Contrasting styles, mutual respect

Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll are very different in handling their teams, but each has found success. They and their players talked about the differences that make up the Super Bowl XLIX coaches.

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll sat side by side, both dressed in suits and ties. That might be the normal working garb for the white-collar world of business, but in the business of the NFL this coaching duo is more comfortable in sweatshirts – Carroll’s with sleeves and Belichick’s often sans sleeves.

Their attire might be the similar, but the way they approach the game, and their players, is often a blaring contrast. Belichick is seen as the stern leader of a New England Patriots franchise he has turned into a perennial powerhouse. Carroll is the laid-back jokester who loves to tweak his Seattle Seahawks players and himself.

But on Friday, the last day of press conferences for the two coaches and their players, they took time to admire what each has accomplished. It was a civil sitting side-by-side two days before their meeting of the minds in Super Bowl XLIX.

“What I’m always impressed by is the consistency the performer or team can have over a long period of time and sustain,” Carroll said of Belichick. “The fact that these guys – some of the numbers that you throw out, like having the first-round bye 10 times in your time at one club, all the championship opportunities and all of the Super Bowls … they’ve maintained the consistency of championship-level play, and that’s Bill. That’s Bill’s direction and the leadership and I think that that’s something that anybody in our world would like to be able to share and understand, and that’s winning over a long period of time, showing you got it, you got it together, and you’ve kind of done something really special with special areas. So I think he’s done a fantastic job in that regard and that’s something that I would like to be able to demonstrate someday.”

Carroll’s answer came in response to a question about a quality each of the head coaches sees in the other that he wished he had. Belichick pointed to Carroll’s ability to have the Seahawks playing all game every game.

“When I’ve watched Pete’s teams play through the years – most particularly with Seattle – the thing that impresses me the most and the thing that I guess I would like to do a better job of is just the way that his teams play for 60 minutes,” Belichick said. “They play from the opening kickoff to the final whistle or the final gun. They play from the snap of the ball until the whistle blows at the end of the play. They play extremely hard down after down after down, week after week, year after year. They compete relentlessly as well as any team or any organization I’ve ever observed.”

Heath Farwell, a linebacker for the Seahawks who spent the season on injured reserve and took that opportunity to observe the inner meeting rooms where coaches spend their in-season lives, said Carroll loves to loosen the mood, setting up Nerf basketball shooting contests to open meetings, both with players and coaches.

By contrast, there is Belichick.

“He is probably one of the most methodical coaches when it comes to defensive techniques and game plans. Every week is something different that he has for the opposing offense,” Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin said of Belichick. “We really don’t know what we will see on game day, but we are preparing for everything we possibly could see. When it comes down to game time I think we will be ready. I am sure he will have some curve balls for us.”

But there is not a chance that Belichick would give a glimpse into his game plan. He is perceived as the calculating coach of the Northeast. That perception isn’t likely to change anytime soon, but defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, an 11-year veteran of the Patriots way, has seen a softening of the old sage.

“I’ve seen the difference in Bill in the 11 years that I have been here and I tell him he is getting soft. But this is a different era of football now with how the team is shaped up and how a lot of guys are younger guys,” Wilfork said. “You don’t really have that veteran team that he used to have. When I first came in the league, he had a veteran team that didn’t take much to get those guys going. But if I have to say anything, I think over the years he got a soft heart. But he’s more understanding now.”

When Wilfork was a rookie in 2004, the Patriots went 14-2 and won the Super Bowl. It was their third Super Bowl win under Belichick in a four-year span. They have been back twice since then but lost both times.

The one constant in Belichick’s 15-year reign in New England has been quarterback Tom Brady. He won his first Super Bowl with Belichick in 2001, and two more since. But the receivers, running backs and defensive crew have all changed, along with the coordinators and position coaches.

“I think when you get so used to having a certain quality of players and it changes, it’s hard for you to adapt to change. And I think Bill had to do a good job of that ever since I’ve been in the league because we’ve changed so much,” Wilfork said. “We were a veteran team, it was a younger team, at one point we were the youngest team in the league. So I think he had to try to find the identity in what works for that team. And I think he’s done a great job over the years of doing that. But at the end of the day, he is still Bill. He coaches the same way. He demands everything the same way. But I think he’s got a little soft heart now. Over time, he got a little softer though.”

Ironically, Belichick took over the New England job after Carroll was fired following an 8-8 season in 1999. But as Carroll faces the Patriots in the Super Bowl, he has displayed no public bitterness or with his players. Instead, Carroll said he has grown as a coach and learned from his stops in New England, with the New York Jets and with USC.

To a player, the Seahawks say they love playing for Carroll and his ability to allow players to be themselves. The atmosphere has been described as half college, half pro. But it’s been an approach that has worked marvelously for Carroll in the Northwest.

“Coach Carroll likes to have fun every day so there’s music out at practice literally the whole practice. Guys are dancing,” kicker Steven Hauschka said. “They shoot hoops at the team meeting room and coach is playing funny videos just to kind of boost the morale. Those are things that really don’t go on in the NFL. It’s kind of a military attitude throughout a lot of the teams. So Coach Carroll has kind of lightened the mood and allowed guys to play without having to hold back. Guys are playing loose and free and just flying around. I think that’s the best, purest sense of football.”

That’s just not Belichick. Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who played for Nick Saban at Alabama, said Belichick and Saban are very much alike.

“I literally think that they’re exactly the same. From the way that they run their meetings to the way that we run practice, just the way they address the team,” Hightower said. “You can definitely tell that Nick learned something from Bill whenever they were at Cleveland, and I mean they’re still pretty close friends. So I can only imagine how much more they’re alike than what I think. I literally think they are two peas in a pod.”

The contrasting coaching styles have respect from both sides, and it filters down to the players from the opposing teams in Super Bowl XLIX.

“Bill Belichick is one of the greatest coaches to ever step foot in a building,” Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said. “Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks to play football. The Patriots are one of the greatest football teams to ever exist in this football league.”

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