Fox, Carroll not so different after all

NEW YORK -- It is the story of their lives. One man is remembered in rich detail, with perfect hair, schoolboy exuberance and an effervescent personality; the other man they truly didn't know. There is a frame carrying two photos next to the register at The Salon in Ames, Iowa. The shop's owner, Frank Randall, proudly hung it so customers would know that John Fox and Pete Carroll, opposing coaches in Sunday's Super Bowl, were once assistants at Iowa State.

Carroll's picture is from 1978, but, like Dick Clark, his face doesn't really change. Fox, wearing what appears to be a Members Only jacket, is the guy on the left.

"Probably the thing I remember the most was the difference in their personalities," says Randall, a retired ISU trainer who worked with Carroll, then Fox six years later in 1984. "Pete was high energy, boom, boom, boom, go, go, go. John was very quiet, very direct, very knowledgeable. No B.S., you know?

"I can remember the first time I told my wife, 'You know what? John Fox used to coach here.' She didn't remember him."

The football world seemingly knows everything about Carroll and nothing about Fox. Much of that is by design. Fox is a disciple of former Steelers coach Chuck Noll, a close-to-the-vest man who used to have a saying about treating the media like mushrooms. You keep them in the dark, Noll said, and feed them manure.

Fox's voice is perpetually hoarse, as if he's just woken up in a room full of smoke. He will not win you over with his hipness, or his friendships with Will Ferrell or Macklemore. It is unknown whether Fox even knows what a Macklemore is. He seems older than Carroll, but is actually four years younger. He is the master of diversion. He'll say something witty, just to make you forget the question he never planned on answering.

Carroll speaks with the smoothness of a yoga instructor. He'll say whatever he wants.

"They're equally fun to play for," says Broncos offensive tackle Winston Justice, who had Carroll as his college coach at USC. "Their differences aren't bad or good. They're just two different people."

Because they're part of such a unique fraternity, Fox and Carroll are bound to have similar experiences. They both got their starts coaching defensive backs, and both spent time in New York as defensive coordinators. Both went through 13 coaching jobs before finding their perfect fits that led them to Super Bowl XLVIII.

Deep down, when you listen to their stories, they're not so different at all.


At 11 p.m. Sunday night, Ben Malcolmson was at a Wal-Mart in Secaucus, N.J., searching for a basketball hoop. There are many things Malcolmson thought he'd one day be doing with his life when he was slogging away for the student newspaper at USC about eight years ago. Shopping for a basketball hoop so that an NFL team could loosen up before the Super Bowl wasn't one of them.

But that's what happens when you meet Carroll. His energy -- his positivity -- sucks you in.

Malcolmson was a student at USC when he decided, for an article, that he'd try out for the football team. It was supposed to be funny. He wasn't supposed to make the scout team, but he did. Then Carroll hired him as a blogger for a new website the coach was starting. Then Carroll took the job at Seattle, and he asked Malcolmson to come too, to be his right-hand man. He trusted him, and Carroll almost always goes with his gut.

"My story was so unique, and he just has an appreciation for people and stories that are kind of different," Malcolmson says. "He just connects and sees value in people that others don't see, I mean, from the most obvious, like a 5-foot-10 quarterback."

Malcolmson, of course, is referring to Russell Wilson, who was snubbed in the first two rounds of the 2012 NFL draft because of his size.

Malcolmson has a hundred stories of unusual jobs he has been asked to do over the past couple of years. Sunday was one of those stories. The Seahawks like to play basketball before their meetings, and just after the team sealed its Super Bowl berth, Malcolmson made plans to have a couple of hoops shipped to New Jersey. But they didn't arrive on Sunday, so he went to Secaucus, and was up until 1 a.m. assembling the hoop with one of the Seahawks' equipment guys.

"It never feels like work," Malcolmson says. "I'm just so fortunate. I get to do so many fun things."


If he trusted reporters more, they'd know how confident he is. In 2000, before the NFC Championship Game, former New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi purposely avoided Fox for a week. Accorsi was too nervous about the Giants' matchup with Minnesota's powerful offense. Fox, the Giants' defensive coordinator, finally ran into Accorsi a day or so before the game.

Fox didn't understand why he was so worried.

"Let me just tell you something," he told Accorsi. "We may just shut them out." That Sunday, the Giants faced the likes of Cris Carter, Randy Moss and Robert Smith. And New York crushed the Vikings 41-0.

"He wasn't going to tell the media that," Accorsi says. "I think he is protective, which is smart today. Ninety-nine percent of the coaches are going to say, 'Oh, my God, I hope we can stop the worst-case scenario.' He wasn't being a wise guy. He'd been preparing all week."

Eventually, after years of waiting, Fox was set to interview for his first head-coaching job when the Carolina Panthers came calling. He asked Accorsi to give him a mock interview.

Accorsi said sure, but wanted him to show up for it in a suit. Though he looked at his boss a little funny, he did show up the next day, spiffily dressed, and Accorsi grilled him.

The answer that impressed him most dealt with Fox's offensive philosophy. Many defensive coaches, he says, are one-dimensional and defer to whomever they'll hire as offensive coordinator.

"He knew exactly what kind of offense he wanted to run," Accorsi says. "He thought long and hard about how he was going to operate. I was impressed by that."


He finds tiny movie theaters to watch flicks in the middle of the night.

One of the biggest things Carroll is looking forward to this weekend is meeting up with his grandkids in New York. He has two sons -- Brennan and Nathan -- and a daughter named Jaime. Nate, an assistant with the Seahawks, is the spitting image of his dad.

When Nate was a kid, he used to stay up late at night to wait for his dad to come home so they could play.

