In early 1985, Pete Carroll had just been let go as a Buffalo Bills assistant after one year in the NFL. At age 33, he was worried about his future.
That’s when Carroll got a call from Bud Grant, the mythical Vikings coach who was returning to the sideline after a one-year try at retirement. He hired Carroll as a defensive backs coach.
“Bud found me,” Carroll said Friday. “I don’t know how he did it. I had gotten fired after my first year in the league, which has always been kind of the curse that you’ll never get back once you’re in and bounced out. But I was like the last guy in the league hired late in the spring, and so it meant the world to me. … It was something I really cherish.”
The move turned out well for all involved. Carroll was a Vikings assistant from 1985-90, spending his final five years under Jerry Burns after Grant decided to retire for good after the 1985 season. Carroll went on to become a head coach with the New York Jets, the New England Patriots and USC and is now with Seattle Seahawks.
On Sunday, Carroll, who won Super Bowl XLVIII with the Seahawks after the 2013 season and took them to Super Bowl XLIX the next season, will be back in Minnesota. The Seahawks will confront the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium, and memories figure to be flowing for Carroll on how his experiences in the Twin Cities helped shaped him as a coach.
“Those years were really important because I’d only had one year prior to that in the NFL, and so I was so fortunate to wind up with that staff and guys that had been around the league forever,” said Carroll, who turned 70 on Sept. 15. “I was one of the young pups on the staff and those guys kind of looked after me. … It was really a great place to start.”
In addition to Grant and Burns, Carroll mentioned assistants John Michels and Bob Hollway as mentors.
“I can’t say he was a guarantee when he was hired but I used my instincts and my knowledge, and it was a good hire,” Grant said of bringing Carroll to the Vikings. “His enthusiasm was very apparent. He liked to coach, liked working out. He was not hyperactive, but he was a very active guy.”
After Grant retired, Burns was Minnesota’s coach from 1986-91. Carroll left to be the Jets’ defensive coordinator before the 1991 season and then applied for the Vikings head coaching position when Burns retired.
Grant said he recommend Carroll for the job before then-Vikings president Roger Headrick decided instead to hire Dennis Green.
“Headrick came to me and said he had it down to a associate of people, and asked, ‘What do you think?’ ” Grant said. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t know Dennis Green that well but I do know Pete Carroll a lot better. I can tell you right now that Pete would be a great hire because of his enthusiasm and his knowledge and experience.’
“It was nothing against Dennis because I didn’t know Dennis that well, but I did know that Pete would be the perfect hire because he’s been here and knows the situation and he’s a great communicator. When I hung up the phone (with Headrick), I thought Pete was going to be hired. But Dennis had a good record and did a good job, and Pete would have done a good job, too.”
Green was Minnesota’s coach from 1992-2001, a tenure that included two trips to the NFC Championship Game. Carroll became the Jets’ head coach in 1994 and New England’s coach from 1997-99 before emerging in the new century as one of the greatest coaches ever.
While coaching USC from 2001-09, Carroll won two national titles, although one since has been vacated. He has been with the Seahawks since 2010.
Meanwhile, his time in Minnesota hasn’t been forgotten.
“I give a whole lot of credit in my career to (Carroll),” said Carl Lee, a Vikings cornerback from 1983-93 who made all three of his Pro Bowls when Carroll was his position coach. “With the things he taught me, making the Pro Bowl, I’m not sure I would have done it without him.”
Lee remembers Carroll as being a “player’s coach.”
“He was like your friend,” Lee said. “He was so much fun. He was always walking around happy, and bouncing around. He never had a bad day. And we had a little gym at Winter Park, and he used to play H-O-R-S-E with the players. I can tell you I was never going to play basketball with Bud or Burnsie.”
Lee said he hasn’t seen or talked to Carroll for a long time, but that he did send him a message wishing him a happy 70th birthday. Grant also reached out Carroll on his birthday.
“We probably talk three or four times a year,” said Grant, who won’t be able to make it to Sunday’s game. “He’s a good friend.”
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