Mays not holding grudge against Carroll

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Taylor Mays(notes) sat in a booth at a Red Robin restaurant Tuesday afternoon, sipping on a “freckled” lemonade and trying very hard not to swallow his pride.

Mays and Carroll during their USC days.
(Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

“Obviously, there was something that showed up in my game that caused me to drop to the 49th pick,” the San Francisco 49ers’ rookie safety said, referencing his freefall in last month’s NFL draft. “I didn’t know exactly what I was doing wrong, or how big a deal it was, until it hit me right in the face.”

Mays hit back after the Niners took him in the second round, saying he felt betrayed by his former coach at USC, current Seattle Seahawks boss Pete Carroll, for failing to level with him about perceived deficiencies in the year leading up to the draft. It was an emotional reaction made in marketing heaven: Mays, a Seattle native, will face the NFC West-rival Seahawks twice a season, injecting a bit of spice into a decidedly dull division landscape.

During a late lunch that followed a long day at the 49ers’ training facility, Mays, 22, took a stab at quelling the controversy: He expressed his “love” for Carroll and the coach’s family, swore he wouldn’t hold a grudge and insisted he’s in a better place.

“The way I look at it now,” Mays said, “I would have rather gone with the 49th pick to the San Francisco 49ers and played for my two defensive backs coaches and [head coach] Mike Singletary than go No. 1 to the St. Louis Rams, or No. 5 to Kansas City, or wherever else. I really feel that way. Cause it’s not about the money; it’s about the quality of the career, and the opportunity.”

Yet Mays, a physically gifted young man who is not short on swagger, isn’t backing down from his contention that Carroll did him a disservice. Part of his reaction was shock, so confident was he that the stars had aligned to bring him back to his hometown: After leaving USC to take the Seattle job, Carroll released safety Deon Grant(notes) in March, seemingly setting the stage to land a replacement with one of the team’s two first-round picks.

Mays, who watched the draft a few miles from the Seahawks’ facility, was poised to head over for a happy reunion with Carroll. But Seattle, after taking offensive tackle Russell Okung(notes) of Oklahoma State with the sixth overall pick, instead selected former Texas safety Earl Thomas(notes) at No. 14. Mays, after a long, uncomfortable Thursday night, slipped all the way to the middle of Friday’s second round.

Some of Mays’ former Trojans teammates felt Carroll, who last month did his best to downplay Mays’ initial comments and declined to comment for this column, had been disloyal. “There’s guys that are at USC saying, ‘What the hell? What the hell was he doing? You did everything right. Why wouldn’t he take you?’ ” Mays said. “But it’s a business. Besides, it’s not about me not being on his team. It was about where I went in the draft. I didn’t think, and I still don’t think, there were 48 players in the draft that are better than me.”

Following a standout junior season Mays, a three-year starter and consensus All-American, was projected by some scouts as a top 15 pick. Carroll, not surprisingly, urged Mays to stay for his senior campaign and got his wish. Perpetually lined up deep in the secondary, where he could cover for some of his relatively inexperienced teammates if they missed assignments, Mays had just one interception and was often removed from the action.

“I bought into the role,” said Mays, whose ability to track a ball in the air and make a play on it were shortcomings cited by scouts during the evaluation process. “I swallowed my pride. I wasn’t selfish at all. I didn’t complain. I did everything they told me to do. [Carroll] will be the first one to tell you that I did that.”

What bothers Mays are the things he said his coach didn’t tell him: “He said, ‘Tay, you come back for your senior year, you’ll go higher than you would now.’ I said, ‘Coach, they’re saying this about me and that about me, do I need to make changes to my game? What do I need to work on?’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.’ I was hoping he’d show me … that he’d show me why these NFL coaches were killing me – because I didn’t play low, because I didn’t do this or that, or whatever. But it didn’t work out that way.”

Despite his initial disappointment, Mays is confident that things all worked out for the best. He’s thrilled to be with San Francisco, a team poised to make a run at its first playoff appearance since 2002, for numerous reasons, beginning with the number 42. That’s the jersey one of his friends and mentors, Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott, wore at USC and made famous with the Niners, winning four Super Bowls during his glorious career.

“I’m following him,” Mays said, “but he’s following me – he checks in to see how I’m doing. That’s what makes coming here so special.”

During his pre-draft visit to Santa Clara, Mays said he felt like a college recruit who was so smitten, he wanted to give Singletary a verbal commitment on the spot.

“When I came here this was the best vibe I had – it’s where I felt the most comfortable,” he recalled. “It was kind of where I knew I wanted to be. It got to a point where I said, ‘I don’t want to play for anybody else.’ I knew there was only a one in 32 chance. But I was hoping.”

His excitement about the Niners has helped convince him to make amends with Carroll, who spoke favorably of Mays in response to the safety’s initial comments, saying, “I feel for him” and predicting he’d have a successful NFL career.

The two men have yet to speak since the draft, but, Mays said, “I’m going to call him ‘cause I know he doesn’t have any grudge towards me, and I don’t have any grudge towards him. I love him. I love his wife and his family. He loves me and my family. It’s that kind of relationship.

“I think I said what some people might not have said, but 100 percent of the people would have felt. I know if Coach Carroll would’ve been in that situation, he would’ve said the same thing. I know him.”

Besides, it’s not just Carroll to whom Mays feels he has something to prove. It’s everyone.

