Redskins' Shanahan, Seattle's Carroll, old colleagues, match offensive, defensive expertise
RENTON, Wash. (AP) - Chapter 5 of Pete Carroll's book "Win Forever" is all about the decision he made in 1995 that eventually landed him a gig as the defensive coordinator in San Francisco and helped frame his coaching philosophies moving forward.
The chapter is titled, "The 49ers Way." It was one phone call away from having nothing to do with San Francisco and all about Carroll joining up with Mike Shanahan in Denver.
"I thought I was going with Mike. I was really thrilled, after getting bounced with the Jets that somebody called," Carroll recalled this week.
Once nearly co-workers in Denver, Carroll and Shanahan will reconnect on Sunday when the Redskins host the Seahawks on the opening weekend of the NFC playoffs.
While most of the attention has fallen on the two rookie quarterbacks - Washington's Robert Griffin III and Seattle's Russell Wilson - the coaches involved in this playoff matchup are respected for their abilities to be different and innovative on the offensive side (Shanahan) or on the defensive side (Carroll).
Their outward personas might be drastically different, but their ability to scheme and coach seems to be without question.
"I think you've got to be yourself and that's what Pete has done. He's been himself," Shanahan said. "Everyone knows the type of job he did at Southern Cal. He's a guy that is very enthusiastic in everything he does and a good friend."
Each in his third season with his team, Carroll and Shanahan put together regular seasons that will be remembered for the risks they were willing to take in regards to their quarterbacks.
For Shanahan, it was giving up a bounty to move up in the draft to select Griffin, then retooling his entire offensive system to fit what his new franchise QB could do best. The result was one of the finest seasons ever by a rookie quarterback.
Not to be outdone, Carroll took a chance by throwing his third-round selection into the middle of a three-way quarterback competition that included free-agent signing Matt Flynn. Wilson became the clear winner and because Carroll had made it a competition, the decision to go with the rookie didn't become an issue in the locker room.
"His energy that he brings every day is unbelievable. It's unmatchable. He loves the game of football. He loves us players," Wilson said. "In terms of just the energy that he brings to practice and in the meetings and everything, you really want to play for him. You just want to put your best foot forward every time you step out on the field."
There was a moment when Shanahan nearly got that personality of Carroll's on his staff. Shanahan had just landed the head coaching position with the Broncos and was seeking a defensive coordinator. He called Carroll, who had just been fired after one season with the New York Jets, and asked him to come to Denver to interview.
Carroll was on his way to Denver when he heard from 49ers head coach George Seifert. San Francisco was about to lose defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes to the head coaching job in Philadelphia and Seifert wanted Carroll to interview for the expected opening.
In Denver, Carroll could be part of something new, developing the defense alongside what Shanahan was doing offensively with John Elway. In San Francisco, there would be expectations of trying to match the previously set standards.
Eventually, Carroll said he wanted the challenge that came with going to San Francisco along with the opportunity to learn more of the intricacies of the West Coast offense.
"The really sound decision was to go to the up-and-coming team as opposed to the team that had just won the world championship, but when I finally realized that I had a hard decision because it meant so much to go to San Francisco and to go back home with George and all of that. I finally figured out that was what was bothering me, and I was thrilled about going forward. I needed to go to San Francisco because I needed to know where they were with their system and all of that."
That opportunity to be in the 49ers system and later during his two seasons there, the chance to pick the brain of Bill Walsh, proved vital for Carroll going forward. Denver didn't miss a beat either, hiring Greg Williams as its defensive coordinator instead of Carroll, and going on to win two Super Bowl titles.
After referring to Carroll as "excitable" earlier this week, Shanahan was asked how he'd describe himself. His answer probably would have stood for Carroll as well.
"That's a good question. I've been called a lot of things before which I can't say. But I think overall, what you want to do as a coach, is be respected," Shanahan said. "You've got a hard job to do and you want to be fair to the best player on your football team as compared to the guy that maybe is not thought of as one of your better players. You want to be consistent, and you'd like to be respected. I think that's one of the things that, if I had people trying to remember me, it would be something like that."