Carroll's run began at Arkansas

Seattle coach was Razorbacks GA in 1977

By: Bob Holt
Published: Sunday, February 2, 2014
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll raises the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game against the Denver Broncos, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Seahawks won 43-8. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll raises the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game against the Denver Broncos, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Seahawks won 43-8. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

After Pete Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks beat the Denver Broncosin Super Bowl XLVIII, he made it III coaches for Arkansas when it comes to winning football’s greatest prizes.

Carroll, 62, joined Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer — both former Arkansas players and assistants — as the only head coaches to win a college national championship and the Super Bowl. Johnson won a national championship at Miami and two Super Bowls with Dallas. Switzer won three national championships at Oklahoma and one Super Bowl with Dallas.

Seattle beat Denver 43-8 Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J.


Pete Carroll was a graduate assistant coach at Arkansas in 1977. + Enlarge

Carroll’s connection to the Razorbacks lasted one season, when he was a graduate assistant with the defensive backs in 1977, but it made an enduring impression on him.

Speaking to a high school coaches’ clinic during his nine-year run as Southern California’s coach from 2001-2009 that included national titles in 2003 and 2004, Carroll recalled what landing a job on Coach Lou Holtz’s staff at Arkansas meant to him.

Carroll’s coaching experience before coming to Arkansas was limited to being a graduate assistant at University of the Pacific, where he played free safety. Carroll, 26 at the time, yearned to coach at a major program after he earned his master’s degree in physical education in 1976.

“No one would hire me at first or even send me a rejection letter,” Carroll said in his coaching clinic speech, according to a transcript. “A good friend of mine told me that there was a graduate assistant’s job open at the University of Arkansas.

“I got the position, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Monte Kiffin was the Razorbacks’ defensive coordinator in 1977 when Arkansas held opponents to an average of 8.6 points to lead the nation in scoring defense, and Carroll learned the 4-3 scheme he has utilized throughout his career, including with the Seahawks.

“I have been running that same base defense since 1977 when I learned it from Monte [Kiffin],” Carroll said in his speech. “I have used variations of this defense my entire career. I have stayed with its principles through all my years of coaching. I have a real strong belief in this defense.”

Carroll’s bridge to Arkansas was Bob Cope, his position coach at Pacific who became the Razorbacks’ defensive backs coach in 1977.

Four other 1977 Arkansas assistants — Jesse Branch, Larry Beightol, Harold Horton and Ken Turner — didn’t know Carroll before he arrived on campus, but they quickly grew to like and respect him.

“Pete was a rolling ball of butcher knives,” said Beightol, who coached the offensive line. “He had so much enthusiasm that we had to tone him down just a little bit. He was driving Lou Holtz crazy.

“But I always thought Pete was going to be a terrific head coach. I think his knowledge, his enthusiasm and his ability to get through to players is the big thing with Pete.”

Horton, the Razorbacks’ defensive line coach, said Carroll has the same style now he did with the Razorbacks.

“Pete had a great personality when he was here, and you can see he’s got those same people skills working for him on the sideline with Seattle,” Horton said. “He’s still as fired up as he was all those years ago as a graduate assistant. He was such a good person to deal with, first and foremost. You just knew his future was going to be bright.”

Branch, who coached receivers, said Carroll always had a smile on his face, even when doing the most tedious work assigned to the graduate assistants.

Super Arkansas Coaches

Pete Carroll is the fifth Super Bowl head coach to have been an assistant with the Razorbacks. The others are Joe Gibbs, Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer and Raymond Berry. Here is a rundown of the nine Super Bowls involving former Arkansas coaches:


XVII;Gibbs (Washington);Jan. 30, 1983;Washington 27, Miami 17

XVIII;Gibbs (Washington);Jan. 23, 1984;Oakland 38, Washington 9

XX;Berry (New England);Jan. 26, 1986;Chicago 46, N.E. 10

XXII;(Gibbs) Washington;Jan. 31, 1988;Washington 42, Denver 10

XXVI;Gibbs (Washington);Jan 26, 1992;Washington 37, Buffalo 24

XXVII;Johnson (Dallas);Jan. 31, 1993;Dallas 52, Buffalo 17

XXVIII;Johnson (Dallas);Jan. 30, 1994;Dallas 30, Buffalo 13

XXX;Switzer (Dallas);Jan. 28, 1996;Dallas 27, Pittsburgh 17.

