NEW YORK – There is a university in California with an uncanny knack for producing Super Bowl-winning coaches. If Pete Carroll wins next Sunday, he would be the third head coach with ties to that particular school to lead a team to an NFL championship. Add coordinators, and the number is five. In fact, those two coordinators – one on offense and one on defense – are considered visionaries for their understanding of the game.
All five of these coaches have made stops at this particular California school.
It's not USC.
In fact, it's a school that no longer has a football program.
Jon Gruden, Tom Flores, Pete Carroll, Buddy Ryan and Mike Martz all spent time at the University of the Pacific, which is located in Stockton (just south of Sacramento). Flores, who won two Super Bowls with the Raiders, graduated in 1958. Carroll played free safety there, got his bachelor of science in 1973, and returned as an assistant in the early '80s. Gruden, who won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coached wide receivers at Pacific in 1989. Martz, who called plays for the "Greatest Show on Turf" in St. Louis, was a Pacific assistant in 1980. And Buddy Ryan, father of the 46 defense (and of Rex and Rob), spent a year in Stockton in the '60s.
Call it a coincidence if you choose. None of these coaches spent a long time at Pacific, and it's not like the school was ever an athletics titan. Despite being the oldest chartered university in the state, Pacific has fewer than 8,000 students and the football team, when it existed, won only 46.4 percent of its games. But the list of coaching greats is too long to be lucky, especially when you add the other Pacific whistles who went on to NFL careers: Hue Jackson, Ron Turner and Jim Colletto (who has his own Super Bowl ring, as a staffer with the 2000 Ravens).
The list means even more when you add the most significant coach to set foot on the campus: Amos Alonzo Stagg.
Stagg coached Pacific beginning at age 70, after a legendary career at the University of Chicago, where he became one of the iconic figures in the sport's history. He coached the Tigers from 1933 until 1946, and won his 300th game with the team. Stagg died in Stockton at age 102, and Pacific's football stadium was named after him in 1988.
The Stagg magic filtered down to coach after coach, each one bringing some sort of winning wrinkle to football the way Stagg did. One report from 1949, only three years after Stagg retired, breathlessly described Pacific's cutting-edge offense and its college football Hall of Fame-bound star:
"Led by the remarkable 5'8, 165-pound quarterback Eddie LeBaron, the Tigers averaged an astounding 502.9 yards per game to lead the country in total offense. Using the deceptive belly series, pioneered by offensive genius Larry Siemering, Pacific crushed every opponent on its schedule with the exception of the University of San Francisco in the opening game."
Carroll is the latest in Pacific's long legacy, with his upbeat, energetic style that showed up even during his undergraduate years as a player. One famous clip from 1983 shows "Coach Carroll," then the team's offensive coordinator, joining in an end zone pileup after a Hail Mary won a game for the Tigers. Carroll was pinned up against the goal post in the celebration and briefly worried he would suffocate.
Carroll might be the last Super Bowl coach with Tiger ties, though. The school dropped its football program in 1995 because it was too expensive. "It was a very difficult decision for the University," school vice president Ted Leland wrote in an email to Yahoo Sports. "But the number of former Pacific players and coaches that remain in college football and the NFL is a true testament to the legacy of the Pacific Football program."
That legacy extends to both teams on Super Bowl Sunday. In his only season as offensive coordinator at Pacific, Carroll had a rising star named Greg Thomas, who he moved to the H-back position. Thomas suffered a serious knee injury in a practice, as the Star-Ledger tells it, and he was never able to live out his football dreams. Instead, he finished his education degree and started a family in the area. He and his wife had a son in 1988, and they named him Julius.
That baby boy is now 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, and will start this Sunday at tight end for the Denver Broncos against his dad's old coach at Pacific.