The New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks will meet Sunday night for the first time since Feb. 1, 2015. You might remember that game ended with a miraculous interception by the previously unknown Malcolm Butler, essentially winning the Super Bowl for the Patriots.
It’s been a long 21 months since that game concluded as it sent shockwaves across the country, from Seattle to Foxborough. Pete Carroll was left speechless and in awe after watching Russell Wilson throw a game-ending interception at the goal line, while the Patriots’ sideline was sent into a frenzy – even bringing some joy to the always-stoic Bill Belichick.
The relationship between Carroll and Belichick goes back further than that historic game, though. Belichick actually took over for Carroll as the head coach of the Patriots back in 2000, after Carroll held the job for three years. Carroll left the NFL for USC, where he had a great deal of success before returning to the pros in 2010 as the leader of the now-perennially dominant Seahawks.
Both coaches have had decorated careers with their respective teams, and while Belichick has been better statistically, he’s also been a head coach for twice as long (22 years vs. 11 years). Putting experience aside, who’s actually the better coach? Is it the emotionless, straight-faced Belichick? Or the upbeat, defensive genius Carroll?
Here’s a tale of the tape to help settle the debate.
Offensive mind: Belichick
Since Belichick took over as the head coach in 2000, the Patriots have been an offensive juggernaut. Only six times has New England ranked outside of the top 10 in yards, four of which came in his first four seasons at the helm. Since 2007, the Patriots have been in the top 10 each year except for one (2014). By comparison, the Seahawks have ranked inside the top 10 in yards once since Carroll took over in 2010. Belichick has always been a defensive coach, but his offensive mastery is matched by few coaches in the league – even if Tom Brady has a lot to do with his team’s success.
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Defensive prowess: Carroll
The Seahawks have become a defensive powerhouse since Carroll took over in 2010. From drafting stud players like Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas to scheming Seattle’s outstanding Cover 3 defense, Carroll has done just about everything right on that side of the ball. Of course, Dan Quinn helped for a few of those years, as did the personnel Carroll had, but he’s the mastermind behind the defense. Other than in 2010, the Seahawks have ranked in the top 10 in yards each season under Carroll, and they were first in points allowed from 2012 to 2015. There simply hasn’t been a better defense the past six years.
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Personnel decisions: Belichick
Carroll doesn’t have the free rein to draft and manage the team the way Belichick does -- considering he’s not the general manager like Belichick -- but he is the VP of Football Operations. That allows him to give more insight on drafting decisions and personnel calls than most coaches. That being said, Belichick is still the best when it comes to making roster decisions.
From trading costly players at the right time – Randy Moss, Mike Vrabel, Matt Cassel, Deion Branch – to finding relatively inexpensive (yet productive) free agents like Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich and Danny Amendola, Belichick has a knack for uncovering key players.
Sure, Carroll has signed guys like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, but the Patriots have a much more well-rounded roster than the Seahawks thanks to Belichick.
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With Tom Coughlin no longer a coach, Carroll is now the oldest head coach in the NFL. At 65, you would never know Carroll held that title, given his glowing personality, enthusiasm on the sideline and activity on social media. Despite the age gap, he’s easily relatable with his players. Carroll made a concerted effort to connect with the Seahawks last offseason, and it’s had a positive impact.
“It helped us,” Doug Baldwin said, “to reconnect with him, to relate with him.”
Here’s what Brandon Browner, who played for both coaches, had to say about their differences:
“Bill is old school, what I grew up on,” said Browner. “Playing in Seattle, it was a little more loose around there. We would shoot hoops in the meeting room before the meeting would start. On the way to meetings you would hear your favorite music blasting in the hallways. It is two different coaching styles, but at the end of the day they are both, I think, the best in the league.”
That doesn’t mean Belichick doesn’t connect with Patriots players or that he has a poor personality, but let’s be honest: He’s not the most outgoing person in the NFL.
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Maximizing player potential: Belichick
Belichick and the Patriots aren’t big spenders in free agency. They don’t value first-round picks in the draft the way other teams do. Belichick is constantly wheeling and dealing his selections to maximize the number of players he can take in the draft, even if it means he doesn’t land a blue-chip player. He’s able to do this because his scheme and his game plans always get the most out of his players.
He turned Julian Edelman into an incredibly productive receiver, made Malcolm Butler a Pro Bowl cornerback and helped Devin McCourty go from potential bust to one of the top safeties in the league by changing his position. The Patriots don’t need high-priced free agents to have success year in and year out, and that’s a testament to how great Belichick’s system is.
Wardrobe choices: Carroll
This was a tough one. Belichick has trademarked his cut-off hoodie, but it’s not a particularly good look. He’s also worn cargo shorts to his press conferences, which is a huge no-no. Carroll, on the other hand, is aware of trends. Like Belichick, he often wears hoodies and sweaters on the sideline, but he pairs them with the most “dad shoes” of all time – moreso than the Curry 2s. They’re Nike Monarch IV, and the best part is that he acknowledges them for being what they are: dad shoes. They just have to be really wide.
“I’m rocking the Monarchs. These are quadruple E’s. It doesn’t matter how long they are, they’ve got to be really wide.”
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Belichick is known for stockpiling draft picks the way an apocalyptic prepper would hoard non-perishable food and water. He doesn’t typically like to trade them for players unless he believes those players can have a profound impact, like Martellus Bennett or Kyle Van Noy. When he does use his selections, he typically hits. He helped find guys like Tom Brady – the ultimate trump card – Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Stephen Gostkowski, Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, and the list goes on.
Carroll has nailed a lot of picks in his limited time at the helm, though John Schneider has helped in that regard. The Seahawks have been fortunate to uncover diamonds in the rough like Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, Kam Chancellor, and even Byron Maxwell, a key part of the original Legion of Boom. Belichick gets the nod in this department, however.
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Pushing the envelope: Belichick
This is both a good and bad trait. It’s a negative one because the Patriots were caught for Spygate and accused of deflating footballs, but they’re also one of the most creative teams in the league. Belichick has always gone right to the boundary of the NFL rulebook and playbook to pull off some truly great trick plays – like the one that John Harbaugh incorrectly questioned after getting burned by it. He often has linemen report as eligible receivers, putting defenders into a bind when it comes to covering them.
Carroll has always taught his defensive backs to be extremely physical with receivers, forcing officials to make difficult decisions on holding or pass interference. It’s not cheating or illegal, but it’s drawn the ire of many around the league with most people believing the Seahawks get away with more than they should on defense.
Sideline animations: Carroll
Belichick doesn’t get much airtime on the sideline. The camera doesn’t follow him the way it does for other coaches, and there’s a reason for that: He’s boring. Belichick rarely has sideline outbursts or shows any sort of emotion – aside from those frequent times when Surface tablets fail him.
Carroll is just the opposite. He’s always chomping on gum, pacing up and down the sideline, rallying his guys after making a big play. Carroll is a ton of fun to watch, even when he’s left dumbfounded by his kicker missing a 27-yard game-winning field goal.
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Overall success: Belichick
Last but certainly not least, the end-all, be-all determinant of who’s the better coach: success. It’s also the most obvious choice on this list as only three coaches have more wins than Belichick: Don Shula, George Halas and Tom Landry. He’s also tied for the most Super Bowl wins by a head coach (four) and has six AFC titles under his belt, too. Belichick will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time, if not the very best.
Carroll has had his share of victories (98) in the NFL, but he’s far too deep into his career to catch Belichick or any of the legends in that department. Perhaps if he and the Seahawks would have won the Super Bowl over the Patriots, giving them back-to-back victories, his standing among the greats would be stronger. That’s not the case, which puts him on a lower tier.