Pete Carroll and the Mind of a coach

The best thing about the ending of Super Bowl XLIX was that the whole world got a chance to be an armchair offensive coordinator, regardless of their knowledge of the game.

It didn’t matter if you knew anything about “personnel groupings” or “goal line defenses” or “stacked receivers” or “quick slants” or “jumping a route”, you understood intuitively that Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell made the wrong offensive play call for the Seattle Seahawks at the end of the game.

No other big sporting event, save perhaps the World Cup matches, attracts such a large following of casual fans as the Super Bowl. For a good swath of the viewers, the game is merely a backdrop for a big party, never-before-seen TV commercials and the half-time show.

But this time around, the game became completely understandable to everyone in a way that suggest that smart, rationale people are capable of making sound football decisions without coaching clinics or hours pouring over game film.

Football coaches have more impact on the outcome of games than in any other sport. Russell Wilson, the leader of the Seahawks, ran the play that was called by the coaches, because that’s what he always does.

Pro football might look very fast to the common eye, but it’s pretty slow on film as position coaches breakdown every conceivable nuance of a play. A great quarterback can with a quick look at the defense find matchups to exploit for his team’s favor.

On Sunday, Malcolm Butler said he saw Russell Wilson look toward him on that quick slant that he intercepted to win the Super Bowl for the Patriots. Butler, about as unsung as you can be on an NFL roster, read the play because he had seen the formation in practice and on film.

After the game, Carroll gave us an inside view into situational football, even if at times his explanations were very unconvincing and overly rational, when his gut should have told him to give the ball to Marshawn Lynch.

“We sent our guys on the field, wide receivers on the field, spread them out, they ran on their goal line, they sent all their big guys out there,” he said. “At that moment I didn’t want to waste a run play against their goal line guys. Throw the ball, we’ll come in on third and fourth down, and we can match up.

“It’s a really clear thought, it wasn’t something that happened, it was a clear thought but it didn’t work out right. We happened to throw them the ball, and they make a big play.”

The novice fan also got a pro quality explanation for why Wilson’s quick slant to Ricardo Lockette failed.

“Really the way the route generally works is the back receiver gets shielded off so that the play can get thrown to the guy trailing,” Carroll said.

Turns out, the key to Butler’s clear path to the slant and interception was that his teammate Brandon Browner jammed the outside receiver who couldn’t provide the pick for the receiver.

Almost every team in the league runs a version of this play, but now after what transpired on Sunday it will be one of the most talked-about plays in football.

On Sunday night, the whole world seemed to be angry with Pete Carroll. His decision was so bad that it ushered the collective ire of people who didn’t know previously that they could care about a violent sport in one of the worst public relations years of its existence.

On Monday, my six-year-old son told me that he was having trouble getting that last interception out of his head.

It will take some time for the football masses and the interlopers to get over this coaching blunder. But when they come back for the next Super Bowl, they will be paying closer attention to the coaches and the plays and the personnel groupings and clock management and the pros and cons of throwing the ball on the 1-yard line with 20 seconds left in the game.

The game will weigh on them more and that’s a good thing.

—Farrell Evans

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