitions. His carefree California attitude stood in stark contrast to the dictatorships of Bill Parcells and that of Bill Belichick, Pete's three-time Super Bowl winning successor. Carroll's player friendly and seemingly structure-less approach led to some initial success as players like Drew Bledsoe had new freedom to sling the ball as he saw fit.
Bledsoe had a pro bowl season in Carroll's first year, throwing for the most touchdowns (28) and the highest completion percentage (60.2) in his Patriots career. The Patriots won the AFC East in 1997 with a 10-6 record under Carroll. They started the year 4-0 for only the third time in team history at the time, while even beating the Jets in Parcells' return to Foxboro early that season. Despite winning the AFC East, the Patriots would finish 6-6 to miss out on a first round playoff bye late in the season. After beating Miami 17-3 in the Wild Card game, they lost at Pittsburgh in the next round, 7-6.
However, the decline from their Super Bowl team was already apparent. The Patriots finished 9-7 in 1998 with a bad wild card playoff loss at Jacksonville, 25-10. In 1999, the Patriots started strong again with a record of 6-2 the first half of the season, but Carroll lost his grip on the team as they finished the second half 2-6, missing the playoffs at 8-8.
Carroll would later admit players would go over his head to Patriots ownership with team issues which helped lead to the team's collapse. "It was horrible," Carroll told Sports Illustrated later. "That's not leadership, but that existed … In all fairness to the Krafts, they didn't know how to do it. They were just figuring it out."
Indeed, the Krafts needed the Carroll era or error to figure it out. They needed to realize what they had in Parcells and they knew they had to get back to that coaching dictatorship. So Kraft fired Carroll and hijacked longtime Parcells defensive coordinator Belichick to take over football operations from both Grier and Carroll.
To Carroll's credit, he finished with a 27-21 respectable record in New England. They won more games than they lost. It wasn't championship caliber, but it wasn't Rod Rust (1-15 in 1990) or Dick McPherson (8-24 in 1991-1992) bad either. Carroll could have been a disaster and he wasn't. The team basically treaded water until the arrival of Belichick and Tom Brady.
In the end, his California style lead to the inmates running the asylum in New England and the team's play on the field suffered. The rudder-less ship would lead Kraft back to the Parcells-Belichick dictatorship that gets you to Super Bowls and gets you championships.
Thanks for the memories Pete. See you in Seattle!
Kevin Saleeba is a frequent contributor and columnist to Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots.
Carroll now coaches with the same carefree attitude for the Seattle Seahawks and the Patriots will go against the former Patriots coach for the first time since he left 13 years ago.
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