It happened almost 22 years ago, but it remains an instant memory for Nate Carroll.
“I was like 3 years old and we were in New York,” he said, unable to hold back a smile. “Me and my dad had this Nerf ball – it was green and white because he was with the Jets. I used to go running onto his bed. He’d throw the ball across the bed and I’d go diving to catch it.
“We’d do this for an hour or so. All the time. It was my favorite thing to do.”
On this Father’s Day what better way to salute the father figure of the Seahawks than by taking a stroll down memory lane with the youngest of coach Pete Carroll’s three grown children. Growing up the son of a football coach also can make for some less-than-fond memories, because the occupation can easily lead to preoccupation. But that’s not how Nate remembers it.
“When he came home, it wasn’t ‘head coach dad,’ it was dad,” said Nate Carroll, now 25 and a defensive assistant on his father’s staff. “He could flip the switch when he came home, which was awesome.”
For example? “I don’t like saying this, but as a child I used to think my dad wasn’t all that smart because he used to play dumb for me,” Nate said. “I was always too smart for my own good, so I was like, ‘My dad’s just not that smart.’ But I came to realize he was just trying to relate to me as much as possible. It was awesome, and I thank him for that.”
Need more proof? “We’d be ready to go to bed – showered up, teeth brushed,” Nate said. “Then dad would show up at 10 o’clock and it was, ‘Balls are out.’ We’re running around and everybody is sweaty again. Those are some good memories.”
Pete Carroll and his wife, Glena, have another son, Brennan, 33; a daughter, Jamie, 30; and two grandchildren – Dillon, 3; and Colbie Jaye, 1. And Pete Carroll makes it a priority to make sure the family is not overshadowed by football.
“I was excited enough just to be a dad. That was enough for me,” he said. “I can’t say that I always did it great. But if Nate thought it was OK, that’s good. But I wanted to. I wanted to just be dad and follow them and support them and all that stuff.”
Growing up Carroll also came with other football memories because Pete Carroll has been a coach since 1974, the first of his three seasons as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, the University of the Pacific. After that, there were stops as an assistant coach at the University of Arkansas (1977), Iowa State (1978), Ohio State (1979), North Carolina State (1980-82) and then back to Pacific (1983). He made his first jump to the NFL in 1984 as the defensive backs coach with the Buffalo Bills. Then it was on to the Minnesota Vikings (defensive backs, 1985-89) and New York Jets (defensive coordinator, 1990-93) before Carroll became the Jets’ head coach in 1994.
It was during Carroll’s tenure with the Jets that Nate’s memories kick in.
“I remember going to the games at the Jets’ stadium and I was just scared to death,” he said. “The wave would come around, and I was just terrified.”
When Pete Carroll became a head coach in the NFL, things changed – not just for him, but his family.
“I remember the time he brought the whole family together and he was like, ‘Hey, I’ve got a big thing to tell you guys,’ ” Nate said. “He had just been promoted to be the head coach of the Jets. I just jumped for joy. I was just so excited, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world when I found out he was a head coach now.
“Because I didn’t really know what a defensive coordinator was. To me, it was just like a job. But I knew what a head coach was. That was the first time I realized, ‘It’s big-time.’ ”
As Carroll’s career grew, so did the shadow he could cast. After a year as Jets head coach, the Bay Area-born Carroll returned to his roots to be the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers in 1995-96. He left that job to become the head coach of the New England Patriots for three seasons.
“When we moved to Boston, it was the first time I had to make new friends with my dad being the head coach and having a lot of notoriety,” Nate said. “I didn’t know how to take it at the time. When we moved to San Francisco, he was the defensive coordinator and kind of under the radar. But in Boston, it’s more a small-town atmosphere where everybody knew everybody else.
“I’d get a lot of people I didn’t even know coming up to me and saying, ‘Oh, you’re Pete Carroll’s kid.’ I’d be like, ‘No. No I’m not.” And I’d run away. So that was a struggle for me, but it was a growing experience at that stage of my life.”
One that proved useful as Carroll moved back to the college game for nine ridiculously successful seasons (2001-09) in the fish bowl that is heading the football program at USC. He came to the Seahawks in 2010.
Being Carroll’s kid also means dealing with the beyond-boundless energy that belies his age – now 60.
“That’s just kind of how he’s always been,” Nate said. “I remember we went to see my brother play at (the University of) Pittsburgh one time. We flew in, went to the game, hung out with my brother and then caught a flight (home). I was exhausted.
“My mom and dad said, ‘Nate, this is just who we are. We do everything we can in one day. Just get used to it.’ I was like 12 then, and I was just learning the lesson – that’s just how my parents are.”
And that’s just how life has been growing up Carroll, with a father who is a coach – and a successful and charismatic one at that.
“When people ask me, ‘How weird is it having your dad be the coach?’ Well, that’s about as normal as it gets for me,” Nate said. “That’s all I’ve known.”
On this Father’s Day, and every other Father’s Day in his life.