Alone with his thoughts, forced into coaching exile after being fired for the second time as an NFL head coach, Pete Carroll knew he had to get this right. One more misstep, and he knew he might never get another chance.

This was during Carroll's 10-month hiatus from football, a time when he questioned whether his unorthodox techniques might not be good enough. Long after Dan Marino's "fake spike" led to the Jets' unraveling in 1994 and just after Carroll had been fired as the Patriots' coach following the 1999 season, he faced some tough decisions.

Was he too soft to be an effective head coach, as his critics suggested? Was his up-tempo, rah-rah approach that relied so much on positivity simply ill-suited to the NFL? Or should he try the college route and give up his dream of coaching at the highest level of the game?

"The biggest change happened after I was fired at New England," said Carroll, who coached the Patriots from 1997-99. "I was semi-retired for 10 months, and I had a chance to sit back. In that time, I think the competitiveness really elevated in me that I needed to get it right."

This was the crossroads for Carroll. He had a chance to accept one of several positions as an NFL defensive coordinator, but that's not what he wanted.

After four seasons as an NFL head coach, even though he was deemed a failure both times, he had a conviction that he would make this work as a head coach or not at all.

So he started calling around for head-coaching opportunities at the college level. And no one seemed to want him.

"I had schools that I called, and they didn't want to have anything to do with me," he said. "I didn't get called back."

Finally, USC athletic director Mike Garrett gave him a chance. It was a controversial move because Garrett had dropped hints that he wanted a more experienced college coach to replace Paul Hackett. But he gave Carroll a shot.

One more chance for Carroll to prove -- mostly to himself -- that his style could work.