Carroll, Harbaugh hanging out like old pals

PHOENIX -- Heated competition has cast Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll as bitter enemies, first in the Pacific-10 Conference and now in the NFC West.

The heat sources at the Arizona Biltmore resort, site of the ongoing NFL owners meeting, are much less threatening. There are fire pits on the patio for when the temperature dips slightly. But as the presence of palm trees suggest, there's no shortage of natural warmth.

"Resort casual" bears no resemblance to the frenzied stadiums where Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers and Carroll's Seattle Seahawks will help settle the NFC West race in the fall and winter. The time Harbaugh and Carroll spend together at the annual league meetings similarly bears no resemblance to images of the two at each other's throats (figuratively, so far) during football season.

"Just talking football," was how Harbaugh explained their conversation Tuesday.

The outdoor walkway connecting the Biltmore's lobby to the main ballroom serves as an impromptu gathering place for NFL owners, executives and head coaches. It was there Tuesday morning where I ran across Harbaugh and Carroll chatting for several minutes about the various rules changes under consideration at the meeting. They could be seen gesturing at their knees in apparent reference to the rule that would further limit contact in that area on peel-back blocks.

Harbaugh was waiting for his brother, John, to finish a conversation. Carroll was on his way back to the hotel lobby area. What better way to pass the time than by hanging out with an old friend?

The truth is that Carroll and Harbaugh are highly competitive. Their personalities are dissimilar. They've clashed in the past and likely will in the future. But they are football coaches at heart, and they love talking about the game. Removing the competitive setting from the equation made that clear Tuesday.