Monday, January 11, 2010

Not Enough Time

In nine seasons at USC, Pete Carroll amassed a record of 97-19 (.836) and won 2 national championships.

When I heard Friday morning that the Seattle Seahawks had fired Jim Mora, my reaction, like everyone else's, was "Hmmmmmmm...that's odd." Afterall, Mora had been handpicked as Mike Holmgren's successor in Seattle and had only been at the helm for one year. Little did I know that, later in the day, it would become evident that it was part of Seattle's scheme to make one of my worst sporting nightmares a reality.

Pete Carroll held a goodbye press conference from Heritage Hall Monday afternoon, formally announcing that he was stepping down as head football coach of the USC Trojans to take over the same position with the Seahawks, and recapping the nine years of great success and great times he enjoyed while at the school.

Great times and great fun times they indeed were, for an entire city, and they're over far too soon.

An arrow was officially pierced through the heart of Los Angeles today, and it's not a Cupid's arrow, because there is nothing at all for this town's football fans to love about this scenario (except for the ones who chant for U-C-L-A).

To call what Carroll rebuilt here at USC a "powerhouse" would be to understate just how dominant the Trojans were in his tenure. Carroll built a dynasty, a machine, leading USC on one of the most jawdropping runs of excellence in the history of college football. After going 6-6 in his first year here in 2001, Carroll's Trojans went 82-9 over the next seven years, winning back-to-back national titles in 2003 (splitting with LSU when the AP voted USC as their season-ending #1) and 2004 and seven consecutive Pac-10 titles. They went 6-1 in BCS Bowl games and produced three Heisman trophy winners. In the 2005 BCS title game versus Texas, they came one epic Vince Young performance away from becoming the first college football team ever to win three straight national titles. In all that time, they did not win fewer than 11 games, and most mind-boggling of all, they lost no games by more than six points. In his first eight seasons at the helm, they lost one game by double-digits: to Notre Dame by 11 in 2001.

It's a sign of the standard of success that was created that USC went 9-4 and won a bowl game this year and the season was considered a catastrophe. They failed to win the conference and suffered two blowout defeats, to Oregon and Stanford. You figured they would get back in the BCS picture, but those big losses made it seem like the end of an era. Could they ever regain the same mystique and swagger?

An era is over in more ways than one now, with Carroll, the face of the school and an icon in the city, out the door, and who knows what about to possibly enter. The timing of his departure seems suspicious. It's cold in Seattle, and while Carroll denies that his decision to leave now was influenced by ongoing NCAA investigations into the Reggie Bush and Joe McKnight scandals...well, if NCAA sanctions are indeed leveled upon the football program, I can envision Trojan Country not being too happy with their beloved Pete.

But even if he's just trying to beat the tidal wave, I really don't care; I have already chosen to remember all of the good things, all of the fun Carroll recounted at the presser. The team was so influential in the city. No NFL team? No problem. Outside of New England, no city, college or pro, got more joy or cherished moments out of their football team. When Kobe fell from grace and the Lakers fell into mediocrity, it was Matt Leinart who became the city's most popular athlete and the Trojans who became its most popular team. Those Leinart-Bush teams, 2005 especially, transcended college football and became a real Hollywood team, not much un-like the Lakers during the Shaquille O'Neal-Bryant days. And if Leinart and Bush were Shaq and Kobe, then Carroll was Phil Jackson, made for it all. It wouldn't have been the same without him, or been possible. He was huge in the community, too, trying to inspire the troubled young men in this city, taking late night van rides to dangerous neighborhoods and giving pep talks to guys who needed them. He says he will continue his work in the community here, which offers some solace.

It was wishful thinking to believe he would stay here forever; Trojans fans didn't want to believe it, but it was really only a matter of time before he went back to the NFL. He's flirted with multiple pro teams over the past several years and conventional wisdom has always said that he would return. His mantra here was "always compete," and the man is a fierce competitor. His stay in the NFL is often misrepresented as a complete failure, when in actuality he compiled a respectable record of 33-31 with the Patriots and Jets. But it has never been a secret that Carroll was not satisfied with his work there, and was interested in another shot.

"If you know anything about me, you know I can't pass up this challenge," he said Monday.

But he was such a natural fit in the city, so synonymous with the school - in my dreams Carroll was supposed to grow old at USC, like Paterno did in Happy Valley and Bowden did in Tallahassee. There were more games to be won for Carroll at USC, more fun to be had.

But it was always a dream, and for Pete the time was right. He thanked everyone who supported the program during his final press conference at the school Monday. On behalf of everyone he thanked, I'd like to thank him, too.


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