RENTON, Wash. — A sign with Jim Mora's name identifying his prime parking spot was still in front of Seattle Seahawks headquarters Friday night.
There's reason to believe that one with Pete Carroll's name on it could soon take its place.
The Seahawks fired Mora after just one season earlier in the day and speculation on Mora's replacement immediately centered on Carroll, the charismatic Southern California coach.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Seahawks chief executive officer Tod Leiweke flew to California before firing Mora to interview Carroll for the job. The newspaper said that Seattle – with team owner Paul Allen, the Microsoft Corp. tycoon for whom money is no limitation – is believed to be offering Carroll a five-year contract worth $7 million per season to be its president and coach.
That would be a raise of more than $2 million annually on what Carroll is believed to be earning at USC.
Carroll's agent, Gary Uberstine, did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages left by The Associated Press on Friday night.
"Pete's name comes out at this time every year. In the past, he hasn't commented on such reports," USC spokesman Tim Tessalone said in an e-mail to The AP. "He was not expected in (Friday). ... At this point, we have nothing to report."
A Seahawks spokesman inside the team's headquarters refused to comment on Carroll. Carroll did not return a phone message left by The AP.
Leiweke did not respond to an e-mail asking about Carroll, who was 6-10 in 1994 with the New York Jets and then 27-21 while twice reaching the playoffs from '97-99 with the New England Patriots – before he restored a dynasty at USC.
The opportunity in Seattle is unique for Carroll. The Seahawks do not have a GM in place, so Carroll could conceivably have more authority over football matters, far more than he would have had filling any of the NFL coaching openings he's been mentioned in connection with in recent winters.
Seattle is also interested in talking to Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier but has yet to interview him for the job, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation who did not want to be named because the Seahawks have not disclosed candidates. Per league postseason rules, Seattle would have to interview Frazier before the end of the weekend, or wait until the Vikings are eliminated from the playoffs or after the NFC title game in two weeks.
The league's Rooney Rule requires teams to interview minority candidates, such as Frazier, for head coaching vacancies.
University of Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, who left his friend Carroll and the Trojans 12 months ago for his first head coaching job, chuckled when asked if he'd like to be a head coach in the same city as his mentor.
"That'd be kind of fun," Sarkisian said.
Leiweke fired Mora during a morning meeting at team headquarters, ending a four-week internal evaluation the CEO conducted of his floundering franchise.
Hours later, the team confirmed the firing in a news release.
Sunday, Mora finished his only season in Seattle 5-11, after taking over his hometown team at the end of Mike Holmgren's tenure. Wednesday, Mora had said he was charging ahead with assessing 2009 and preparing for next season, saying of his future: "I'm not too worried about it. I'm just going to go work until I'm told not to work."
Mora had three years and almost $12 million remaining on his contract.
"We've made a tough decision today," Leiweke said. "It became apparent after conducting an extensive internal audit that a new direction was needed to provide an opportunity for the organization to be successful. Today's decision, while difficult, is part of the process in building a franchise with a new vision in 2010."
Leiweke called Mora "truly a standup man who gave his full effort to our franchise."
"Coach Mora will be missed," Seattle defensive end Darryl Tapp wrote on his Twitter page.
Seattle is 9-23 since its last playoff appearance in January 2008, after four consecutive NFC West titles.
"This team, more importantly this community, means so much to me that it hurts not being able to see this through," Mora said in the team statement. "I am disappointed I did not get the chance to complete my contract. This is a tough business that sometimes demands immediate gratification."
GM and president Tim Ruskell took the initial fall for the Seahawks' flop when he was fired Dec. 3. Leiweke noted then that Mora was steward of a rocky transition from Holmgren's regime to one with a new offense, new defense and almost entirely new coaching staff.
Leiweke said last month he expected Mora to return for a second season.
Seattle was one of eight teams to have a new head coach and largely new staffs in 2009. Half of those teams improved their win totals: the Browns (5-11) and Seahawks each gained one win over '08; the Chiefs (4-12) and Lions (2-14) were plus-2.
Mora's first season following Holmgren's mostly glorious decade in Seattle was in sharp contrast to his rookie season as a head coach in Atlanta in 2004. That year, Mora took what had been a 5-11 Falcons team to the NFC championship game.
This time, the Seahawks' injured and ineffective offensive line wrecked new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp's running game – and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's health. The three-time Pro Bowl passer missed 2 1/2 games, then played through broken ribs, a sore passing shoulder and thumb injury, while throwing a career-high 17 interceptions.
The defense, under rookie coordinator Gus Bradley, failed to generate a consistent pass rush and the small secondary often looked overmatched.
"Maybe I oversold" optimism before the season, Mora said. "It was harder than we thought."
The 48-year-old Mora, who grew up and attended high school and college in the Seattle area, returned in 2007 to become Holmgren's assistant head coach and defensive backs coach. He then replaced Holmgren, with the announcement coming in early 2008 a year before he took the job. The team said it was creating a smooth transition.
So much for smooth.
On Wednesday, Mora said he considered it a civic duty of his to bring the Seahawks their first championship.
"This is where I plan on living the rest of my life," he said, "and I want to be able to walk around this city and feel proud of the work I did for the Seattle Seahawks."
AP Sports Writers Greg Beacham in Los Angeles, Tim Booth in Seattle and John Wawrow in Buffalo, N.Y., contributed to this report.