Seahawks coach Pete Carroll answered questions for almost 15 minutes Thursday, pronouncing the team’s spring workout season to be an unqualified success while noting the obvious.
“It’s not real football,” Carroll said of the OTA and minicamp practices, which prohibit such real football basics as blocking and tackling.
Real football resumes in six weeks, when the players will be equipped with the kind of pads their head coach hasn’t worn since he was a training-camp cut of World Football League’s Honolulu Hawaiians in 1973.
As Carroll spoke, I noticed something curious: He looked no different than the January day team owner Paul Allen hired him in 2010.
Jobs can be stressful, especially jobs predicated on the uncertain bounces of an oblong ball. You’d presume overseeing the Seahawks – a perpetual soap opera for which there is no offseason – would put some age on a man who, at 65, is the league’s oldest head coach.
But Carroll hasn’t aged. To the contrary, he’s a real-life Benjamin Button, the fictional character who exists in a reverse time machine.
I recall some of the public figures of my childhood, such as the late Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. When Bryant was 65, he looked every bit of 85.
On the afternoon Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as U.S. president, hours after the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy, I thought he was the oldest person I had ever seen.
Some of this related to Kennedy’s youthful appearance, distinguished by the red hair he managed to keep. Johnson looked spent and haggard when he took the oath, and five years of the most volatile period of the 20th century – dissent over the war in Vietnam, race riots on the home front – put Johnson in a place where he basically said: “Take me, Lord.”
He was 55 when he became president, and 64 when he died. (Chided by his daughter for lighting up a cigarette on the Air Force One flight that returned him to Texas in retirement, LBJ defiantly puffed away. “I’ve raised you girls,” he said. “I’ve served as president. Now it’s my time.”)
UCLA basketball coach John Wooden was 65, Carroll’s age, when he won the last of his 10 national championships with the Bruins in 1975. Wooden enjoyed good health after basketball – he died at 99 – but there was a sense of finality about UCLA’s ’75 title: a fitting conclusion to a legendary career.
Wooden ambled off the court and into the sunset. It was time.
It’s not time for Carroll, whose sheer resilience can only be called remarkable. Twice fired in the NFL, he resurfaced as a rather unpopular compromise candidate to revive USC’s listless football program.
Carroll assembled a college powerhouse – the Trojans went on a 34-game winning streak between 2003 an 2005 – but controversy awaited and controversy prevailed. The NCAA erased those 34 consecutive victories from its official record book, part of the penalty for payments made to star running back Reggie Bush.
Carroll left USC as a pariah, the commander of a sinking ship who jumped into the first life boat. News of his third NFL head-coaching job, with the Seahawks, gave cynics a chance to shrug and yawn.
Carroll’s 2013 Hawks won the Super Bowl, and were positioned to win a second straight Lombardi Trophy before Russell Wilson’s infamous goal-line pass was intercepted.
A bone-headed play call that costs a Super Bowl victory is not the end of the world, but it’s kind of a a prelude, no? And yet Carroll has kept on keeping on, a 65-year old resembling a 45-year old.
“Old dogs, new tricks, man,” Carroll said of the offseason workouts he deemed unusually productive.
As the owner of three dogs long removed from puppy-hood, I can’t fathom any of them learning new tricks. Then again, I’m sort of just along for the ride at this point, hobbling to the finish line.
Pete Carroll is 65, running in a world in which there is no finish line.
I get old, my friends and loved ones get old, my dogs get old, and this guy looks young enough to coach for another 50 years.