Pete Carroll and John Fox joked with each other Friday in New York as if they were out enjoying morning coffee together. Sure, it was a prerequisite press conference with a group of inquisitive reporters sitting in front of them, but the two Super Bowl XLVIII coaches were having fun. And when Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks take on Fox’s Denver Broncos in East Rutherford, N.J., Sunday, that’s precisely the coaching style you’ll see along the sidelines of MetLife Stadium. It’s one of mutual respect, and it’s an attitude both coaches have fought hard to instill in their teams.
Fox, 58, is the sixth National Football League coach to take two different teams to a Super Bowl (his Carolina Panthers lost to the New England Patriots in 2004). He’s a man’s man (he compared his emergency heart surgery in November, which kept him off the Denver sideline for four weeks, to an ankle sprain). But in only his third year with the Broncos, he’s won over his players with an open-door policy, caring as much about their personal problems as their performance on the field.
“I love coach Fox,” Broncos receiver Eric Decker told ESPN. “He’s a guy that you want to play hard for. … He makes you feel comfortable and confident.” Denver tight end Virgil Green agrees, saying, “It’s like your father, you know? When he has fun with you … it’s time to have fun, but when it’s time to be stern, he’s strict and you know he means what he says.” And teammate Louis Vasquez, an offensive guard, has taken that to heart: “His presence—the way he’s been with us, the way he treats us—you want to give it your all for him.”
Carroll has a similar philosophy but is a bit more demonstrative than you might expect from an experienced 62-year-old coach. He beams on the sidelines and leaps like a schoolboy, and when things aren’t going well, there’s a hand on a player’s head, on a shoulder, or an all-out embrace. His philosophy is simple: by taking care of the person, you take care of the team.
“We all make mistakes, but with Pete it’s about learning from it,” Seattle linebacker and team captain Heath Farwell told ESPN. “He’s not a talk-down-to-you or yell-at-you kind of coach.”
Carroll has no intention of emphasizing what a player does wrong. “It’s something that I think I’ve always done naturally, in respect to the players,” he said. “It isn’t necessary to scream at them or yell at them. There are other ways to do it.”
And he’s never once changed that philosophy, even after two failed NFL head coaching stops in the 1990s. He won two BCS Championships in nine years coaching the Trojans at the University of Southern California, but reporters were skeptical four years ago when he told them he would not change his ways when he moved back to the NFL, running things in Seattle the same way he did at USC.
“I don’t think anybody thought his system could work,” Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman told Sports Illustrated. “It shows you can win with positivity, with having a great mindset. They say you have to be a hard coach to win in this league, but that’s not who he is. We love it.”
Of course, there’s much more than the personal side to coaching in Sunday’s big game. Both Fox and Carroll have backgrounds as former defensive coordinators, yet the NFL has become a light-up-the-scoreboard league. And no team did it better on the offensive side this season than Denver, tallying 606 points. But Seattle has the league’s No. 1 defense, bringing an old-school way of winning to the title game. This clash of eras could have a lasting effect on the future of the sport.
But neither coach seemed overwhelmed or even antsy about the big game at yesterday’s press conference, even as they answered questions with Sunday’s spoils—the Vince Lombardi Trophy—sitting between them. Carroll has never even attended a Super Bowl before, and his Seahawks are the first team in more than 20 years to not have a single player with Super Bowl experience.
It obviously takes talent to get to the title game, but Fox and Carroll brought out that talent by showing their players respect. As Carroll told ESPN, “We’re doing it with standards and expectations that are as high as you can get.”