BY Art Thiel 07:15PM 09/07/2011

Thiel: Carroll, Harbaugh seek to find out the deal

Head coaches for Seahawks, 49ers bring their personal dismay with one another to spice up the tepid NFC West.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll will try to find out what the deal is with Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco Sunday. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest file

In the over-bleached, freeze-dried, hermetically-sealed, wash-your-hands-every-two-minutes NFL, it is rare to find an old-fashioned public stink-up between coaches.

After Jim Harbaugh in January left his successful tenure at Stanford — where his Cardinal team in 2009 splattered Pete Carroll’s USC team 55-21 — to become coach of the San Francisco 49ers,  NFL fans hoped that as the two became pro rivals, they would leave their teams behind and simply commence to slobberknocking each other at the 50-yard line.

Alas, the NFL’s recent commitment to player safety has not quite extended to banning games entirely. So the 49ers and Seahawks will accompany their warrior coaches to Candlestick Park at 1 p.m. Sunday, where Harbaugh and Carroll are unlikely to come within spitting distance of each other until after the game.

Please pay attention then. The last time they met on the field, after that 2009 pounding, Carroll confronted Harbaugh to find out why Stanford, ahead 48-21 in the fourth quarter, elected to go for a two-point conversion instead of the one-point kick.

“What’s your deal!?” an intense Carroll said to Harbaugh. “What’s your deal!?”

Harbaugh retorted, “What’s your deal?” A fairly lame comeback, true. If he’d had a moment to reflect, he probably would have said, “I couldn’t go for three!”

Seems they don’t care for one another. After the exchange made print, their pro reunion Sunday has become much anticipated (since both teams are in the NFC West, the North Korea of the NFL, the contest between the teams has been rendered semi-moot), a fact that baffles Harbaugh.

“He said, ‘What’s your deal?’ I said, ‘What’s your deal?’ And then from there, it’s about as well-documented a six-word sentence as there could be,” Harbaugh lamented in a conference call Wednesday with Seattle reporters. “I just find it very irrelevant and not very intriguing. It had little to do with the game then and it has very little to do with the game now.

“I think the game is what the relevant thing is and probably what we should be spending our time talking about. But the writers here asked me the same thing. They seem very intrigued by it but I fail to see the intrigue in it.”

That’s all right, Jim. We in the media won’t tell you what to call on third-and-five, as long as you don’t tell us what makes a decent story.

While both coaches offered the obligatory compliments about each other’s work Wednesday, they also were willing to admit that they don’t go all Labrador puppy when the other’s name is mentioned.

“We don’t socialize,” Harbaugh said. “ I wouldn’t describe us as friends or anything.”

Said Carroll:  “We don’t know each other very well at all. We’ve never been in the same settings . . . we don’t have a common backgrounds at all.”

Harbaugh’s true feelings emerged a year ago at Husky Stadium. After Stanford belted the Huskies 41-0, Harbaugh’s post-game address to the Cardinal had a semi-public airing in the hallway of Hec Ed Pavilion that visiting teams are forced to use as a meeting space.

“Dominating!” Harbaugh yelled to his players. “We kicked their ass every which way! One hell of a job on both sides of the line! Dominant, dominant!”

Then Harbaugh mentioned Steve Sarkisian and the UW head coach’s defensive coordinator, Nick Holt, as well as Carroll and his successor at USC, Lane Kiffin, who, like Sarkisian, is a former Carroll assistant.

“What are you guys, 5-1, 6-1 against that group (in his four-year tenure)?” Harbaugh said loudly. “That’s the highest-paid coaching staff around!”

Harbaugh’s cheap shot is hardly the first expression of traditional disdain for much-envied USC and its coaching staff, especially in Seattle.  The irony, of course, is that Carroll and Sarkisian now run the Seattle football clubs, which in theory makes Harbaugh the villain in this soap opera because it is set on the shores of Lake Washington.

Whether Seattle fans find Harbaugh an obnoxious braggart or merely an impish provocateur, the transport of mutual contempt from the former Pac-10 rivals to the NFC West adds a layer of meaning in a division lacking in football excellence as well as human drama, particularly in a post-lockout season when fans barely know their players.

As for Carroll, he has spent a fair amount of time dismissing the impact of the “What’s your deal?” remark, starting in January when the Seahawks had just made the playoffs and Harbaugh, the hottest property in college coaching, was a day or two from accepting the 49ers job.

“He’s done it with class and style, and he’s really on the mark right now, “said Carroll of Harbaugh’s coaching success. Then he broke up the media gathering with this: “He’ll be shocked that I said that.”

Earlier, Carroll said something else. A few days after the 2009 thrashing by Stanford and the subsequent two-point controversy, Carroll told an LA radio station, “Will I forget it? No,  I’m not forgetting it. But, uh, you know, to me, it’s in the past.”

Thanks to Harbaugh’s new gig, it moved from past to present and will fit comfortably into the NFC West future as long as both are around.  That’s the deal.


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