When Pete Was a Buckeye

By Kyle Rowland on January 31, 2014 at 9:15a
Pete Carroll on his time at Ohio State: It was extraordinary.

On Sunday, Pete Carroll’s 40-year coaching career will reach its zenith when he leads the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl. But life wasn’t always spent at the top for Carroll.

In 1979, the Ohio State football program was going through what was then its most chaotic period. Woody Hayes was fired after punching a Clemson player and former player and trusted assistant Earle Bruce would take the Buckeyes through vast change.

At the same time, there was another football coach going through similar life-altering transitions. Peter Clay Carroll had been a graduate assistant at Pacific and Arkansas, but now he was in the beginning stages of carving out a path as a full-time assistant. Along with that, Carroll and his wife, Glena, were taking care of their newborn son, Brennan.

During the 1978 season, Carroll’s first as a paid assistant, he coached the secondary for Bruce’s Iowa State Cyclones. Uncertainty followed for Carroll when Bruce was hired by the Buckeyes until he tabbed Carroll as Ohio State’s defensive backs coach.

What followed was a one-year Midwestern fairy tale for a California surfer dude.

“It was an extraordinary experience,” Carroll recalled. “We had a great year.”

Indeed. In Year 1 post-Woody, Ohio State went undefeated in the regular season, which included a dramatic 18-15 win over Michigan. One of the rivalry’s signature moments came late in the fourth quarter when a group of Buckeyes blocked a punt and Todd Bell scooped it up and scored the game-winning touchdown.

The Rose Bowl pitted No. 1 Ohio State against No. 3 USC. A win for the Buckeyes meant a national championship. And with time winding down in the fourth quarter, it looked like Bruce’s first season as head coach would finish with that unlikely title. But Heisman Trophy winner Charles White led the Trojans on an 83-yard game-winning drive in the final minutes, gaining 71 yards on his own.

Pete Carroll's 1979 media guide bio.

“My first memories getting ready for the Rose Bowl were we were really pumped up,” Carroll said. “We had a really good team that year. We had a chance to win the national championship. But as a California kid coming back to the Rose Bowl for the first time, it was really big. As we got out there, it was magical being in Southern California.”

But some of the optimism flushed out when Carroll gazed across the sun-drenched Rose Bowl and spied a group of Trojans that looked more like the Gods they were named after instead of college football players.

“They were loaded with players,” Carroll said. “I’ll never forget coming off the field and seeing those offensive linemen come charging out together. I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ They just looked so right. They were big and strong. They had a fantastic team. It was a great matchup, a great game. “

The 1979 USC team had 11 future NFL players on its roster, including Pro Football Hall of Famers Marcus Allen, Ronnie Lott, Bruce Matthews and Anthony Munoz.

Ohio State only allowed 10.5 points per game, ranking seventh in the nation. The Silver Bullets intercepted 18 passes and returned one for a touchdown. Suddenly, Carroll became a sought-after young coach. Following the season, he became the defensive coordinator at North Carolina State under head coach Monte Kiffin.

It was a long and winding road for Carroll over the next 30 years. There were high-level NFL assistant jobs, stints as head coach of the Jets and Patriots and, of course, an unprecedented nine-year run at USC. It was in that final season – 2009 – when Carroll returned to Ohio Stadium for the first time in 30 years.

“Beautiful,” he said, describing the famed venue. 

Carroll fondly reminisced that week about his time in Columbus.

“It was really an extraordinary year,” he said.

But one moment stood out above all others. No, it wasn’t the victory over Michigan or even the trip to Pasadena. It was Carroll’s lone interaction with Hayes.

Sitting in his office inside St. John Arena, Carroll recalled looking out the window and seeing an older, shadowy figure walking in the parking lot. He knew exactly who it was.

“I just dropped everything and took off, ran across the parking lot and met him about halfway down,” Carroll said. “He was walking home from teaching a class and I introduced myself. We walked for about 10 minutes, and he knew who I was. I was all thrilled. We talked football. That was my one chance I had to visit with him. To me, that was a really special moment with a guy that was a great impact to our game and to everything that stands for football.

“But there was a lot of memories that year and a lot of cool stuff that happened. A lot of great names and people we dealt with. That was really fun.”

During his two years under Bruce’s guidance, Carroll said he grew considerably as a coach. He wouldn’t be the only one. Also on Bruce’s coaching tree are Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Jim Tressel, Mark Dantonio and Dom Capers, among others.

“He really conveyed to us that he had a sense for what it took to win at Ohio State. He was on it,” Carroll said. “He just orchestrated it beautifully. The history of that program is obvious. The great heritage that they have that lives through those players and those famous names that we grew up watching.”

The same characteristics and taglines can be applied to the Super Bowl, the apex of sports. On Sunday, Carroll, whose career contains humble beginnings in Columbus, will bask in the glow of reaching the ultimate level.


Comments Show All Comments

nm_buck's picture

Amazing how many GREAT coaches are from, or get their start, in Ohio.

"The future is bright at Ohio State."  - Urban Meyer 1/1/15

ScarletGray43157's picture

Ohio has indeed produced many coaches in football, especially in the recent years, although historically as well. 

In old Ohio there's a team that's known throughout the land...

Jugdish's picture

I know that Miami is called the "cradle of coaches", but it seems they eventually pass through OSU.

