LOS ANGELES – Forgive the silent majority of USC Trojans football fans, but for many they aren’t quite sure if they’re supposed to root for or against former Trojans head coach Pete Carroll in his quest for a Super Bowl championship with the Seattle Seahawks.
To many, Pete Carroll is football’s version of Peter Pan, Robin Hood, The Fonz, or just a latent adolescent inside a lovable rogue.
To others, Carroll is football’s version of Rhett Butler, Prof. Harold Hill, or Ferris Bueller combined with the charismatic inconsistencies of Bill Clinton.
With just six days remaining before the Trojans' former legendary football coach guides his Seahawks into Super Bowl XLVIII against the AFC championship Denver Broncos, Carroll still remains for many a polarizing figure in Trojans history.
During Carroll’s illustrious Trojans coaching career, the former University of Pacific safety won two national championships, seven consecutive Pac-12 titles and 34 consecutive games. He sent waves of players to the NFL such as Troy Polamalu, Carson Palmer, Shaun Cody, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Ryan Kalil, Lofa Tatupu, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, Sam Baker, and the list goes on and on.
From 2002-08, Carroll’s Trojans teams appeared in an NCAA-record seven consecutive BCS bowls, logged at least 11 victories seven times (an NCAA record) and finished ranked in the AP top four seven years in a row.
For good measure, Carroll’s Trojans were the AP's No. 1 team for a national-record 33 straight polls and were ranked in the AP Top 10 for a school-record 63 consecutive games. In his nine seasons at Troy, Carroll’s record was 83-18, and he received almost every coaching award imaginable.
Carroll’s infectious enthusiasm, boyish charm and choirboy persona mesmerized recruits, families of recruits, boosters and fans, the rubber chicken circuit, and, yes, even the media with his extroverted and charming personality.
Like an all-time Broadway hit, the Pete Carroll Show returned to the NFL after a great performance run in college, and fans of the Seattle Seahawks are watching, enjoying and enthusiastically supporting a near carbon copy of the Beatles-like euphoria that Trojans fans once knew.
However, despite Carroll’s undeniable accomplishments, magnetic personality and movie star looks, he is still associated with the Reggie Bush catastrophe and ensuing NCAA sanctions.
Regardless if Carroll did or did not know about the Bush fiasco, as much as his on-field triumphs and off-field civic involvement are of positive public record, so is the fact that the “Prince of L.A.” left USC ahead of the NCAA posse, escaped the posse and violated his own mantra of “protect the team.”
USC gave Carroll the opportunity to rehabilitate his career. Although it will rankle many, the way Carroll left USC holding the NCAA sanctions bag should not be swept under the Coliseum rug. Carroll left the program he built into a Goliath with three years of hard NCAA labor and a series of sanctions -- just or unjust -- for others to pay.
They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Carroll’s version of that cliché was to get going back to NFL, and in a video response at the time to the NCAA sanctions announcement, Carroll said he was “absolutely shocked and disappointed in the findings of the NCAA.”
Yes, Carroll was shocked and disappointed, but the NCAA didn’t control the USC football program. Carroll did. If the NCAA had it in for the Trojans, Carroll still was one to lead them back out of the mess. What happened to being a role model?
Is there anybody that doesn’t believe that things might have been different for Troy had Carroll seen his program through the horrendous NCAA sanctions waters and showed the world and USC how to survive through extreme adversity?
In 2010, Pro Football Talk writer Mike Florio asked Carroll why he left USC, which Carroll knew was under NCAA investigation, and Carroll replied, “My coming to Seattle was for one reason. This is an extraordinary opportunity. This is an NFL dream opportunity for me and it had nothing to do with anything that was going on at any time.”
Carroll added, “That ongoing investigation was five years in the making anyway. Why wouldn’t I have left some other time?”
It may have been a “dream” opportunity for Pete Carroll, but it left USC with a nightmare. With the appearance of perfect timing, the fact is that Carroll left USC just in the nick of time. Coincidence? You be the judge.
In all fairness, Carroll had every right to return to the NFL and prove he could be a major factor as an NFL head coach. Judging by this season’s Seahawks, he accomplished that and can accomplish more with a victory on Sunday.
After this Sunday’s Super Bowl, Carroll could put the Lombardi Trophy into his vast closet of awards, but also somewhere in that closet is a skeleton that brought upon the darkest moment in USC football history.
Rooting for Carroll on Super Sunday?
The choice is yours.