Coach learned at USC after failures in NFL

Pete Carroll's success story isn't the step-by-step execution of a master plan. No one tries to get fired twice as an NFL coach and have that legacy linger in the midst of remarkable success at the college level.

But the youthful and exuberant 61-year-old coach doesn't let the baggage of his life lessons weigh him down. He instead has used them to rebuild the Seattle Seahawks (11-5) and guide them to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons with the most wins of his NFL career and third most in franchise history.

"All of that time had to do with what we're doing now, the building and the process and getting my philosophy and approach tight and together," said Carroll, who was a befuddled 6-10 in one season with the New York Jets in 1994. He then had two playoff appearances but three years of descending records with New England from 1997 to 1999.

Both stand in stark contrast to the seven straight double-digit win seasons during nine years at Southern Cal, a tenure known as much for back-to-back national titles in 2003 and 2004 as for Carroll's unbridled enthusiasm.

"There's no question that I was a really good fit," Carroll said.

But rah-rah collegiate spirit doesn't easily translate to the intense, cut-throat NFL world. Or does it?

"I wanted to see if it would fit on the greatest stage, on the highest level of competition," said Carroll, who left USC right before the Reggie Bush scandal broke. "But I never thought it was going to happen because I was never going to leave S.C. I just didn't think I would ever leave because I didn't think anybody would ever give me the freedom that I needed and I had there to run the program exactly the way I wanted to."

The Seahawks gave him the chance, and the players have taken to the arm around their shoulder just like the Trojans. Quarterback Russell Wilson said he looks forward to the inspirational themes that Carroll brings to usually dreaded team meetings.

"In terms of practice, he's always flying around," Wilson said. "He tries to race everybody to the drill. It's pretty fun to play for him and how he coaches."

That translates to the field and to outsiders, that's not always a positive. Carroll faced criticism in December that he ran up the score in a 58-0 win over the Cardinals and especially when he ran a fake punt in a 50-17 win over the Bills.

When replacement referees inexplicably gave Seattle an early-season victory over Green Bay, Carroll was the one unabashedly celebrating.

"Pete has always been very excitable," said Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who tried to hire Carroll in Denver as a defensive coordinator after he was fired by the Jets. Carroll nearly took the job before deciding at the last moment to go to work for George Seifert at San Francisco instead.

"I think you have to be yourself, and that's what Pete has done," Shanahan said. "He's been himself. Everyone knows the type of job he did at Southern Cal. He's a guy who is very enthusiastic in everything he does and a good friend."