Commentary

Carroll, NFL still a lousy fit

Already 0-for-2 as an NFL head coach, Carroll will regret taking Seattle job

Originally Published: January 11, 2010
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

Give Pete Carroll about one year before he starts realizing the mistake he just made. By that time, he'll be wondering why he resigned from USC to become head coach of the Seattle Seahawks.

That fat deal he recently accepted -- one reportedly worth $35 million over five years -- won't be nearly as capable of insulating his pride from all the abuse he'll be taking publicly. The players also won't be embracing him like they have in college. Before you know it, that constant smile that has become Carroll's trademark will be harder and harder to find.

Regardless of how optimistic some Carroll supporters may be about this news, the man is going to fail in the NFL. He's already been fired by the New York Jets (whom he coached in 1994) and the New England Patriots (he was there from 1997 to '99), which is all you really need to know.

A nine-year absence from pro football doesn't mean Carroll has learned how to be a better head coach at that level. It means only that he's become one more man who thought it was better to give up a cushy gig for a shot at the big time.

[+] EnlargePete Carroll
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesPete Carroll's demeanor and coaching style make him a much better fit for the college ranks.

Although Carroll deserves credit for securing a nice paycheck in this move, there's little else about the decision that makes sense. It's as if Carroll dismissed all the recent struggles of other head coaches who jumped from college to the NFL. Nick Saban couldn't last more than two years with the Miami Dolphins before fleeing to Alabama. Bobby Petrino didn't even finish a full year in Atlanta before racing off to Arkansas. Steve Spurrier was miserable with the Washington Redskins until he decided it was best to disappear and then land at South Carolina.

Carroll might think he's got something more to offer than those men -- or others like Butch Davis, Mike Riley and Dennis Erickson. In fact, he's exactly like his peers. He's let his ego swell to the point that he can't see his limitations anymore. Being a mediocre head coach in the league (he was 34-33 in four seasons, including postseason play) only made him hunger for the best possible chance to return someday.

What those other coaches eventually learned is that there is a substantial difference between leading grown men and leading boys who are becoming men. Like Carroll, most of those coaches came from places where they had dictatorial power and a gift for nabbing hordes of talented players who could elevate their programs. The NFL is different. It's easy to suffer through lousy personnel moves that haunt your franchise for years and even easier to end up with players who don't respect you.

Carroll should know this last fact better than anybody. He never became a top head coach because the perception was that he was too soft. As much as his hypercaffeinated, rah-rah nature excited college kids who gravitated to his affable personality, it had an opposite effect in the league. The players didn't merely see a players' coach. They saw a pushover, which is the last thing an NFL head coach can afford to be.

This is why Carroll's latest gig puts him in a tricky situation. If he comes at pro players with the same easygoing approach that defined his college tenure, they're going to push the boundaries with him. If he tries to harden his personality to be tougher with them, that would be a bigger mistake. If there's one thing that players can sniff out more than a coach they can manipulate, it's one who's a fraud.

About the only thing Carroll has going for him is time. Given how much money Seahawks owner Paul Allen is going to pay him, Carroll will have ample opportunity to make his mark. That may be an ironic thing to say about a team that just fired head coach Jim Mora after one season, but the Seahawks clearly believe in Carroll's potential. They've bought into the hype that a big name with extensive college success can create those same results on a more demanding stage.

But the more this story plays out, the more it seems that Carroll is likely running away from something instead of to something. NCAA investigators have been sniffing around his program, with former Trojans star Reggie Bush and current running back Joe McKnight being targets of such probes. If there was enough smoke hovering around USC, Carroll could've felt it was time to flee before the fire emerged. He wouldn't be the first coach in history to operate with that kind of foresight.

Now that he's back in the NFL, Carroll will eventually discover that plenty has changed since he left more than a decade ago. The players have gotten bigger, faster, stronger and, yes, smarter. They're probably better at recognizing a coach who isn't ready to deal with all the challenges that come with leading grown men who make tons of money. And what Carroll hasn't realized yet is that he's still the type of guy who falls into that category.

Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.