There's still a bit of California surfer dude left in Pete Carroll, who grew up on the West Coast, likes to use the words "cool" and "hot" (which, in his lexicon, essentially mean the same thing) and has this free and easy vibe about him that's often mistaken for being too loose in the hyper-disciplined world of NFL coaching.
But beneath the laid-back exterior lies a steely vision about what it takes to succeed. He's every bit as focused as the man whose name is inscribed on the Lombardi Trophy that Carroll raised after the Seahawks' 43-8 victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
"This is exactly what we envisioned from Day 1, that we were going to be right here, we're going to win this football game," the Seahawks' sleep-deprived coach said early yesterday morning after a night of revelry at the team hotel. "It happened to be in New York and in the fashion that we would have deserved it, that we would have earned it. That may sound cocky, it may sound arrogant, but it's a mentality that you can't get in one week."
Actually, it took four seasons for Carroll's program to fully bloom, to get the right combination of players who bought into his system and adhered to the principles that glowed as bright as the lights in Times Square on pro football's biggest stage.
Nearly two decades after Carroll's worst moment as a head coach -- Dan Marino's "fake spike" in 1994 proved Carroll's undoing in his one and only season as the Jets' coach -- the 62-year-old returned to those roots and presided over one of the most thorough beatings in Super Bowl history. He would have loved for that moment to have been with the 1994 Jets, but Leon Hess couldn't see greatness in Carroll back then and replaced him with Rich Kotite in hopes of rebuilding the team.
Kotite went 4-28. Carroll began a journey that meandered through the NFL and college and ultimately became the first head coach to win a Super Bowl after being fired by two NFL teams.
All the while doing it his way.
"It was the greatest opportunity in the world to be a head coach in the New York area, and I understand why that's so powerful," Carroll said. "I was really disappointed I didn't have a chance to see it through. But that's only a moment in time for me, just a moment in time . . . If anything, it just kicked me in the butt in a better way. Sometimes that has to happen."
He insisted he looks back without a trace of bitterness. "I don't have any ill feelings about it at all," he said. "I would have loved to have killed it here. How much better of a place was there to do it? But that's the way it goes."
Carroll now stands as a shining tribute to the greatness of a system he has carefully managed over time. He put together a dominant defense that relies on the speed of its linebackers and defensive backs and the power of its pass rushers. And he turned it into one of the NFL's all-time great defenses, one that is being mentioned in the same breath as the 1985 Bears and the 2000 Ravens.
The Seattle "D'' was flying around all game, leaving Peyton Manning helpless. But no one would have solved this defense.
Four years of preparation came to a head for Carroll in one transcendent performance, the result of a mind-set that ultimately proved his skeptics wrong.
"This team has a foundation," he said. "They came in here knowing this could likely happen. There's not one of those guys that's surprised about it, because we knew what it takes. That's a long process, to bring guys into that mentality. You're coaching with a very strict, disciplined approach. That's how they've learned it."
Carroll's USC teams know what he's talking about. The Trojans became a powerhouse when he was there. "There's a lot to [the system] and we're very proud of it," he said. "I'm thrilled that we've seen it in one area [at USC] and we've brought it to the NFL and re-created it."
Nearly two decades after his lowest point in the NFL, Carroll returned to the same plot of land and enjoyed his finest moment.
He's a champion who did it his way.