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Super Bowl Coaches More Alike Than You Might Think

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The two head coaches in this Sunday's Super Bowl couldn't seem more different. The Seattle Seahawks Pete Carroll is engaging, has seemingly boundless enthusiasm and is upbeat even after loss. The New England Patriots Bill Belichick is secretive, reserved and seems like you'd rather have an appendectomy than talk to reporters. But the coaches are actually more alike than you might think. Joining us from Boston is Bob Ryan former longtime sports columnist for the Boston Globe. Welcome to the program.

BOB RYAN: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: You've, of course, dealt with Bill Belichick for more than 15 years in New England. But what some people might not know is that before Belichick, Pete Carroll was the Patriots' coach. Describe that time.

RYAN: Pete Carroll was hired by Bob Kraft as the anti-Bill Parcells in the sense of being a very engaging fellow, as you have suggested - buoyant would perhaps be the proper word. I can recall a conversation that I had with Bob Kraft circa 1997 in which he said how excited he was that this coach, he said, will schmooze. The last one wouldn't, and Pete Carroll is a schmoozer. He's a people guy. He is a camp counselor kind of personality, and he now fits in between two very different personalities - Bill Parcells and, of course, Bill Belichick.

SIEGEL: After Carroll was fired, Belichick took over. He was thought to be a failure after an unsuccessful stint as coach of the Cleveland Browns. I assume that nobody foresaw the historic, nearly 15-year run, the Patriots were about to take at that point.

RYAN: When Bill Belichick was hired, I think I can safely speak for the majority of the Boston media, that we thought perhaps Bob Kraft was losing it, that he didn't know what he was doing, because Belichick's reputation had preceded him as this dour, non-people person - this technocrat of football who had proven in Cleveland conclusively that he did not know how to deal with whole human beings.

SIEGEL: And the irony here is that while Kraft has hired Pete Carroll to be the anti-Parcells - the anti-Bill Parcells who had been the coach of my beloved New York football Giants - Belichick was in fact his defensive coach. He was a protege of Parcells.

RYAN: He very much was. He was hired at a rather young age to be the defensive coordinator. And it's interesting to note Bill Parcells didn't announce to the world that he had given the powers of the defensive coordinator job to Belichick because he wanted to protect Belichick from the media and the fans because he didn't think he could present himself in public at all. That's how protective he was of Belichick based on Belichick's rather peculiar personality.

SIEGEL: Isn't Belichick Wesleyan educated? Wouldn't you think that he's - he could could answer a question?

RYAN: Not only is he Wesleyan educated - and he is - there's obviously a great complexity to the man. I mean, he's Wesleyan educated, an economics major. But he's also the son of Steve Belichick. Steve Belichick was a 33-year assistant at the Naval Academy. He chose to stay there in order to maintain a stable family life. But Steve Belichick ran camps and got acquainted with many of the powerbrokers in the NFL. And Bill Parcells used to have Steve Belichick come not only to training camp, but to the games to stand on the sidelines while everyone got to know about the little prodigy Billy Belichick, the son who was taken into the film room at age 10, 11, 12 and learned how to break down football films. And Parcells kept track of him and eventually hired him.

SIEGEL: Both these coaches had big second chances, as you've described. Belichick, after washing out in Cleveland, then gets the head-coaching job in New England. Carroll, after the Patriots, went back to become a college coach.

RYAN: Where we all thought he belonged. His ra-ra-sis-bum-bah (ph) approach didn't appear to work in New England as the team regressed in each of the three seasons he was there - and the reason being too nice a guy, too peppy a personality, not something cut out for the pros.

So he goes back to college at Southern California - a sleeping giant situation. Where others had failed to rekindle the great glory days of John McKay, he did. He harnessed this machinery and turned them into multiple national champions. The general personality worked in the college, and no one thought it would work in the pros. And it was great skepticism when Seattle hired him. But he was determined to prove to the world that he could do it, and he indeed has done that.

SIEGEL: Obviously, the big story, as we approach the Super Bowl, has been all about as I like to think of it the deflationary-inflationary cycle of the football. Belichick has a history of getting caught, but Pete Carroll also has a history. University of Southern California had to vacate a national title and the Heisman Trophy for violations of NCAA rules when he was the coach. So both of these guys have played it pretty close to the line.

RYAN: When Pete was at SC, it was a rogue program, as it turns out. People were getting, as the NCAA liked to say, quite a few, quote- unquote, "extra benefits of various sorts." And as I say, he never faced the music. In fact, he got out of town before anything happened. They have welcomed him back as a prodigal this year, you know, inducting him into the hall of fame. So all was forgiven Pete, and it's all ended up very fine. But no question, he was able to rationalize, as so many of them do, his decisions, his behavior. And now it's all total ancient history for him. It's all about the now. It's all about his ongoing success with the Seattle Seahawks.

SIEGEL: Bob Ryan, thanks for talking with us.

RYAN: You're entirely welcome.

SIEGEL: Bob Ryan, former sports columnist for the Boston Globe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.