Seattle Seahawks believe Pete Carroll is on a quest

Throughout his USC career, Pete Carroll downplayed the notion he had something to prove in the pros, that his mediocre record as coach of the New York Jets and New England Patriots gnawed at him.

But the Seattle Seahawks executive who Monday hired Carroll as coach believes that something-to-prove mentality indeed helped lure him back to the NFL.

“He’s got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder,” Tod Leiweke, Seahawks chief executive, told The Times in a phone interview. “He wants to show that he’s more than a .500 coach in the NFL.”

Carroll, 58, will be introduced here today as the franchise’s eighth coach. Although the club still plans to hire a general manager -- a process in which the coach will participate -- Carroll is expected to have a strong say in personnel matters, one befitting his annual salary of $6.5 million.

“We’ve got a good structure where he’s going to work shoulder to shoulder with the general manager,” said Leiweke, who on Friday fired Jim Mora as coach after one 5-11 season. “I think there’s potential here for absolute greatness.”

Leiweke, whose brother, Tim, is chief executive of AEG and a fixture in the Los Angeles sports scene, said he has been a longtime fan of college football and of Carroll. He has kept tabs on the former Trojans coach for some time, watching while executives from other NFL teams -- among them Miami, Atlanta and San Francisco -- tried and failed to bring him aboard.

“A number of teams had tried to make a run at Pete and for one reason or another it wasn’t the right time,” Leiweke said. “We started thinking that maybe what this franchise needed was a clean slate.

“Like those other teams, Pete’s name came up pretty quickly. We said, ‘If we can ever get a guy like that, wouldn’t that be something?’ I must admit I was dubious as to whether he would want to do it. But we had discussions and it moved along quick. I think he looked at our situation and saw [Seahawks owner] Paul Allen, our great fan base, our facilities, our stadium, our headquarters, and it occurred to him, ‘Hey, this might be the right opportunity.’ ”

In four seasons as an NFL coach, one with the Jets and three with the Patriots, Carroll was 33-31 in the regular season and 1-2 in the postseason. He followed that with a 97-19 record in nine years at USC, fueling the argument that he’s much better suited for the college game.

Leiweke doesn’t buy that. He’s staking quite a bit on the gamble that Carroll can get it done at the highest level, a league in which the ability to recruit players is a relatively small part of the job.

“Ultimately, I think he’s capable of doing the same thing he did in college football,” Leiweke said. “It’s been almost 10 years since he’s been in the NFL. All men grow and learn, and I think he’s that much better. Obviously, what he’s done since he left the NFL is almost unparalleled in organized football.”

Then, there’s the persistent argument that no amount of winning will change: that Carroll scooted out of USC because dark clouds were gathering over his program, with the ominous possibility of NCAA sanctions.

Like Carroll, Leiweke denied that was a factor.

“Those are things we’d actually checked into as well,” Leiweke said. “And at the end of the day I think Pete’s run an excellent program.”