Remember to get your wolverine spayed or neutered. TBDBITL

BuckeyeSouth's picture

I had no idea that Pete Carroll spent a year at OSU.  That's pretty cool.

Champions.  Undisputed.  

sigzeta's picture

Ditto. I have despised him for so long, to the point of rooting against the Seahawks. I now feel horrible for hating on a Buckeye, but feel dirty for thinking I should like him. 
i am soooo conflicted. 

Earle's picture

Don't let it bother you, or the fact that Nick Saban was a defensive assistant under Earle Bruce will kill you.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

gm3jones's picture

Wow, isn't that the truth.

There is nothing more remarkable as learning to think better.

lamplighter's picture

Earle fired Saban though

AndyVance's picture

Count me as one of the conflicted... Aside from the fact that he was HC at one of those schools that feels like a quasi-rival given the long history of big-time games between OSU and USC, it really steams my clams that he's raking in millions in Seattle while Jim Tressel is the vice president of student happiness at a MAC school. Carroll got out one step ahead of the sheriff, while Coach Tressel went down with the ship.
That said, great story Kyle, and I agree - it's hard to hate on someone who sounds so positive about his single season in Columbus.

vitaminB's picture

To be fair, I think Tress was the one who shot the hole in the boat in the first place.
With no other Bucks on the field in this game, this gives me no doubts about who I'll be pulling for.

AndyVance's picture

To be fair, I think Tress was the one who shot the hole in the boat in the first place.

Since I don't want to start yet another "it was Tressel's fault," "no it wasn't," "yes it was" thread - 'cause there have been several - I'll just say that while I understand your position, I don't entirely agree. Or at least, while I agree that he might have handled the situation different, I do not agree that anything remotely resembling justice was done in that case.

vitaminB's picture

Granted, the only point I was trying to make is that Tress' direct actions lead to his demise (whether his actions deserved termination or not is up for debate), as where with Carroll there is a little more grey area since the real crimes appear to have been committed by the agents and Bush.

tracyre's picture

I'm so not conflicted. Verdict stands. No fan here!! 

Jack Fu's picture

Pete Carroll is 11 years older than Wilford Brimley was when he was in the movie "Cocoon."

Oyster's picture

And Greg Oden still looks older than both of them!

"Scrolling hurts my finger"

(and FitzBuck was clearly the winner)

Seattle Linga's picture

True Story - Greg Oden was once asked by an MSU fan what WWII was like. Of course this is as he was leaving E Lansing after beating Sparty

kingjamborah's picture

A TOSU coaching alum vs a died-in-the-wool Meechy Man? I know who I'll be cheering for on Sunday. Go Seahawks. 


Floyd Stahl's picture

The Rose Bowl following that magical 1979 season still breaks my heart.

+1 HS
Jason Gruber's picture

Great read, I had no idea Pete coached at THE Ohio State University. 

"You win with people." Woody Hayes

"If winning isn't everything, why do we keep score?" Vince Lombardi

"¯\_(ツ)_/¯" Joey Bosa

funky123's picture

^  What  Jason said ^ 

+1 HS
cjmgobucks's picture

Living in Southern California, I had an opportunity to meet Coach Carroll back in 2005 (it was the night before the '05 rendition of THE GAME). I was introduced to the coach as "our resident Ohio State fan."  When he heard this, his eyes lit up and he excitedly and fondly started telling me of being hired by Earl Bruce as an assistant. It was obvious he cherished his time in Columbus, though it was a brief tenure. Though I despise usc, I still have a pic of Coach Carroll and me on my refrigerator. Though my exposure to him was limited, he was very gracious and approachable. Just a good guy...

"When I look in the mirror, I want to take a swing at me."

Wayne Woodrow Hayes

+1 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

It took me awhile but Sneaky Pete has grown on me

JakeBuckeye's picture

As a Buckeye, its a guilty pleasure of mine how much I love Pete Carroll.

+1 HS
zacisone's picture

Don't forget Bill Mallory. Great coach and recruiter. Coached for Earle Bruce and was one of few that made Indiana football worth the price of a ticket.


Seattle Linga's picture

AGREED ------------ Where you at ? I'm in Puyallup

CarolinaBuck's picture

Where did this interview come from? 
EDIT: Never mind, I spoke before I clicked

chibuck's picture

I have to admit, I've always kind of liked Pete. He always looked like a great coach to play for.

+1 HS
EvanstonBuckeye's picture

If Carroll wins Sunday, he is in some rarefied company among coaches to have won both a national championship and a Super Bowl.
Nice article. For all his detractors, Carroll is a lifer and has seen the ups and downs of coaching. I have a hard time begrudging him for much.

Crumb's picture

And I still hate him for 08 and 09 and his time at USCheat.

"The only good thing about it is winning the d*** thing" - Urban Meyer on The Game The War

Seattle Linga's picture

USC = University of Spoiled Children

kcbrez's picture

What a great story. Thanks, Kyle. 

patriot-missile's picture

What?  Pete was a Buckeye?  And he holds a special place for OSU in his heart?  Damn...I guess I'll have to cheer for the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.  Still  dislike him during his stint at USC.  Sorry Peyton. Go Seattle!  And Go Bucks!

Kellen Winslow - Where can I get a sweater vest like yours?
Jim Tressel - Hit the weight room and you can borrow one of mine.