Thirty years ago in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, a young coach with only a year of NFL experience under his belt sat down for an interview with a coaching legend.
For Bud Grant, that 1985 season would be the last in a Hall-of-Fame career, but for a 33-year-old Pete Carroll, this job interview was, unbeknownst to him at the time, one of the most important steps in what has become a storied coaching career.
Grant doesn't remember a lot of details from that job interview that would lead to him hiring Carroll as his defensive backs coach—"You know how long ago that was?" Grant said in a phone interview. "I'm 88 years old, you're testing my memory." But what Grant does remember from his first encounter with a young Pete Carroll, and from all that have followed over three decades since that job interview, hardly comes a surprise.
"I remember interviewing him and seeing the enthusiasm and the knowledge that he had," Grant said. "He could talk football all day. I was an old guy then—I'm a really old guy now—and I wanted some young blood infused in the team."
That young blood included Carroll and Marc Trestman, another future NFL head coach. And while Carroll only officially worked under Grant for a single season, Grant stuck around in a consulting role post retirement—he still has an office at Vikings headquarters today—making Carroll's five seasons in Minnesota one of the most influential stops of his coaching career. So even though there have been decades and numerous jobs since Carroll coached in Minnesota, going back there with the Seahawks for Sunday's game against the Vikings will be a special trip.
"Yeah, it still is," Carroll said. "We had five years there and some really fun times. It's one of my favorite stops because of Bud and being around him and all that."
Carroll and Grant, who still keep in touch regularly, talked earlier this week, and plan to meet up prior to Sunday's game at TCF Bank Stadium. Despite a generation gap and differing coaching philosophies—Grant was considered old-school even by his era's standards, and used to say teams lost a game per season for every rookie they started; while Carroll is as upbeat and fun-loving as coaches come, and helped launch the most successful era in Seahawks history by starting a rookie at the game's most important position—Carroll and Grant formed an almost immediate bond that has lasted for three decades.
"We got to be good friends," Grant said. "He's an all-around sports person. Basketball, tennis, anything, he's interested in all of that, so we got along really well."
It's no surprise Grant would be drawn to an all-around sports person. Before beginning his NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles, Grant played professional basketball for the Minneapolis Lakers, winning a title in 1950. He also played baseball at the University of Minnesota.
"He's an extraordinary, extraordinary person," Carroll said. "We only coached together one year, but he stayed as a consultant, so he was always around coming and going. He let me kind of follow him around and hang out with him. We had a ton of times where we just sat around and talked about all kinds of stuff, and I just found him to be an extraordinary person with incredible insight and understanding of people, and sports, and the world, and everything. I dug a lot into the things that had happened in his years past, and the teams and the players that had been there, and people in the organization who had dealt with him over the years. So it was a rich time to understand one of the really iconic people in our game and really in the country I think."
The relationship those two formed left Grant impressed as well, so much so that when the Vikings were hiring a head coach in 1992, he pushed for Carroll to get the job that eventually went to Dennis Green.
"I recommended Pete highly, I thought he was going to get the job," Grant said.
And as different as Grant and Carroll were in some regards when it came to their personalities or their beliefs on playing rookies, Grant influenced Carroll in a much more significant way with one simple but important trait: his confidence. As Carroll described in the week leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII, it was his early interactions with Grant that eventually empowered Carroll to run a football team his own way, even if his way is sometimes considered unorthodox by NFL standards.
"He didn't care what anybody else thought," Carroll said days before winning his first Super Bowl. "He was really clear about how he expressed that. I thought it was empowering to know when you get to a certain part of your life, you can have a really strong, solid opinion whether everybody agrees or not. It's what you know is right at the time. He talked that way and he lived that way."
Carroll didn't fully embrace that idea until he had been fired by two NFL teams and returned to the college ranks to revive his career, but once he did, he fully captured the potential that a future Hall of Famer saw in a 33-year-old assistant during a job interview in Eden Prairie.
"Pete, if you're around him, everything's positive," Grant said. "You can be down for a minute, but it doesn't last long if Pete's around. I didn't hire assistants with the idea they'd be a head coach someday—you've got to worry about tomorrow, not down the road—but I was impressed with his enthusiasm and his knowledge and his innovations. Football is an evolving process. It's better today than it was five years ago and better than 20 years ago and 30 years ago and 40 years ago, and he was up to date with what was going on then and he's up to date today. He has a fertile mind, and so much enthusiasm. You've got to enjoy your work. Some guys in our business, I think they suffer; Pete doesn't suffer too long. He enjoys his work, that's the main thing."
On Sunday, that work brings Carroll back to a city that holds a special place in his heart, where he'll catch up with the man who helped shape the coach he has become.
The Seahawks have played the Vikings 17 times in the regular season (12-5) and once in the playoffs (1-0). Check out action photos from throughout the years of their matchups.