It seemed too good to be true. Pete Carroll, the Jets'
42-year-old defensive coordinator, was going to be promoted to
head coach for the 1994 season. The players couldn't believe
their good luck; good old Pete was smart, energetic, the guy who
made practice less tedious, just one hell of a nice guy. Why, it
would be like one of their own was coaching them.
A few of us were a bit skeptical, though. One day in practice it
was mentioned to veteran center Jim Sweeney that players have a
habit of taking it easy when a coach isn't tough enough on them.
"Won't happen here," Sweeney said. "The veterans won't let
anyone quit on Pete."
You know the rest. The Jets were 6-5 and a playoff contender
that year, and then Miami's Dan Marino suckered them with that
fake-spike touchdown pass and things started falling apart. The
team went south on Carroll, losing five straight, and 12 days
after the season, owner Leon Hess fired Carroll and hired Rich
Now Carroll is 45, some gray hair is starting to show, and he
doesn't smile as much. And after two years of running the 49ers'
defense he's gotten a second chance, as coach of the AFC
champion Patriots. He's replacing a whip-cracker, Bill Parcells,
who takes over the Jets.
"I'm not going to change my personality," Carroll says. "I'll
always be me. Guys may start wondering why someone isn't yelling
at them, but I'm different. I've coached a lot of defenses that
have kicked the hell out of people, and I didn't scream at them.
That's not the way I do it."
New England players' comments on the change were for the most
part upbeat, but in some cases they bore an eerie resemblance to
'94: "I like Pete," says quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who never hit
it off with Parcells. "There's give-and-take. Before, there was
"Bill's yelling and screaming had worn itself out," tight end
Ben Coates says. "I don't think his leaving will affect us. Once
we're on the field, things will be the same, just quieter."
One thing that will be the same is that the Patriots will get
superior defensive coaching. It was defense that carried them to
the Super Bowl last year; they ranked 27th in the league after
11 games, but during their 4-1 stretch drive only three teams
allowed fewer yards. Add the first two playoff games, and New
England allowed five touchdowns in seven games, none in the
postseason--until the Super Bowl.
Carroll will build on that, adding his own concepts, which
include less zone and more man coverage behind a heavy attack on
the quarterback. It's a risky way to travel, but the guy who
could make it work is end Willie McGinest, who played like a
demon in the postseason last year. He'll man what the 49ers call
the elephant position, always lined up away from the tight end.
On the other side will be another gifted rusher, linebacker
Chris Slade. The new faces include cornerback Steve Israel, who
played in Carroll's nickel packages in San Francisco ("the
fastest defensive back I've ever seen," Carroll says), and
tackle Henry Thomas, a speed and stunt rusher.
The only noteworthy offensive pickup is mammoth drive-blocking
tackle Zefross Moss, who takes over for Max Lane. Green Bay's
Reggie White beat Lane for three sacks in the Super Bowl,
thereby changing Lane's job description to guard, the home of
failed tackles in the NFL. If those changes work out, then this
should be one of the league's more explosive attacks, featuring
Bledsoe, Coates, wideout Terry Glenn and the gifted runner
Curtis Martin, following the equally gifted blocking fullback
There's enough talent here for a Super Bowl repeat, only this
time it'll be quieter.