January 09, 2010
Nothing is official yet -- the Seahawks must comply with the NFL's "Rooney Rule" -- but whatever doubts still existed on Friday afternoon evaporated overnight: Pending a stunning last-second reversal over "minor details," Pete Carroll is leaving USC after nine seasons for the vacant head coaching job in Seattle.
In fact, it seems clear the only reason the job in Seattle is vacant at all is that the Seahawks hooked their big catch sometime last week, and only let first-year coach Jim Mora go Friday after reeling Carroll in over the course of a few days. The bait: A reported $7 million annual salary over five years and (more importantly for a competitor who already ranked as one of America's richest coaches) complete control over the team's roster as president and general manager. For years, Carroll has suggested he might take "the right opportunity" to return to the NFL after being fired by both the New York Jets and New England Patriots in a six-year span in the nineties, and has been courted by various teams in the league on an almost annual basis since establishing USC as college football's resident juggernaut. At 58 years old, with nothing left to prove on campus and the ultimate freedom to do it his way, this is that opportunity.
It was probably inevitable, really. Carroll's energy, enthusiasm, recruiting prowess and willingness to spend portions of his offseason not hunched over game film in a darkened cave have established his reputation as the consummate "college coach." And over the course of seven consecutive 11-win seasons and top-five finishes in the final polls, two national championships, six BCS wins in seven tries, the rapid construction of the richest recruiting pipeline in the country and a seemingly genuine commitment to the community in Los Angeles, he's ingratiated himself to USC, specifically. The Trojan dynasty is so thoroughly of Carroll's making, under his sway, that it's barely possible to separate the institutions from one another.
But the defining trait at the center of Carroll's philosophy is an intense competitiveness in everything he does, a mantra that's driven the hordes of coveted blue chips to construct his kingdom at USC, but that no doubt also leaves Carroll anxious to redeem his reputation in the league where he spent 15 of the prime years of his career. He was not an abject failure there: After being fired from the Jets after a single season in 1994, he led New England to back-to-back playoff berths in 1997-98. But he was loose, fun-loving, West Coast Pete Carroll, the antithesis of the scowling, pallid grumps that came before (Bill Parcells) and after (Bill Belichick) in New England, and New England was built by scowling, pallid grumps. Boston fans and writers never respected Carroll, and he was fired after an 8-8, last-place finish in 1999. The locals didn't even wait for a losing season to dub him "Coach Fredo." And a few in the Northwest aren't waiting for his first press conference to protest his pending arrival based on his record in the Northeast.
Still, Seattle is his chance to overturn that legacy, in a place where he has a chance to fit in, and a chance to build another first-rate operation in his own image -- to extend the analogy, a place where he's Michael Corleone, the face of the family, no longer toiling in the shadow of Parcells or anyone else. Seattle fans will not run him out of town for going 27-21 with a division championship and two playoff berths. There's not much chance he's going to suddenly turn into another of the humorless, crag-faced characters collapsing onto desks around the NFL on a nightly basis, and it would be it's own kind of failure if he did: Carroll is going to prove that "Pete Carroll, great college football coach" can be "Pete Carroll, great football coach" without changing who is. If he can't do that this time, at least he won't have to live with the question anymore.