While the players may make most of the headlines, NFL coaches are a key part of a team’s success or failure. If you can overlook an infamous Super Bowl failure, few men are better at their job than Pete Carroll; during his time with the USC Trojans and the Seattle Seahawks, the veteran coach has proven more than capable of leading a team to victory.
His football career, however, hasn’t been an unmitigated success. Pete Carroll failed to make it as a player, which still motivates him to this very day.
Pete Carroll couldn’t make it as a professional football player
These days, it’s impossible to imagine Pete Carroll as anything other than a head coach. Before heading to the sidelines, though, the San Francisco native hit the gridiron as a player.
As Mark Whicker explained in a 2005 Orange County Register story, Carroll had plenty of sports experience growing up. The family house became a gathering place where family and friends would watch football games and boxing matches; on Sundays, Pete would head to San Francisco 49ers games with his father.
While Carroll was never the biggest or the strongest, he showed plenty of natural talent. He played football, basketball, and baseball in high school; he then played safety at the College of Marin and the University of the Pacific.
After graduation, Carroll tried to keep playing, but it wasn’t meant to be. He tried out for the World Football League’s Honolulu Hawaiians—their training camp was in California—but failed to make the cut. His time on the gridiron was officially over.
Finding a calling as a football coach
While Pete Carroll’s playing career ended after that WFL try-out, he couldn’t leave the game behind. In 1973, he returned to the University of the Pacific, joining the coaching staff as a graduate assistant. That would change the course of his career.
After three seasons at his alma mater, Carroll started moving around and gaining more experience. He joined the Arkansas Razorbacks as a graduate assistant; he then spent time at Iowa State and Ohio State as the secondary coordinator. By 1980, Carroll became a coordinator for the first time, taking charge of the NC State defense.
From there, the coach’s star only continued to rise. He scored his first NFL job in 1984; 10 years later, he took charge of a professional team for the first time, taking over as the New York Jets head coach. He also served as the 49ers defensive coordinator and the New England Patriots head coach before heading back to the college ranks.
While his time at USC was retroactively blighted by an NCAA scandal, Carroll became a star during his time with the Trojans. He’s also found success with the Seattle Seahawks, if you can overlook his play-calling at the end of Super Bowl 49.
Pete Carroll is still motivated by his lack of playing success
During the opening days of the 2020 NFL season, Pete Carroll celebrated his 69th birthday. Despite that age—he’s four years away from becoming the oldest head coach in NFL history, although Bill Belichick will break that record first—the Seahawks boss has no intention of leaving football behind.
“I’m pissed,” Carroll told Mark Whicker in 2005. “I’m pissed I’m not playing. To this day I’m pissed I didn’t get my brother’s size. I was a dink. Nobody was that interested in me.”
“I feel like I should be playing now,” the coach continued. “What really pissed me off was going to the WFL and getting cut and having the NFL go on strike and not being able to get a connection with the scabs. Just one game and I think I would have been happy. Absolutely it was a motivator for me later in life. It’s one of the biggest reasons I’ve been coaching all these years. I tell the players all the time, I wish I was doing what they were doing.”
Since he made those comments, a great deal has changed; the coach has returned to the NFL ranks, won a Super Bowl title, and come within touching distance of a second Lombardi Trophy. His motivation, however, hasn’t faded a bit.