Look – you knew this day was going to come. Pete Carroll sitting behind an SC microphone in Heritage Hall – but bereft of a single item of cardinal and gold in his wardrobe – explaining why he was leaving for the NFL. Don’t pretend you’re shocked or anything more than surprised by the timing. It was as inevitable as the sunset.
For all his success as the head football coach as USC – and you could easily make the argument for USC being the premier college football program of the last decade – Carroll was first and foremost an NFL guy. Remember, he came to the Trojans fresh off his firing as the head coach of the Patriots (where he was replaced by some guy named Belichick). He has two stints as a head coach totalling 4 years and a lot more experience as a defensive coordinator – and an itch to show he wasn’t a failure at the highest level. He never said he had no interest in returning to the NFL, just that the right opportunity hadn’t come along. Now it has.
There are those who will argue the timing of Carroll’s departure is questionable, and while he tried mightily to deflect those ideas in his news conference today they clearly remain. The Trojans are coming off their worst season since his first with them, and are looking at a significant rebuilding effort. They lost two key offensive weapons with the departure of juniors Joe McKnight and Damian Williams to the pros, and the NCAA will soon wrap up its investigations into issues regarding McKnight and former Trojan Reggie Bush and hand down some kind of punishment. Not the kind of situation you’d expect a fighter to shy away from, but it is what it is.
The big question now for USC is who’s next. Mike Garrett, the school’s athetic director, doesn’t exactly have a sterling track record when it comes to football hires – remember, Carroll was his fourth pick, and his only other coaching selections were Paul Hackett and a burned-out John Robinson. With rules compliance issues issues swirling around both the football and basketball programs, you can bet his choice will be heavily scrutinized.
There are a lot of names being kicked about as Carroll’s replacement, but two jump out in my mind. Jack Del Rio has head coaching experience (he’s currently the embattled coach of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars) and is a former Trojan. He also brings the same competitive fire the program knew with Carroll. The other potential candidate is Butch Davis, who is currently with North Carolina. He’s one of the long list of successful coaches who tried unsuccessfully to jump to the pros (Dallas) only to be beaten back down and forced to lick their wounds at a lesser school. But he was successful at pulling Miami’s fat out of the NCAA fire and might be just what the Trojans need right now.
Sometime tomorrow, the ex-Trojan coach will sit behind another microphone in another hall – this one in Renton, WA – outfitted in the green and blue of his new team, the Seattle Seahawks. He’ll say the same basic things and talk about how hard the decision was and how excited he is at the challenge. And if you’re a true Trojan fan, you’ll tip your hat to the man and cheer for his ‘Hawks.