This is the Seahawks Gameday Magazine feature story for Week 9 of the 2020 season, presented by Symetra. Visit our Game Center for more information related to Week 9 vs. the Buffalo Bills.
Pete Carroll's first experience as an assistant coach in Buffalo didn't go very well.
Carroll first game as a head coach, which happened to be in Buffalo, helped inspire his philosophy.
And now, for the first time as the head coach of the Seahawks, Carroll will return to Buffalo having in a lot of ways lived up to the standard he admired when observing those Marv Levy-coached Bills teams.
Trips to Buffalo are rare for the Seahawks considering the Bills play in the AFC. And it's been an even longer wait than usual for Seattle to play at Buffalo because the last road game against the Bills was played in Toronto, meaning the last Seahawks game in Buffalo was in 2008.
As a result, Sunday's game at Bills Stadium will be Carroll's first in that stadium since he was the head coach of the Patriots, and it's a building with a lot of history for Carroll.
After starting his coaching career in the college ranks, Carroll began his NFL career as the Bills' defensive backs coach in 1984. That gig didn't last long, as the Bills went 2-14 that year, leading to a lot of changes to the coaching staff. Short-lived as that stint in Buffalo was, it was the beginning of a long and successful career for Carroll as a defensive assistant, which in turn led to him becoming a head coach. Carroll went from Buffalo to the Bud Grant-led Vikings, and from there to becoming the Jets' defensive coordinator and eventually their head coach. Carroll's first game as a head coach with the Jets was a season-opening win in Buffalo against the four-time conference champions.
"It is fun to go back there," Carroll said. "It's a unique place. It was a unique experience, first year in the league. We were terrible the year I was there; they couldn't wait to get some of us out of there. I got fired immediately after the season was over. So it's fun to go back. It's a unique place, unique area. I wish their fans were there, because it's a great crowd, too. They love their football. You've got to get prepared for a variety of weather conditions that can change in a heartbeat, all that. Looks like we have pretty good weather coming—I'm not trusting that until we get there and see it. I like going back."
During those years as the Jets' coordinator and head coach in the early 1990s, Carroll began to gain a strong appreciation for what Levy was doing in Buffalo. As he has explained in the past, Carroll took a minute after his first game as a head coach in 1994, a 23-3 Jets win in Buffalo, and looked around what was then known as Rich Stadium and was inspired by all the success the Bills had had over the past decade.
"The game was over, and I went back and walked into the stadium before we get on the buses, I was just hanging out, kind of reveling in the moment, first game and all that stuff," Carroll said in 2016 before Seattle’s last game against the Bills. "And on the wall of that stadium, they had the championships on the wall there that they had had when Marv was there. They had gone back and back and back to the Super Bowl and all of that, the division championships, all that stuff. That was the moment that it hit me that has affected me ever since that to be really good at something is not to just get there and do it one time. To be really good at something, what really meant something to me was to do it over and over and over and over again so that you can prove who you are and prove what you're worth and prove that you can withstand the changes and adaptations that are there. That's where winning for a long period of time became the essence of what I'm working to achieve."
Given his highly competitive nature Carroll would have almost certainly formed his Win-Forever philosophy regardless of what he saw in Buffalo on that September afternoon. But it still stuck with him the way those Bills teams managed to win year after year after year, including four straight AFC championships.
And in both his long run at USC and now in Seattle, Carroll has managed to live up to and in some ways exceed the achievements of those Bills teams that inspired him so many years ago. Carroll and general manager John Schneider have led the Seahawks to eight postseason berths in 10 years—and appear to be on their way to a ninth this year—and four NFC West titles. Levy's Bills had eight playoff berths in 11 seasons, and while they won more division titles (6) and played in four Super Bowl, Carroll's Seahawks do have the Lombardi Trophy those Bills teams weren't able to win. Comparisons aside, the main similarity that Carroll was aiming for when he saw those banners back in 1994 was a team that can compete year after year rather than being one that has a couple good seasons then falls off into mediocrity or worse.
"A record that you make in one year, you get the ring and all that stuff, that's great, it's awesome, it's fun, but coming back and doing it again, coming back and showing you're worthy again is the great challenge, that's where I find my greatest inspiration to work and to try to figure things out and try to find ways to be successful," Carroll said four years ago. "… That's where I find the source of inspiration and all is to drive for things like that and help other people try to figure it out too."
In addition to Carroll being inspired by Levy's Bills, he also recently reached out to the legendary coach to talk offense, and up-tempo passing offense in particular. So perhaps that old coach who helped inspire Carroll is also helping the Seahawks offense that leads the NFL in scoring heading into Sunday's game.
"As a matter of fact this offseason, I did get ahold of Marv and was talking to him about some things that happened back in the day as they were constructing their offense and doing the things that they did," Carroll said. "We had a couple really good conversations about it. I was honored to have a chance to visit with him. We went right back into what was happening. I was the defensive coordinator at the Jets for four years playing against the K-Gun. Nice way to learn how to coach in the NFL. They were fantastic. I always had great regard for all that they did, the way he coached, all of that. It was really fun for me to have a chance to visit with him. It was really the first time I made the effort to do that. That was just in an effort to compete. It wasn't about playing Buffalo, it was just about putting our whole team together, playing with a tempo offense, stuff like that."
The Seattle Seahawks visit the Buffalo Bills on November 8 at 10:00 a.m. Take a look back at photos from past games between the two teams.