When the Seahawks take on the Rams in Los Angeles, Pete Carroll will be roaming the same sideline where he had a career revival while guiding the USC Trojans from 2001-09. “I’ve looked forward to it ever since the switch took place,” Carroll said.
When Pete Carroll arrived in Los Angeles in Dec. 2000 to take over the USC Trojans, few involved with the program other than those who had made the hire had much of an idea who he was.
“Not really,” said Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard, who was then a member of USC’s secondary. “We knew he had professional experience. We knew that (USC legend) Ronnie Lott had been with him with the Jets.”
That was about it.
Carroll, though, finally knew exactly who he was — as a coach, anyway.
He’d always known who he was as a person.
But fully integrating the person with the coach didn’t really happen until Carroll took over at USC at age 49, after he’d been fired twice in the NFL, by the Patriots and the Jets.
A year of introspection following his firing at New England that Carroll detailed in his book, “Win Forever,” and in numerous interviews, led to him deciding that at USC he would finally do things his way.
“There’s a freedom that comes (from being fired),” he once said.
Sunday, three days after turning 65, he’ll return to the field where his career was reborn.
In fact, with the field arrangements different for USC and the Rams, Carroll will be standing on the same sideline Sunday he roamed while coach of the Trojans, running down the same tunnel he did before so many wins.
How does he think it’ll feel?
“I haven’t done it yet,” Carroll said this week. “I don’t know. I’ll let you know afterwards.”
Carroll likewise shrugged off how he thinks he’ll be received by a crowd that while different from that which attends USC games, figures to still include many friendly faces.
“No idea,” he said of how he’ll be received, before joking: “I don’t think there’s going to be an actual reception. I think we’re just going to start the game.”
Maybe Carroll is wary that the crowd of 92,000-plus will also include a few who remember mostly the somewhat messy and abrupt ending. The Trojans were hit with a controversial two-year postseason ban shortly after he departed.
Paul McDonald, a former USC quarterback who works on the school’s radio broadcasts and whose son played for Carroll with the Trojans, said this week that “there are some Trojans for sure who are not happy how he left because the state of Trojan football was very much challenged when the NCAA came down so heavily. So he took a hit with that.”
But McDonald said he thinks most remember more the seven straight Pac-10 titles, the 34 consecutive wins — still tied for the sixth-longest winning streak in college football history — and the undisputed national championship in 2004.
“I think by far what he accomplished while he was here far surpasses any feelings of ‘why’d you do this to us by leaving?’ ” McDonald said.
Carroll also hasn’t completely left.
An organization he started in 2003 to try to reduce and prevent gang violence and other problems in the inner-city, A Better LA, continues to this day.
“He did a lot of work in areas most coaches wouldn’t go into,” said Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who grew up near the L.A. Memorial Coliseum in Compton. “He put his money where his mouth was. He met with gang members, community members and community leaders. He also met with police and tried to bridge the gap. … I think people respected that because he didn’t have to.”
Inevitably, though, memories of Carroll come back to USC football.
McDonald recalls that when Carroll was hired, he was considered “an afterthought.” The Trojans attempted to hire three coaches who at the time were considered bigger names — Dennis Erickson, Mike Riley and Mike Bellotti.
“I have had a lot of people over the years that say, ‘Hey, I was one of those guys that said you were a bum and weren’t going to make it,’ ” Carroll said. “I kind of took some pride in that, that we had proved it to them.”
Carroll has said having total control of personnel allowed him to implement many core philosophies that exist to this day, such as his practice-week schedule built around themed days such as “Competition Wednesday.”
“I think by the nature of his maturing he was able to do what he did,” McDonald said. “He wouldn’t have been able to do that when he was 35 or 40.”
It added up to a career revival that ultimately proved successful enough to give Carroll the chance to return to the NFL with the Seahawks.
Sunday, past and present merge.
“It’s going to be fun,” Carroll said. “I’ve looked forward to it ever since the switch took place – we kind of all looked forward to playing those guys down there. It’ll be fun to be back.”