That year, his Patriots finished a disappointing 8-8 to miss the playoffs. His story in New England may have been different if he had help from the foot of the normally reliable Adam Vinatieri.
From the infamous "Tuck Rule Game" and the game-winning kicks in the final seconds of two Super Bowls, Vinatieri has kicked several of the most decisive field goals in NFL history. In the process, Vinatieri helped elevate the careers of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick.
|Adam Vinatieri misses in 1999.|
However, back in 1999, Vinatieri did the opposite for Pete Carroll. On October 10 of that year, Carroll's Patriots were trailing 16-14 to the Chiefs in Kansas City. In the final minute the Patriots drove to the 15 yard line, but a 32-yard Vinatieri field goal try on the final play bounced off the right upright for a Pats loss.
Later that year, during a December 26 game at Buffalo, the Patriots lost to the Bills in overtime where Vinatieri missed three field goals, including a 33-yarder at the end of regulation that went wide right and a 44 yard field goal that fell short in overtime.
If Vinatieri made those kicks, life in New England for Carroll might have been different. Instead of 8-8, the Patriots would have finished 10-6 and would have made the playoffs.
With two coaching legends manning the Patriots sidelines for nearly two decades, it can be easy to forget about the third coach sandwiched between future Hall of Famers Bill Parcells and Belichick.
|Parcells and Carroll in 1997.|
Carroll's three year tenure in New England may have been brief, it still was a significant transitional period for the Patriots franchise. Without it, the success the team currently enjoys with Belichick following Carroll's departure may never have happened.
Carroll now coaches with the same carefree attitude for the Seahawks he had in New England from 1997 to 1999. His time with the Patriots helped him become the coach he is today in Seattle.
"I think I learned a lot," Carroll told the media covering this year's Super Bowl. "Robert (Kraft) and his family are a great family to play and coach for. But I also learned what it takes for a person like myself to operate at my highest level and I also realized the limitations that were going on that kept me from being the kind of coach I could be.
"It allowed me to refocus and formalize some plans that I was able to put in at USC and then at the Seahawks," he said.
Prior to his arrival to New England in 1997, he was fired after one season with the New York Jets when he went 6-10 in 1994. Carroll served as defensive coordinator for the 49ers in two playoff seasons in San Francisco, including a 12-4 record in 1996. That same season, the Patriots and Parcells were coming off a Super Bowl lost against Green Bay.
Parcells, who was not happy with his inability to choose his own players after Bob Kraft bought the team, would quit after the Super Bowl to become the Jets head coach.
|Carroll on the Patriots sideline.|
Carroll was soon hired as the team's 13th head coach with Bobby Grier taking over player acquisitions. His carefree California attitude stood in stark contrast to the dictatorships of Parcells and that of Belichick, Pete's three-time Super Bowl winning successor. Carroll's player friendly and seemingly structure-less approach led to some initial success as players like Drew Bledsoe had new freedom to sling the ball as he saw fit.
Bledsoe had a pro bowl season in Carroll's first year, throwing for the most touchdowns (28) and the highest completion percentage (60.2) in his Patriots career. The Patriots won the AFC East in 1997 with a 10-6 record under Carroll. They started the year 4-0 for only the third time in team history at the time, while even beating the Jets in Parcells' return to Foxboro early that season. Despite winning the AFC East, the Patriots would finish 6-6 to miss out on a first round playoff bye late in the season. After beating Miami 17-3 in the Wild Card game, they lost at Pittsburgh in the next round, 7-6.
However, the decline from their Super Bowl team was already apparent. The Patriots finished 9-7 in 1998 with a bad wild card playoff loss at Jacksonville, 25-10. In 1999, the Patriots started strong again with a record of 6-2 the first half of the season, but Carroll lost his grip on the team as they finished the second half 2-6, missing the playoffs at 8-8.
Carroll would later admit players would go over his head to Patriots ownership with team issues which helped lead to the team's collapse. "It was horrible," Carroll told Sports Illustrated later. "That's not leadership, but that existed … In all fairness to the Krafts, they didn't know how to do it. They were just figuring it out."
|Kraft and Carroll.|
Indeed, the Krafts needed the Carroll era to figure it out. They needed to realize what they had in Parcells and they knew they had to get back to that coaching dictatorship. So Kraft fired Carroll and hijacked longtime Parcells defensive coordinator Belichick to take over football operations from both Grier and Carroll.
To Carroll's credit, he finished with a 27-21 respectable record in New England. If Vinatieri makes those kicks, Belichick never coaches New England. But that "IF" never happened and Vinatieri made the big kicks for Carroll's heir.
After 15 years of coaching in college and the pros, Carroll is now poised for redemption in the Super Bowl as his coaching career has come full-circle.
"I never lost sight of what the possible opportunities were," said Carroll.
Kevin Saleeba is the senior editor and columnist for Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinSaleeba or like him on Facebook.