JERSEY CITY - Twenty years ago this month, Pete Carroll was named coach of the Jets. Nineteen years ago this week, he was fired from that job.
Now he returns to the city where he got his first shot at running an NFL team -- with a chance to win a Super Bowl.
It's hard to imagine that symmetry did not cross his Zen-like thoughts as the Seahawks' charter plane swooped down and landed at Newark Liberty International Airport Sunday night.
Carroll insisted it did not. At least not at that time. He has given some thought to it, though.
"I always loved playing in New York,'' Carroll said. "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. Unfortunately, it didn't last very long.''
Carroll was a defensive coordinator for four years with the Jets before he was promoted to replace Bruce Coslet. He often needs to remind people that he had the Jets winning and nearly tied for first place late in the season. They led the Dolphins by as much as 24-6 in a late November home game, and a win would have tied them with Miami at 7-5 atop the AFC East.
So what happened?
One of the most notorious plays in Jets lore. The fake spike.
With 30 seconds left, Dan Marino yelled "Clock! Clock! Clock'' and indicated he would be throwing the ball into the turf; instead, he fired his fourth TD pass to Mark Ingram to give Miami a 28-24 win.
The Jets still had four games left, but lost all of them and finished 6-10. Carroll was fired (although he may have gotten some vindication by being replaced by Richie Kotite).
"It didn't have to be,'' Carroll said of that game -- that play -- being the defining point of his first season as a head coach. "It just kind of went south on us.''
Carroll learned two lessons that day. First and most obvious: Don't ever assume that a quarterback is going to spike the ball.
Second? "It was a moment,'' he said. "It showed you how fine the balance was. It could have been entirely different had we won that game.''
Carroll went on to coach the Patriots for three years and then became head coach of Southern Cal, where he won one BCS title and two AP national championships. In 2010, he left to become head coach of the Seahawks. He's been in Seattle as long as he was at his first two head-coaching jobs combined, and has found success now that he's been able to have a voice in picking players and defining characteristics of his team.
Carroll joked last week that he was little more than an interim head coach with the Jets, having replaced Coslet while the rest of the staff remained intact.
"It happened very suddenly, without any preparation for that to occur,'' he said. "Sometimes I think it kind of looked like that.''
Asked if he would do anything differently with the Jets, Carroll smiled and said, "I'd do what I'm doing now.''
In some ways, he gets a chance. The stadium where the fake spike took place was demolished a few years ago, but Super Bowl XLVIII will be played in the same metaphysical space, at MetLife Stadium. And he'll be spending the next week preparing for the game in a state -- and near a city -- that for five years of his life was home. Before it threw him out.
"It still was a great experience and I remember it well,'' he said of his brief tenure. "I'm really proud to come back here and coach a game like this, of this status, in a place where we lived and worked. It's a special honor to do that.''
To win it certainly would make it more so.