If you’re not afraid to go against the grain, you have to love the way Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll sand the floor, creating smooth bases for their football teams. You have to love how they wax on about their brand of football, which no other coaches can hold a candle to. And you have to love how they paint the D-fence with exacting brush strokes.
Yeah, Mr. Belichick and Mr. Carroll do it the Mr. Miyagi way: They’re confident, creative, flexible, fundamental, defensive, quietly defiant — and perfectly unapologetic about the way they run their teams.
These two senseis have dominated football for 15 years, and how appropriate that they finally get to match up in the biggest game of the year.
Sure, it makes for great drama that Belichick replaced Carroll in New England and built a dynasty almost immediately — and that Carroll at the same time dominated college football for a decade at USC before returning to the NFL, where he has begun to do the same thing with the Seahawks.
But the more significant connection is the way they succeed — through their detailed control of their teams, through their focus on fundamentals and teaching, and through their uncommon creativity and flexibility.
“When this opportunity came here (in Seattle),” Carroll said Monday, “it was expressed and clearly laid out that I could have the same type of responsibility and the same kind of approach (that he had at USC). It’s been really instrumental, because the way we do things is not the way a lot of other people do things.
“It’s done our way. We have our own language, our own control, our own decision-making process. I think it has made all the difference in the world. It’s what every coach needs, I think, to be at his best. The format and structure that is generally accepted in the league is not that. I understand why.”
Carroll knows Belichick thrives in the same environment.
“Bill is a very open, free thinker and a guy who needs that kind of control to be at his best,” Carroll said. “I don’t know how they structured it, how they defined it, but it’s worked, historically, in extraordinary fashion. They have made a great statement over the last 10 (or 15) years.”
The ironic thing is that these controlling coaches are also highly flexible.
So many coaches are rigid about the offensive and defensive systems they use — seeking only players who fit certain schemes and failing to adapt to make best use of their players. That approach does not support long-term winning, especially in an era of free agency that creates so much roster turnover every year.
There has been only one dynasty in the free agency era, and that is Belichick’s Patriots (three Super Bowl wins from 2001 to 2004). But, if the Seahawks beat the Patriots in this one, they will be on the verge of building the second.
Belichick and Carroll have long known how to beat the system and sustain their success: Build strong fundamentals and create scheme and player versatility.
Both are defensive coaches who run hybrid defenses and use their personnel — even offensive players — where they see the best fits. They flex their offenses to match their personnel — often from game to game. And they teach their systems well, from that well-sanded floor up.
“You can’t play this game at a championship level unless you have a lot of fundamental aspects of your game together,” Carroll said, pointing out that the Seahawks and Patriots have been the two best teams in turnover margin since 2012. “To have a football team that plays with that kind of focus and that kind of concentration, it crosses the entire gamut. It’s every aspect of your game, and guys have to appreciate and understand what fundamentals in this game are all about.
“I like to think that we’re fighting for the same thing,” he added. “We want teams to play without mistakes and play with great intensity and focus and toughness and all that kind of stuff. I would like to think we’re very similar in that regard.”
That focus comes in handy amid controversy, too.
As they prepare to face each other Sunday, Belichick and Carroll both have annoyances to coach through: The Patriots are dealing with overblown fallout from the Softball Game, and the Seahawks have a headache known as Marshawn Lynch who keeps drawing attention for his league-defying crotch-grabbing and media silence.
Belichick and Carroll have been through distractions before. Both have been branded cheaters by people with various axes to grind — Carroll in the wake of the ridiculous Reggie Bush scandal at USC and again during an Adderall suspension epidemic with the Seahawks, Belichick in the videotaping case in 2007 as he led the Patriots to the only 16-0 record in NFL history and now with the case of underinflated footballs he quite obviously had nothing to do with.
Of course, none of those incidents had any bearing on the performance of their teams and the success they had. Bush’s case had nothing to do with Carroll’s amazing run at USC, Belichick’s teams continued to dominate even after the videotaping scandal, the Seahawks won without the suspended Adderall players, and the Patriots outscored the Colts 28-0 in the second half of the AFC title game after the balls were properly inflated.
These are the two best coaches in the entire game of football. They don’t need to cheat to beat anyone, and everyone knows it. They also don’t have to apologize to anyone for the success of their teams over the last 15 years.
Independent thinkers — and fans of the “Karate Kid” — have to love this Super Bowl.