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Originally published September 8, 2012 at 8:03 PM | Page modified September 8, 2012 at 8:26 PM

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For Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, it's proving time

The first two years for Pete Carroll have been a mixed bag that you ultimately give a high grade because the team is in position to succeed. Carroll, who also carries an executive vice-president title that gives him final say on personnel decisions, has done it his way.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Pete Carroll file

Who: Seahawks coach and executive vice president

Born: Sept. 15, 1951 (age 60)

College: Pacific

Did you know? Carroll weighed only 110 pounds as an incoming freshman in high school and he needed a doctor's clearance for football. He was determined to prove himself, a trait that carries on in his life, and was a three-sport standout.

Noteworthy: Head coach at USC from 2001-2009.

NFL head coaching statistics:

Yr. Team W-L Playoffs
2011 Seahawks 7-9 -
2010 Seahawks 7-9 1-1
1999 Patriots 8-8 -
1998 Patriots 9-7 0-1
1997 Patriots 10-6 1-1
1994 Jets 6-10 -
Total 3 teams 47-49 2-3
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I'll admit it: Pete Carroll has me all twisted up. When it focuses on the Seahawks coach, my brain resembles Marshawn Lynch's hair.

Covering Carroll is like trying to watch a magic show while skydiving. It's unhinging. It redefines "over the top." You have no idea what will happen when you hit the ground, and you have no idea how you feel about it, either.

The man is a 60-year-old contradiction: so energetic, so open-minded, so hip. He's a great communicator despite defying the fundamentals of sentence construction. He's an unconventional thinker who also abides without compromise by the button-down belief that games are won with defense and a power running game. And if your mind isn't also doing Chubby Checker's favorite dance yet, consider that even his most ordinary philosophy is becoming a nonconformist approach because football is so pass happy now.

Unconventionally conventional?

Yeah, all twisted up.

Carroll sparks more conversation and inspires more trust than any coach who has ever opened a tenure with two losing seasons. With the help of a football operations staff led by general manager John Schneider, a first-time personnel chief who is already one of the best in the business, the Seahawks have stripped down an unimpressive roster and replenished it with a more talented, youthful and explosive version that gives Carroll his best chance at prolonged NFL success.

The wacky Carroll adventure has arrived at a serious point. This season will begin to answer the question we've had since he returned to the NFL after restoring USC's dominance: Is he a legit NFL coach?

The first two years have been a mixed bag that you ultimately give a high grade because the team is in position to succeed. Carroll, who also carries an executive vice-president title that gives him final say on personnel decisions, has done it his way. He'll explain that he didn't get to do that during failed NFL stints with New England and the New York Jets. He'll explain that he didn't know to do it his way, either, because he hadn't found clarity on his approach. He considers his dynastic USC run proof that he had an epiphany. But his NFL legacy depends on what he accomplishes with the Seahawks.

For the first time in Seattle, Carroll faces pressure to win. He inherited a mess, so fans have been patient with him. He made the team his in grand fashion, turning a 320-pound defensive tackle into an end, transforming two undervalued 6-foot-3 cornerbacks into an overpowering advantage and basing every personnel decision on his belief in competition. The capstone decision just might be the boldest of this Carroll/Schneider rebuilding: picking Russell Wilson, a 5-foot-11 third-round pick, to be the quarterback over well-regarded free agent Matt Flynn.

Carroll is so out of the box, yet so in tune with how things should be done. He's crazy from one angle, admirable from another, ideal from a third. And for all the salesman in him, for as carefully as he maintains his brand, Carroll has been far more genuine, humble and introspective than advertised. The NFL, a league burdened by traditionalists and copycats who take themselves way too seriously, almost needs Carroll to be successful. Not as much as Carroll needs it, though. He risks possibly being laughed into retirement if his way flops.

Typical Carroll, he won't cop to the critical period he's entering this season. He says that he always feels pressure to win because he never concedes anything in a competition. He expects a winner, but not just for his legacy. He expects it because he believes too much in what he's doing to think otherwise.

"I've got no complaints at all," Carroll said of his team's progress. "I think we've taken only positive steps."

He has built a top-10 defense that should only get better. After a slow start, the run game was perhaps the NFL's finest in the second half last season. The foundation of a playoff team exists. And if Wilson turns out to be the right quarterback, greatness will be attainable.

The greatest source of uncertainty is the man who created all the goodwill. It's the wildest and most conflicting of all the Carroll brain twisters.

Carroll's NFL record: 47-49. If he survives his third season and earns a fourth, it will be the longest run of his pro head-coaching career. He has a 2-3 career postseason record. He has never advanced past the divisional round.

Nothing on his NFL résumé suggests he's certain to achieve sustained success or make it to a Super Bowl. Then again, he had never been able to create his ideal NFL team before the Seahawks hired him.

"If you asked those guys how much they know now versus what they knew last year, they'll just say they can hardly compare it," Carroll said. "The awareness. The expectations of what they're supposed to be doing. How they read. How they apply the study time. In every single phase of it, they're so much farther along. So that's why we expect our team to make a significant jump."

If Carroll's way works in the NFL, he'll graduate from contradiction to sage. And I'll change from conflicted — It won't work! No, it won't fail! — to converted. I would even consider wearing a T-shirt featuring his "I'm In" motto.

Carroll has reached the proving phase of his Seahawks tenure. Over the next few seasons, his level of NFL competence will become clear.

No more doing the twist. The untangling is set to begin.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @JerryBrewer.

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