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The failures, successes, scandals and Ohio connections of Super Bowl coaches Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll: Bill Livingston

January 30, 2015 7:49 PM
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CLEVELAND, Ohio - Eleven days after 911, Ohio State played UCLA in the Rose Bowl in 2001.

On the day before the game, a Cleveland sportswriter walked down the airport concourse after the nearly empty flight he had been on landed in Los Angeles.

Walking the other way toward a flight to Eugene, Ore., heading to his third game as coach at Southern California was Pete Carroll. A squad of bulky men in cardinal and gold trailed down the concourse behind him.

Carroll had been fired after three seasons in New England, where he won a division championship and a wild card playoff game while making the playoffs twice.

That record might get a Browns coach who did such things elected mayor of Cleveland, but Carroll's misfortune was to follow a legend in Bill Parcells, who had gone to (and lost) a Super Bowl with the Patriots.

In Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday, Carroll's Seattle Seahawks meet Bill Belichick's New England Patriots.

Belichick is now the ultimate Patriots legend, the former aide who out-Parcellsed Parcells. Belichick has won three Super Bowl championships and suffered two other agonzing losses in it with the Patriots.

Belichick's first head coaching job was in Cleveland. He had a 36-44 record with the Browns, won the only playoff game the team has won in 20 years (in the wild card round against the Patriots) and was considered a public relations nightmare who antagonized fans because of his personality.

Carroll, 63, went to the college ranks after the Patriots fired him and revitalized the Southern California program. He became more of a rock star there than even uber-coach Urban Meyer is with the reigning national champions at Ohio State.

That is because the iconic Hollywood sign is in the hills of Los Angeles, and the most iconic thing about Columbus is a bronze statue of Woody Hayes in front of the athletic center named for him.

For his part, Belichick, 62, is friends with the rocker Jon Bon Jovi,.

Before the NCAA posse came to town, Carroll jumped to the Seahawks, where he had been given the rare power as a coach to hire his own general manager.

Most of the attention at Super Bowl XLIX, however, has gone to what has grandly been called Belichick's fight to maintain his legacy.

That is because the Deflategate scandal is ongoing, and it follows an episode of convicted cheating in the Spygate affair.

By comparison, it's been a long time since Reggie Bush and his family had their hands out, ready to accept any improper benefits anyone would give them.

Reviews of Carroll's hiring were less positive in the Pacific Northwest than they had been in Southern California when he took over USC.

He was typecast as a college coach, better suited to the personality-dependent recruiting wars there than the man-killing hours in the NFL, more comfortable schmoozing with Trojan alum Will Ferrell on the sideline than with the suits in the NFL office.

But Carroll has proven that the NFL is not so vastly superior to college football that it is beyond the powers and abilities of those who coach on a field shared with marching bands.

Carroll didn't find his quarterback, Russell Wilson, in the sixth round, as Belichick did with Tom Brady. But the third was late for a franchise-maker such as Wilson.

Carroll might not have made the AFC Championship Game for four straight years, as has Belichick, but Carroll's teams have been in the playoffs all four years he has been in Seattle.

He is 8-2 in the playoffs there. Belichick was 12-2 before Spygate in 2007 and is 8-6 since.

If the Seahawks win, rhey will be the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champions since Belichick's Patriots in 2003-04.

When Carroll returned to the college coaching ranks, he went back to familiar ground. He had worked for Lou Holtz at Arkansas and, at both Iowa State and Ohio State, for Earle Bruce. They are also two of the mentors of Urban Meyer.

Carroll clearly had worked with enough great coaches to have the self-confidence not to be intimidated by the task of making USC relevant again. In fact, he led the Trojans to one of the most glorious eras in a storied history with two national championships on the field and a close loss in the last seconds in another championship game.

If Belichick and the original Browns had stayed in Cleveland, would the Browns have become the Patriots, record-wise?

No one can ever know. A mendacious incompetent in the business world owned the Browns in those days.

But on a cold, snowy weekend after another bitter Browns season, it is a daydream that passes the time pleasantly.


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