EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — He was supposed to be too nice, too laid-back, too much of a rah-rah guy for the NFL.
That was always the knock on Pete Carroll. When people called him a "player's coach," what they really meant was that sooner or later, his own players were going to pull the rug out from under him.,
You heard it when Carroll got to Seattle four seasons ago — fresh off building a USC program that captured two national titles, but at times resembled a fraternity — and went 7-9 for the first two of those. The same way you did when Carroll was run out of New York exactly 20 years earlier, like some wide-eyed tourist who'd just had his pocket picked.
He proved he could dominate the college game, and his hair turned gray in the interrim. Yet you heard it again during the buildup to this Super Bowl, when Carroll refused to crack down on star defender Richard Sherman for talking too much, or running back Marshawn Lynch for talking too little, or essentially passing off the rash of drug busts — seven Seattle players have been suspended by the league for substance-abuse or performance-enhancers since 2011 — as youthful mistakes.
"What," Carroll said late Sunday night through a widening smile, "are you supposed to say to that?"
Exactly what the Seahawks said with their play just moments earlier, making a statement in the Super Bowl by destroying the Denver Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning 43-8.
"I think he does a great job of just making every day seem like it's a championship game," said cornerback Byron Maxwell.
"I don't want to say it feels like a regular game," he added, "but it feels like a regular game in a sense. He does a great job of that."
There were dozens of stats that spoke volumes about how enthusiastically Carroll's players warmed to the tasks. But few leapt off the page as vividly as the large stain covering the back of Carroll's shirt, where most of the bucket of Gatorade his players poured over his head as the clock wound down finally settled in.
"If it were fake," receiver Doug Baldwin said about Carroll's approach," it wouldn't work. ... "You'll run through a wall for that guy."
It takes only a minute or two around Carroll to see why he inspires that kind of fierce loyalty. He rambles sometimes, but he always listens. On the podium after the win, he didn't gloat and more than once, he leaned away from the microphone and off to one side to make sure he heard the questions being thrown at him from every side.