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.