Given a choice, players pick Carroll

The beauty of his approach is that he isn't just experimenting with new methods. Carroll fully believes that compassion is a vital factor in winning football games. His mantra is Always Compete, and he applies that mindset to everybody who works in the building. In the end, Carroll comes off as a man who ultimately wants to see the best come out of everybody, mainly because of how much joy he would take in seeing somebody else attain that level of success.

The players who have watched him from afar see the results. Carroll led the Seahawks to the NFC West title in 2010, his first year with the team. The skeptics who belittled that success -- Seattle won the division with a 7-9 record -- were more impressed last season, when the Seahawks became one of the league's most improved teams before losing to Atlanta in the NFC divisional playoff round. This season, there's been little question about how dangerous the Seahawks have become. They've been the best team in their conference all season and a clear-cut favorite to reach this year's Super Bowl.

Carroll would be the first to say Seattle's rapid rise has plenty to do with the faith of Seahawks owner Paul Allen. Carroll was considered too quirky in his previous NFL head-coaching jobs (the New York Jets in 1994 and the New England Patriots from 1997 to 1999), a man whose exuberance and easy-going style were believed to be better suited for college football. It was only after Carroll won a national championship at USC that he found a franchise willing to let him do things his way. In fact, the first major decision he made in Seattle was to overhaul the roster until he had exactly the types of personalities he needed to compete.

Carroll has acknowledged that timing has had everything to do with his success. He needed to be fired from those other NFL franchises, to hear critics slam his tactics and to redefine himself as a college coach. His time at USC allowed him to see fully what his approach could do when he had all the power. When he returned to the NFL, he had the confidence and the control to take his ideas to the next level.

What Carroll has attained today is something that is much harder to do than it looks. The Jets' Ryan might be as likable, but his act wore thin in that city two years ago. Belichick has the titles, but he also has stifled individuality within that franchise and never revealed much personality to the general public. There are plenty of other men on this list who have strong traits and successful résumés -- including Denver's Fox, Kansas City's Reid and New Orleans' Sean Payton -- but they are missing something Carroll clearly has.

That doesn't mean they are lesser coaches. It's only proof that they haven't made the same impression around the league that Carroll has. That's largely because Carroll has mastered the art of giving everything of himself and baring his soul as much as any head coach can. It's a rare feat for any man running an NFL team to attempt. It's quite remarkable to see somebody pull it off as effectively as Carroll has in Seattle.

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