What do you know? Head coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks is taking his team into Candlestick Park to play the San Francisco 49ers and their head coach Jim Harbaugh. The game will be for sole possession of first place in the NFC West. Both coaches would not have it any other way.
The rivalry between Carroll and Harbaugh dates back to their days as coaches with the Southern California Trojans and Stanford Cardinal. In three meetings beginning in 2007 Harbaugh and the Cardinal defeated the Trojans twice. This ended Southern Cal’s five year dominance of the series which began when Carroll arrived in Los Angeles in 2002.
The tension between coaches began when Harbaugh took the Stanford job. He immediately proclaimed that the Cardinal would knock off the Trojans in their first meeting. They did 24-23. The most memorable of their three meetings was a 55-21 route by Stanford at the Los Angles Coliseum in which Carroll felt Harbaugh ran up the score.
In 2010 Carroll took over the Seahawks job. One year later Harbaugh signed on to coach San Francisco. Both men had a measure of success in their first NFL seasons. Despite going 7-9, Carroll led Seattle to a division title in 2010. He even won a playoff game defeating the defending world champion New Orleans Saints.
Last season Harbaugh surprised everyone in football by winning a division title with the 49ers. He led them to a 13-3 record and won his first playoff game over the Saints. San Francisco fell three points short of making it to their first Super Bowl since 1994.
This season, the Niners were expected to be in the thick of things and are. Seattle was not expected to do much. Carroll decided to start rookie Russell Wilson at quarterback. To everyone’s surprise he has led the Seahawks to a 4-2 record.
However, it is not offense that San Francisco and Seattle hang their hats on. It is defense that has gotten them to the top.
Before Sunday’s games the Niners and Seahawks were at the top in total defense. San Francisco remains number one while Seattle is at four. The Seahawks are no surprise as Carroll built his reputation as a defensive assistant. San Francisco is, because Harbaugh played quarterback and coached offense.
Each team’s style reflects its coach. Both play solid football and wait for their opponent to make mistakes. When an opportunity arises to pounce they take their shots.
Thursday night’s game will pit two coaches who would like nothing more than to beat the other at their own game. Each intends on ruling the NFC West and knows the other stands in the way.
This is what we wanted to see when Harbaugh joined Carroll in the NFL last season.
Let’s hope that both coaches still have the burning desire to beat one another.