They'd wad up a pair of socks and play catch or throw a football around his bedroom.

"He's a goofball when he's at home," Nate says. "And when he's in front of everybody, he's got to tone it down. What you see is the toned-down version."

He is still learning, at 62, how to be forthcoming and open without saying too much. His comments on medicinal marijuana early in the week were still reverberating days later. Maybe, in the future, he'll seem a little more like Fox.

"One time, I met [Fox] in pregame," Nate says, "and [Carroll and Fox] were like buddies, like chums. They're very similar from what I can tell. He always says good things about John."


Fox is called a resurrection coach because he rolls into scorched places and completely -- and quickly -- changes the landscape. In Carolina, he inherited a team that went 1-15 in 2001 and was even more repulsive off the field, with a gift for appearing on police blotters.

Within two years, he had the Panthers in the Super Bowl. Within months, he captured the love of the city. Denver was different, but the results were similar. The Broncos had the NFL's worst defense and a franchise in ruins when Fox arrived in 2011. That season, he took them to the playoffs with Tim Tebow at quarterback.

Now, the world looks different when you've got Peyton Manning at quarterback, and maybe that's where Fox gets lost in this Super Bowl. It is assumed this is Peyton's team, not Fox's. But anyone in the Broncos' facility knows Fox's influence.

People close to Fox say he inspires an entire organization by sheer will. He is engaged not only with his players, but everyone in the building -- the janitors, the cooks, the guys who cut the grass.

He's a workhorse, not a show horse.

"I love Coach Fox," Broncos receiver Eric Decker says. "He's a guy that you want to play hard for. We have a good relationship. He kind of has that father figure role as a head coach. An open-door policy. He makes you feel comfortable and confident.

"I think that's the best thing about him. He's a game manager. He's not going to get in the way of what coach [Adam] Gase is doing offensively or what coach [Jack] Del Rio is doing defensively. He's going to make sure that we prepared the right way every week. He's very consistent in that."


Perhaps the biggest knock on Carroll is that he takes too many chances on players with questionable character. The Seahawks have had several players suspended this season for violations of the league's drug policy. One member of Seattle's famed "Legion of Boom" secondary, Brandon Browner, is currently serving an indefinite suspension.

But Rick Carr, a former police officer in California who serves as USC's director of security, says Carroll's intentions are noble. He believes in giving players second chances. When a player would get in trouble, Carroll called it a "teachable moment."

"He was all about redemption," Carr says.

Carr, who'd spend a lot of time with Carroll on football weekends, once landed a promotion by rattling off some of his motivational sayings during a job interview. "Do it better than it's ever been done before," was something Carroll liked to say.

Carr was present when Carroll had a "chin-off" with Jay Leno, and was there for Carroll's final news conference at USC. They walked out together, and talked about the great times they'd had. Carroll said he'd miss it.

"He thought the NFL was competing at the highest level," Carr says. "This is a guy whose whole philosophy is competing, and he wanted to get back to that level."


Bob LaMonte, agent to numerous high-profile coaches, answers the phone on a recent weekday and says that this might be the first time someone has asked him something about Fox besides contract numbers. He has been Fox's agent for 16 years.

There was a moment, after the AFC Championship Game two weekends ago, that nobody saw. LaMonte met Fox in his private locker room. They shared a hug because Fox was going back to the Super Bowl for the first time in a decade.

"Thank God we're here," LaMonte said. "Thank God you're alive."

Fox couldn't have agreed more.

A couple of months ago, during the Broncos' bye week, he was lying on the ground at a golf course, unable to breathe because of a defective aortic valve. LaMonte had talked to him earlier in the week. They talk every week. He knew that Fox eventually was going to have to have the valve fixed; it just wasn't supposed to be so dire so soon.

LaMonte's phone rang before the news hit the wire, and Fox's wife Robin called shortly after that, saying he was in the hospital. In hindsight, LaMonte said, there were warning signs. For the past year or so, Fox wasn't completely himself. He was tired. All coaches are tired in-season, but this seemed different. He was moving at a slower speed.

After his surgery, LaMonte says, Fox is like "a newborn baby." His body is working perfectly, and he's energized, feels younger, and looks better. He's back to being the old John Fox.

"Can you imagine that he was lying on a golf course, near death, and then two months later he won the AFC Championship?" LaMonte says. "John is such a positive guy. That's why the players love him. He's very much a manager of people, a morale booster as a coach. He's got one of the most engaging personalities you'll ever find."


Back in Ames, Randall will be watching Sunday, and so will his customers from The Salon. The shop does haircuts mostly, but doesn't do nails. Randall dealt with enough fungus in his days with athletes.

What else can he say about Fox and Carroll? That they were only at Iowa State for a season, six years apart. It seems hard now to imagine Carroll surviving in the wind-whipped Plains. But he fit in perfectly. He was like one of the players. Jim Williams, the only assistant to coach with both Fox and Carroll, says Carroll reminded him of a California surfer.

Some coaches, Williams says, have one eye on their current job and the other on their future job. But Carroll wasn't like that. He was going to do the best he could for the people signing his checks. Even then, he was beyond optimistic.

"If we were out working out in the rain," Williams says, "he'd say, 'That's great. The corn will grow and the grass will grow.' He did everything like it was the Fourth of July."

His memories of Fox are a little more fuzzy. He was a solid coach, Williams says. A good teacher. He had a good plan and worked well with others. And then, like Carroll, he was gone.

"I didn't know [Fox] as well," Williams says. "To imagine those two guys winding up opposing each other in the Super Bowl kind of blows your mind. What are the odds of that happening?"

ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold contributed to this story.