Carroll, Garrett fiddled while Troy burned
Pete Carroll was preparing for another day of hawking his absurdly titled book “Win Forever” when his old employer, the University of Southern California, cleaned his old house.
In one sweep Tuesday, USC’s arrogant athletic director and Reggie Bush’s Heisman Trophy were gone. In their place arrived a long-overdue adult; the school’s new president tabbing former star quarterback and Rhodes Scholar Pat Haden to run an athletic department based on principle and pride, not short-term success and fleeting, me-first glory.
“Winning any way other than the right way is not winning at all,” Haden told the Los Angeles Times.
The school’s preemptive return of Bush’s Heisman will tell you it’s serious. They haven’t sent back O.J. Simpson’s, but they want nothing to do with Reggie and the era that he represents.
And that era also is Pete Carroll’s and AD Mike Garrett’s, the one-time USC Heisman winner who was shown the door.
The blame and hand-wringing will go to Bush because that’s how it always works in college sports. Only three kinds of people get blamed in NCAA scandals – the greedy kid, the shady agent or the bumbling assistant. It’s never, ever the people in charge. They never know anything. So it’s Bush who loses his trophy. It’s Bush who will be hammered when SC eventually gives back its BCS title (the Heisman giveaway serves as precedent). And it’s Bush who will be cursed when the sanction-saddled Trojans stumble in the seasons to come.
Reggie deserves his share. The NCAA’s rules are ridiculous, but they are the rules. When you join a team you commit to everyone else on that team that you’ll play within those rules. When you take cash, gifts, travel, a car, a house (a house!), you spit in the face of every one of those teammates.
Yet all Bush had to do was look at the egomaniacs in charge of Trojan football to see a casual, selfish, instant gratification culture that all but encouraged him to get his car tricked out. At the very least, he appears to feel the shame. He didn’t show for a scheduled chat with fans Tuesday night. He previously called the scandal the “closest thing to death without dying.”
Garrett, meanwhile, responded to the NCAA handing down massive sanctions by declaring it was “nothing but a lot of envy. They wish they all were Trojans.”
Carroll, meanwhile, is peddling his supposed success story, playing to the crowds and encouraging one and all to follow his lifestyle to fame and fortune. Shame? Please, he’s a life coach too now.
Coach Win Forever never cared about USC; that much is clear. His boss didn’t, too. They cared about themselves, their paychecks, their fawning fans, their sideline celebrities and that intoxicating high that only winning can deliver.
If they had cared, they would’ve run the program differently while Bush was there and, more importantly, handled the allegations and NCAA case differently after he left.
Every program is susceptible to agent or booster scandals because the NCAA’s rules demand that the wheels of capitalism stop so the Association can continue to avoid paying taxes under the ruse of amateurism. This isn’t new. Great players have been getting paid off for more than a century. Yet at SC, they claim this was news to them.
In a comically ridiculous interview on HBO’s “Real Sports” last week, Carroll offered a personal defense based on naïvete, outright stupidity and even the inability to judge pro football talent.
“We didn’t have the awareness,” he told Andrea Kremer when asked why they weren’t more diligent with Bush. “We didn’t have the awareness to know.”
Wait, Pete, you didn’t know star players get offered money from agents who want to represent them and when one shows up with a new ride, you might look at the paperwork twice?
“He started the first time regularly his junior year,” Carroll said, apparently surprised the soon-to-be No. 2 pick in the draft was NFL material. Heck, Carroll even asked one of the marketing agents that the NCAA claims was paying Bush to set Reggie up as a summer intern. What bad could happen?
Carroll blamed the compliance office, which at the time he claims had only one worker.
“We didn’t know we needed more,” he said.
So, you run the Barnum and Bailey of football programs in one of the fastest, most materialistic cities on earth and you figure your poor, unpaid megastars don’t require more than one person checking VIN numbers and VIP rooms? Sure.
Pete Carroll always looked a little like Jeff Spicoli. Who knew they shared IQs? Fast Times at Heritage Hall.
It was one thing for Garrett and Carroll to run a loose ship in L.A. It’s another for them to have kept partying when the boat hit the iceberg. The way USC handled the Reggie Bush scandal is near criminal, and the ones paying the price are the students, alumni, fans and current and future players.
The Bush scandal was huge from the start. The initial allegations were significant, the Bush defense weak. It dragged on for five years, evidence mounting all along. There were tapes. There was a book. There were lawsuits. There were depositions delayed due to firearms.
It even delved into the ridiculous. Bush would begin dating Kim Kardashian, the daughter of one of O.J. Simpson’s murder trial attorneys. Trojan fan Will Ferrell would name his character in the movie “Blades of Glory” after one of the would-be marketers who allegedly paid Bush. Michael Michaels became “Chaz Michael Michaels.”
And still the SC brain trust did little. Their defense against the NCAA was to deny, deny, deny. NCAA sources say every meeting with investigators was contentious. There was no cooperation, no interest in a joint effort to gather the truth. This was USC refusing to admit anything happened, let alone some level of guilt.
Anyone who’s been around college athletics for 20 minutes knows that’s a suicidal position to take against the NCAA, and predictably USC got hit with the strongest sanctions in 15 years. The loss of 30 scholarships and a two-year bowl ban will be almost impossible to overcome.
If Carroll and Garrett were concerned about USC’s future, they would’ve done everything in their power to avoid such penalties. Instead they offered the illusion that everything was fine, that recruits should keep coming, that fans should keep worshipping, that the praise for them should keep growing louder. They sold out USC’s future to maintain their own present. Once doomsday grew near, of course, Carroll skipped town to the Seattle Seahawks.
Now he’s “shocked” at the sanctions. Knowing the USC defense plan, he shouldn’t be. USC’s reaction to the scandal is what caused the Association to go nuclear. This is on Garrett and Carroll as much as Reggie Bush.
In the school’s appeal, which is designed to gain back some of the lost scholarships, the Trojans take some responsibility and admit some guilt. Steps are being taken. Garrett is now gone. The Heisman is headed back. Even Carroll admits Bush probably broke the rules.
“Something happened,” he told HBO. “There’s too much stuff. There’s a house. There’s a lot going on.”
If he had said as much prior to the NCAA ruling, if such an admission had driven USC’s response, none of this would’ve been as bad for the Trojans. He didn’t though. That would’ve been difficult for Pete Carroll. Saying nothing happened was easy.
The tough stuff comes now. The adults are in. New coach Lane Kiffin is dealing with potentially crippling sanctions and a new AD with whom he’d appear to have nothing in common. Haden is a mature and educated man whose focus is ethics and says his life has been guided by never wanting to do anything that would embarrass his now late mother. Kiffin is a brash, foot-in-the-mouth, secondary-violation machine.
“I think so,” Haden said on ESPN when asked if Kiffin was the right guy for USC, about as un-ringing of an endorsement as you’ll hear. Haden then went on to praise the way rivals Stanford and Notre Dame do business.
Kiffin hasn’t even coached a game and must already be wishing he was back on ol’ Rocky Top. Trojan players are staring at a two-year bowl ban. Garrett has two weeks to clean out the office. Bush is too humiliated to show up for a fan chat.
And Pete Carroll has a book signing to get to on Wednesday.