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Matt Calkins: Does Seahawks coach Pete Carroll deserve Pro Football Hall of Fame call?

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 23, 2020

NFC head coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks signs autographs for fans after a practice for the NFL Pro Bowl Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla. (Chris O'Meara / AP)
NFC head coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks signs autographs for fans after a practice for the NFL Pro Bowl Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla. (Chris O'Meara / AP)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The emotion poured out of Bill Cowher and flooded out of Jimmy Johnson. That’s generally what happens when you get a surprise visit from Pro Football Hall of Fame president Dave Baker, as the successful coaches did two weekends ago. Each learned on live TV that they were going to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio. Each learned that they were going to receive that gold jacket reserved for the greatest performers in NFL history.

The joy on their faces was as inspiring as it was authentic. But it also prompted a question around these parts.

Does Seahawks coach Pete Carroll have the résumé to join those two in the Hall of Fame?

Few will dispute that Carroll is the most successful coach in the organization’s history. Given his consistency, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t one of the best coaches in the NFL today.

The Seahawks have been the surest bet in the NFC to make the playoffs during his 10-year tenure, even amid the frequent departures of Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor talents.

But being good, consistent and pleasantly surprising isn’t enough to secure your place among the best to do it. Consistently outstanding is typically the criteria for Canton.

So does Pete’s record measure up?

First, let’s take a look at what Cowher achieved. In his 15 years as a head coach – all with the Steelers – he went 149-90-1 in the regular season, won eight division titles, reached two Super Bowls and won one of them. He had nine seasons with at least 10 wins, and did most of that with either Neil O’Donnell or Kordell Stewart at quarterback.

It’s a fine list of accomplishments – perhaps even finer than Johnson’s.

Yes, the former Cowboys and Dolphins coach won two Super Bowls in Dallas, but his lifetime record is 80-64, good for a .556 winning percentage. The win total is 59th all time, two less than recently fired Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, and lower than 39 coaches who aren’t in the Hall of Fame. But he has two Lombardi trophies, and only 12 other coaches can say that, so he’s in.

But what about Pete?

Well, at this point, he seems to be caught somewhere in the middle of those two.

His lifetime record with the Jets, Patriots and Seahawks is 133-90-1. He has one fewer Super Bowl win than Johnson but 53 more regular-season wins. He has the same number of Super Bowl wins and appearances as Cowher but 16 fewer regular-season wins and four fewer division championships.

There are other retired coaches with one Super Bowl victory and multiple appearances who haven’t been enshrined – such as Dick Vermeil and former Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren. There are other two-time winners such as Mike Shanahan, Tom Coughlin, George Seifert and Tom Flores who have yet to be inducted.

So what does this mean for Carroll, the oldest coach in football? What, if anything, does he have to tack on to get him into Canton?

Another Super Bowl win would guarantee it. With everything else he has done, it would be criminal to keep him out at that point. Another conference title might do it, too. That would put his regular-season win total right up there with Cowher’s if he did it next year, and separate him from Cowher in terms of Super Bowl trips.

Aside from that, though, he just needs to keep racking up wins like he did all last decade. Even if Carroll doesn’t get to another Big Game, regularly putting Seattle in the playoffs will force the voters to pay attention when he finally hangs them up. Given his incessant enthusiasm and All-Pro quarterback Russell Wilson, that retirement date may still be far in the future.

I don’t think Carroll would make it to Canton if he decided to quit tomorrow, although it would be close. But I predict that one day, whether it’s on live TV or not, someone’s going to tell him that, like Cowher and Johnson, he has a gold jacket waiting for him.

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