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The Boston Globe

Sports

Dan Shaughnessy

Pete Carroll was always up to the NFL challenge

Pete Carroll, at 62, is in his first Super Bowl in his third stop as an NFL head coach.

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Pete Carroll, at 62, is in his first Super Bowl in his third stop as an NFL head coach.

NEW YORK — Boola boola. Yahoo. Pumped and jacked. Pete the Poodle Carroll is in the Super Bowl.

I absolutely love this. Everybody loves this. We all love Pete and we will never forget his place in New England sports history.

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Pete Carroll forever will be the Other Guy who coached the Patriots. He was the bridge (1997-99) from Bill Parcells to Bill Belichick. He was the one with the whistle around his neck when silly Bob Kraft (in the pre-Hugh Hefner days) was walking around with a stopwatch, talking about drafting “press corners’’ and interfering with his head coach.

It was the age of Amos Alonzo Kraft, and Carroll was the victim of the Patriot owner’s learning curve. The Patriots let Curtis Martin go to the Jets. Kraft turned player personnel over to Bobby Grier. The Krafts stuck their noses into the football operation and poor Pete was powerless to make things right.

He tried. He tried to put in a system that had worked so well for the San Francisco 49ers. He kept things upbeat. He played pickup basketball with his players. He treated them like men, and they took advantage of him. He won 10, then nine, then eight games and was finally fired.

Embarrassed as a “failure” in the NFL (he also was fired after one season with the Jets in 1994), Carroll took a little time off, then went to Southern Cal and built one of the most powerful college football programs of all time.

Everything was perfect with the Trojans. Carroll could go into the living rooms of those high school players and charm all the parents. He developed a pipeline of future NFL talent and won championships. Easily.

Those were Carroll’s golden days. The Trojans were Los Angeles’s professional football team. USC practices were a bigger deal than a lot of NFL game days in many cities. Will Ferrell would come to practice. Al Cowlings would come to practice. The Grammy-winning USC band would play “Tusk’’ outside the walls of the practice field and those sweater-wearing surfer girls would perfect their cheering routines.

It was all good until the NCAA started sniffing around, and that’s when Carroll got out of Dodge and hightailed it back to the NFL.

And now he has made it all the way to the Super Bowl. At the age of 62, he has a chance to win an NFL championship and prove what he has always known: He was not a failure in the NFL. He was never given a fair chance. Not until he got to Seattle.

In four seasons with the Seahawks, Carroll has gone from seven wins (twice), to 11 wins, to 13 wins and, finally, the Super Bowl. It is the opposite of his Patriot trend. Under Carroll, the Hawks have gotten better every year.

Players like playing for him. In a poll of more than 300 active NFL players, Carroll got the most votes as “coach you would like to play for.’’

It wasn’t that way in New England. And it wasn’t that way when the Jets fired him after one season.

“I have thought about it quite a bit,’’ said Carroll. “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.’’

His stint with the Patriots got him into three playoff games — one win and two defeats. When the Patriots went 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs in 1999, Carroll was fired. Kraft turned his whole football operation over to Belichick. Two years later, New England won the Super Bowl.

“I think I learned a lot,’’ Carroll said. “Robert and his family are a great family to play and coach for. But I also learned what it takes for a person like myself to operate at my highest level and I also realized the limitations that were going on that kept me from being the kind of coach I could be.

“It allowed me to refocus and formalize some plans that I was able to put in at USC and then at the Seahawks.’’

Kraft has acknowledged he made life difficult for Carroll in New England.

In Gary Myers’s book, “Coaching Confidential,’’ Kraft told the author, “Pete is one of the truly great guys in the coaching fraternity and I didn’t give him all the support he needed. Pete was inclusive. Look, in the end, I needed someone to make me feel good. It was good for me to have a guy like Pete Carroll because he’s my kind of guy. I mean, we loved Pete. You want Pete to marry into your family. I love the guy to this day. He is an awesome guy.’’

“I never lost sight of what the possible opportunities were,’’ said Carroll. “I never had a thought where something like this couldn’t happen.’’

He has been a force of nature all week. He is the youngest 62 you’ve ever seen. Pumped and jacked.

Fifteen years after he was fired by Bob Kraft, Pete Carroll has a chance to win the Super Bowl.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.
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