XLVIII; Carroll (Seattle); Feb. 2, 2014; Seattle 43, Denver 8.

NOTE: Gibbs coached in four Super Bowls with Washington and won three. Johnson won two Super Bowls with Dallas and Switzer won one with Dallas. Gibbs, Johnson, Switzer and Berry were Razorbacks assistants under Frank Broyles. Johnson and Switzer also played for Broyles at Arkansas. Carroll was a graduate assistant under Lou Holtz.

“There was no job too big or small for Pete to handle, and his energy was unbelievable,” Branch said. “He was always doing something, and getting it done right and getting it done fast.

“You can tell his high energy level just by the way he chews gum. It would wear most people out just watching him.”

Beightol and Branch recalled Carroll, his wife, Glena, and another graduate assistant, Pat Ruel, stopping by the coaches’ houses late at night to sing Christmas carols.

“They woke us up, and my wife wasn’t too happy about it,” Beightol said with a laugh. “But that was just Pete. He was a fun-loving guy.”

Carroll could dance as well as sing, according to Turner, who praised Carroll’s moves at a team party hosted by the Orange Bowl after Arkansas beat Oklahoma 31-6 to finish 11-1.

“Pete was by far the best dancer of all the coaches,” Turner said.

Turner said Carroll and Ruel, the Seahawks’ assistant offensive line coach, played touch football with the Razorbacks’ offensive linemen.

“Our players loved Pete, and I think it’s still that same way for him in Seattle,” said Turner, who coached tight ends and kickers. “He’s always made the game fun, and that rubs off on the players.”

Arkansas rubbed off on Carroll, too.

“I think I first fell in love with being a coach in college football the first rally I went to at Arkansas,” Carroll told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2005. “The flavor and the intensity and the excitement around Arkansas football was something I hadn’t felt in my earlier coaching days. I was locked in from then on.”

Carroll become Iowa State’s defensive backs coach in 1978, the first of 11 stops since he left Arkansas. He was the New York Jets’ defensive coordinator for four seasons, then their head coach for one year. He coached the New England Patriots for three seasons before being fired after the 1999 season.

The 2000 season marked the only time Carroll was out of coaching over the past 41 years.

“Pete was trying to get a college job, and he couldn’t get anybody to call him back,” said Beightol, who coached with Carroll for five seasons with the Jets. “Finally, USC did. That was the break he needed.”

Carroll got the USC job after the Trojans’ top three choices — Dennis Erickson, Mike Bellotti and Mike Riley — turned it down.

The Trojans were 83-13 in Carroll’s final eight seasons, after starting off 6-6. His first two Seattle teams went 7-9 and 7-9, but improved to 11-5 and 13-3 the past two seasons. Carroll also is the Seahawks’ executive vice president of football operations.

“All Pete needed was a chance to be a head coach again, and he got the chance at USC,” Beightol said. “But I also think he had it in the back of his mind that he wanted to get back in the NFL and build a team the way he wanted it built, not the way somebody else wanted it built.

“That’s what he has in Seattle. He has all the power.”

Carroll has wielded his influence skillfully.


Pete Carroll, right, talks with Harold Horton prior to a game between Arkansas and USC in 2006. Carroll and Horton worked tog... + Enlarge

He was the top choice of more than 320 NFL players polled by who were asked which head coach they’d most like to play for. Carroll received 23 percent of the vote. Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin was second at 14 percent.

“If you make a mistake, Pete uses that as a teachable moment,” Seahawks linebacker Heath Farwell told “Pete explains what you did wrong and how you can correct it.

“We all make mistakes, but with Pete, it’s about learning from it. He’s not a talk-down-to-you or yell-at-you kind of coach. He coaches with passion, and that’s why guys play hard for him.”

Beightol said Carroll’s success in Seattle is vindication for being fired at New York and New England.

“I don’t think Pete has anything more to prove now,” Beightol said. “He’s proved he can coach in the NFL.”