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Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll Are Coaching Legends Looming Over the NFL

The league may be looking over its shoulder this wild-card weekend, with departures from the Patriots, Seahawks and Alabama leaving the carousel spinning faster than ever.

Maybe it’s the end of an era. But Bill Belichick plans to coach. Pete Carroll still wants to coach. Nick Saban sounds like he doesn’t want to coach, but if you ran an NFL team, wouldn’t you call him, just to make sure?

As the NFL heads into wild-card weekend, coaches better not look up, because there are some pretty famous buzzards circling. The Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots sold their coaching changes as “mutual” this week, but they’re not fooling anybody. Carroll said he intended to coach the Seahawks next year and fought to do it, but he won’t. That means he was fired. Belichick may or may not have wanted a fresh start, but Patriots owner Robert Kraft sure did. Call that one what you want. Even Kraft said he expects to see Belichick on a sideline next year.

Bill Belichick walks with a headset around his neck

Fewer teams are now looking for a coach to operate with the amount of power Belichick has wielded.

In possibly related news, Mike McCarthy’s Dallas Cowboys play the Green Bay Packers on Sunday afternoon.

McCarthy is in his fifth year and has won one playoff game. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones believes—for good reason—he has a championship-worthy roster. Jones loves splashy moves. Belichick, who turns 72 in April, would surely rather take over a playoff team with a franchise quarterback than start a rebuild.

Some dots are so large that you wonder whether you even have to connect them.

NFL coaching cycles are always a game of musical chairs. There are only 32 jobs, and just five to 10 open up in a given year. Then there are so many factors that determine who fills those. Owners have personal preferences. Coaches have conditions prospective employers must meet and families they have to consider. Agents have demands. The league changes schematic directions. Timing is always a factor: Some assistants still have playoff games to coach, and some owners don’t want to wait.

Now Belichick wants one of those chairs. Carroll might, too. Belichick and Carroll are not just legends. They are hungry legends who can still coach. Carroll went 9–8 in each of the last two years with Geno Smith at quarterback. Belichick made a mess of his offense the last two years, inadvertently destroying Mac Jones’s confidence, but he remains a defensive mastermind, and the Patriots’ biggest problem this year was not coaching. It was a lack of talent.

The question is not whether Belichick and Carroll can still do the job. They absolutely can. The question is what they would demand from a team.

After the Browns fired Belichick, he was determined to find an owner he trusted to give him the power to determine his own success or failure. For two-plus decades in New England, Belichick was in charge of just about everything. If he still needs that, who would give it to him? The lack of talent at the end was Belichick’s doing, and any team willing to give a new hire total control is probably far from contending. If the Cowboys do need a coach this month, that is all they will need.

DK Metcalf talks to Pete carroll on the sideline

Carroll was just as well known in Seattle for his personality as he was his coaching.

Carroll arrived in Seattle at the same time as general manager John Schneider, and, while Carroll had final say, it wasn’t the same kind of final say that Belichick had in New England. It was more collaborative. Carroll is such an upbeat person that it’s quite easy to see him fitting in almost anywhere he can be a head coach. He will now have to decide whether that’s still what he wants—and if it is, how badly he wants it and whether some other team wants him to do it.

As for Saban: The two big differences between him and the other two is that (a) he was not pushed out and (b) he has no track record of NFL success. If Saban still wanted to coach and felt he could do it as well as he always has, he would still be coaching Alabama. But he would be worth a phone call, just in case NIL and the transfer portal bothered him more than he lets on. He wasn’t a bad coach with the Dolphins; he was just a short-timer.

Right now, there are eight open head coaching jobs, and those include New England and Seattle. Carroll—one of three coaches to win the Super Bowl and the national championship—might want to keep coaching. Belichick definitely does, and the possibilities are riveting. He may be done in New England, but the legendary coach still hovers over the league.