ORLANDO, Fla. -- The head coach of the New England Patriots opened the newspaper in his first year on the job and this is what he remembers:
"It was like the day before we went to that first [training] camp, there was a caricature of Bill Parcells with pearl-handled pistols, looking like [General] Patton, and I'm sitting there with the surfboard, a glass of wine, and sandals on."
It's been more than a decade since Pete Carroll's three-year tenure (1997-99) with the Patriots concluded, but that era in franchise history -- which placed the energetic Carroll in a tough spot between Big Tuna and Bill Belichick -- was brought back to life Wednesday at the NFL owners meeting.
The 58-year-old Carroll, returning to the NFL as Seattle Seahawks head coach, was engaging and refreshingly candid while revealing some of the pitfalls he encountered in New England.
He said his greatest regret was allowing running back Curtis Martin to depart as a restricted free agent in 1998 -- he had warned the team's top decision-makers that Martin was upset with his contract situation, but felt he didn't have the authority to rectify it -- and acknowledged that he didn't realize how powerfully the public perception of relaxed, chillin' "California Pete" would work against him.
Carroll also explained that his experience in New England, when his teams went 27-21 in the regular season, taught him one important lesson: If he was ever to come back to the NFL, it would only be with the authority to make those crucial Martin-like decisions.
He has that in Seattle.
In New England, it was a triangle of power, with Bobby Grier the vice president of player personnel, Andy Wasynczuk handling contract negotiations, and Carroll as head coach. Looking back, Carroll said it wasn't clear that was how things would work when he was hired, and he pins blame for that on himself.
"It didn't come across that way in our conversations, probably because I was too eager, too excited, too fired up about the whole thing to get it clear," he said. "I'm much different about that now in understanding it. Really, if you look back at that, it was totally my job to figure out how to orchestrate the different aspects of the makeup of that job. At that time, I was going to take it over, bring in the 'San Francisco Way' and go for it. It was just like a Young Bull/Old Bull story."
Carroll recalled that the organization "had been rocked through the loss of Bill Parcells and in that they were still trying to figure out what they were trying to do" in terms of dividing authority. He described the atmosphere as one with a "lot of heads" in the decision-making process.
The issue came to the forefront when Parcells, in his second season as New York Jets head coach, swooped in and signed Martin to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent.
"That will always be the issue to me. When you take your best player and give them to your rival across the way, and they win with him, that was probably the one move that made a huge, significant difference. That was frustrating, because we knew he was a good player and we didn't want to lose him," Carroll said Wednesday morning, estimating that the move cost the Patriots 2-3 wins in each of the next two seasons.
How it unfolded highlighted the importance of authority to Carroll. He said he had warned the team's top decision-makers, but didn't do a good enough job stressing the urgency of the situation.
"Before that happened, there were strong efforts to get it across to the organization that he's not happy and he's ready to bolt, and if we don't do something we're going to lose this guy," Carroll recalled. "And we lost him. I didn't get it done. I needed to do more than what I did.
"I'll regret that always, about that situation, that scenario, and how it fit in to the fortunes of that team. It was too bad that I couldn't make it clear enough. I couldn't do a good enough job with the argument about why he should have still been there. It was really clear. All the discussions and the vantage points that people involved took, it was going to be a real battle. I was up against it, because they really felt like we could play with other guys and still be successful."
As for the perception of "California Pete," Carroll pinned the onus on himself for failing to counter it more aggressively, which included being more aggressive with the press.
"I didn't campaign in that manner. That was such an unusual situation, such a unique setting," he said. "If I look at it again, I would have competed differently at that. ... I didn't realize the power of it. I should have understood it better, and I'll regret the fact I didn't.
"I followed the absolute coach of the decade. Bill was extraordinarily successful and a huge figure, charismatic and all the rest. I don't think I weighted the impact of that properly. I thought I'd just go in there, turn it around, and go. And we had enough early success that I probably fooled myself, winning the division that first year, that we were going to be OK and we'd only get better from there."