Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll watches as players warm up during a… (Byline Withheld / Associated…)
JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Pete Carroll sits back in his chair, grins and starts to chuckle.
For the second time in as many days, he has stood before busloads of reporters in a hotel ballroom, answering questions that will be repeated in unending variations throughout Super Bowl week:
How will Carroll's Seattle Seahawks stop Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning? What about the weather? Richard Sherman?
Now, in a quiet hotel office monitored by security officials, Carroll has retreated to his personal Super Bowl command center, replete with two desktop computer monitors and speakers, two flat screen televisions, a whiteboard and an iPad.
Carroll has returned to the Northeast — where he was fired by the New York Jets and the New England Patriots — with a chance to show the football world that the same positive-reinforcement coaching principles he employed during an unparalleled run at USC can help him win football's biggest prize.
"It isn't really a surprise," he says of his team's success. "This is what we counted on happening."
At the moment, vindication is not on Carroll's mind. Instead, he seems giddily preoccupied with excitement about a more important aspect of his Super Bowl experience.
"The grandkids are coming in on Friday," he says.
Carroll's silvery hair is a bit grayer than it was during his nine seasons at USC, and the lines in his face are deeper. At 62, the NFL's second-oldest coach now wears glasses whenever he is not on the field.
However, his basic work uniform remains the same: team-logo sweat shirt, white khakis and white athletic shoes, complemented by a green "Always Compete" wristband.
"He's definitely not young anymore," says Ben Malcolmson, a former USC walk-on receiver who has been Carroll's personal assistant for seven years. "But he definitely acts like it."
That was evident two weeks ago, as the Seahawks were defeating the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game to advance to the Super Bowl. Carroll went airborne with joy, his heels kicked high into the air like a sixth-grader.
The Seahawks roster, assembled by Carroll and 42-year-old General Manager John Schneider, is one of the NFL's youngest and features second-year quarterback Russell Wilson, an emerging star.
During the 2012 preseason, Carroll sent an equipment manager to summon Wilson to a basketball court at the Seahawks' complex in Renton, Wash.
"I go outside and Coach is dribbling in between his legs and . . . hitting threes," Wilson recalled. Between shots, Carroll informed Wilson he had won the starting job.
Two weeks ago, the Seahawks entire organizational staff met to kick off preparations for the Super Bowl. Instead of giving a speech, Carroll chased rebounds as staffers competed in a basketball shooting contest inside the team meeting room.
Carroll's playful spirit, players and coaches say, permeates the NFL team and creates an environment for success. One that has made the Seahawks a desirable destination.
"It's just the fact," fullback Michael Robinson says, "that we have fun."
Carroll bounded into Heritage Hall with a basketball on his hip and a hoodie pulled over his sweaty head, another lunchtime game of hoops over.
It was Jan. 21, 2008, the day after the NFL's conference championship games, and Carroll was rhapsodizing about the New York Giants' overtime victory over the Green Bay Packers at freezing Lambeau Field.
At USC, Carroll regularly called the NFL the No Fun League. And when USC began its run of major bowl appearances and won national titles, he annually flirted with and rejected overtures to return to the pros.
But on that day his eyes glazed and he had a faraway look as he talked about the competitive spirit of the Giants and the Packers. It was clear to a reporter who had covered Carroll daily for six years that something was different: the lure of the NFL was too much.
"All the time I was in college football, I knew I was in college football," Carroll says, recalling the conversation. "I knew there was another level of depth and competitiveness . . . that taxed you the most and challenged us the most to be our best.
"But I also had learned that it would be the biggest mistake of my coaching life to change just to change. . . . I was going to do it only if it was the right situation because I loved where I was, I loved what I was doing."
Almost two years later, the Trojans completed their 2009 season with a victory over Boston College in the Emerald Bowl, their first non-BCS game in eight years.
A Seahawks organization bankrolled by billionaire owner Paul Allen offered Carroll a five-year contract for about $35 million, an agreement that included control of personnel.
Carroll left for the Pacific Northwest, with designs on playing for a Super Bowl title.
The Seahawks' facility was not a bustling place of feel-good emotions when Carroll arrived in January 2010.