Just ask former Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen(notes). After the end of the first round Mays placed a call to Clausen, with whom he had spent time working out before the draft – both are represented by Southern California agent Gary Wichard – and who, too, was still on the board. (Clausen would experience an even more conspicuous drop before Carolina took him with the 48th overall selection.)

Mays and Singletary talk during minicamp.
(Kyle Terada/US Presswire)

“I said, ‘Jimbo, let’s just make ‘em pay,’ ” Mays recalled. “The bottom line is, I feel like I’ve always got something to prove, the rest of my career. I feel like [the 49ers] know that they’ve got a guy who has a chance – a chance, if I put in the effort – to be a top-five-type player.

“And that’s what I plan to do. I’m going to be the biggest second-round steal ever – like, if you’re a team that passed on me, ‘How could you have done that?’ So the next time a 6-3, 230-pound safety who runs a 4.2 comes out, he’ll be a top three pick.”

When I hear Mays talk like that, I can’t wait to see him play. His first regular-season game, naturally, will take place against the Seahawks at Seattle’s Qwest Field. Think his comments about Carroll might get referenced in the lead-up to that one?

“I know the media’s not going to forget about it,” Mays said, laughing, as he took another sip of lemonade. “Oh yeah, there’s going to be a target on my head.”

It’s a storyline that, one way or the other, is likely to hit a lot of us right in the face, possibly for years to come.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. Major conclusions must be drawn after each game of every NBA playoff series, even if said conclusions are quickly contradicted by the same source.

2. “American Idol” is a singing competition, and the best singer always wins.

3. After Jared Allen(notes) cleaned up his hairstyle in preparation for his wedding, Foxsports.com NFL writer Alex Marvez crashed the Vikings defensive end’s bachelor party and screamed, “I’ll break your uncovered neck, pretty boy!”

OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

So the Cardinals’ Darnell Dockett(notes) became $1,000 richer after posting live video of himself showering on the Internet? If I really pushed the issue, I wonder how much money I could get various people to pay me not to do the same? (Hey, it’s a contract year.)

LET’S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

Ronnie James Dio, the King of the Elves, who died earlier this month after battling stomach cancer. I’m holding up the devil’s horns sign, which RJD helped make ubiquitous at metal shows, and rocking out to “Rainbow” in his honor.

THIS WEEK’S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

Diane Ninemire, the winningest coach in Cal sports history, took the Golden Bears to the Women’s College World Series for seven consecutive seasons from 1999-2005, capturing a national title in 2002 and finishing second the following two years. Now, after a four-year run of frustrating near-misses in the postseason, she’s two victories away from making a triumphant return to Oklahoma City. Coming off a dominant performance in the Columbus regional last weekend, where Cal ripped off consecutive shutouts against Bucknell, Kentucky and host Ohio State (and gave Ninemire her 11th regional title in 12 seasons), the Bears now face Georgia in a best-of-three Super Regional starting Friday, with the second and third (if necessary) games on Saturday. Cal will have to get it done on the road, as Ninemire’s teams always must in the postseason, this time against the sixth-seeded Bulldogs, who made some noise in Oklahoma City last year and are a formidable foe. But if the Bears keep getting clutch pitching performances from freshman Jolene Henderson and national player of the year candidate Valerie Arioto, continue to play stellar defense and come hard with the speed and power (during her two-hit, regional-clinching shutout of the Buckeyes last Sunday, Arioto blasted her 19th homer, tying the school’s single-season record) in Athens, Ga., Cal could be back playing in one of my favorite sporting events.

Another blue-and-gold national title contender will be flexing its muscles this weekend, as Cal’s top-ranked women’s crew, led by Pac-10 coach of the year Dave O’Neill and senior coxswain Jill Costello, the Pac-10 athlete of the year, goes for an NCAA crown in Gold River, Calif. The Bears’ men’s golf team, paced by Pac-10 individual champion Eric Mina, competes in the NCAA championships next week in Chattanooga, Tenn., while the second-ranked men’s crew (and senior Nareg Guregian, the Pac-10 athlete of the year) battles for the IRA national championship in Camden, N.J., next weekend. Sophomore Jana Juricova, seeded second in the NCAA individual tennis championships, has a round-of-16 match Friday against Northwestern’s Maria Mosolova (also in Athens – hopefully she can catch some softball, and vice-versa), and she and partner Mari Andersson, fresh off Thursday’s come-from-behind, first-round victory over Florida’s Lauren Embree and Anastasia Revzina, continue their defense of their 2009 NCAA doubles crown with a round-of-16 match against Miami’s Gabriela Mejia and Laura Vallverdu. Finally, congratulations to the Cal women’s water polo team, which finished a program-best third at the NCAA championships earlier this month, and salutations to recently announced incoming basketball players Justin Cobbs (a transfer from Minnesota), Emerson Murray (described by SLAM as “the Canadian clone of John Wall”) and Avigiel Cohen, an Israeli national team member who is going to help Cal coach Joanne Boyle take her program to the promised land.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

lethargy addiction

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

As I mentioned during Tuesday’s column about the complications presented by the 30 percent rule, Titans halfback Chris Johnson has outperformed his rookie contract and wants a new one commensurate with his production. As a result, he has stayed away from the team’s offseason training activities, and there are rumblings that he might skip training camp as well if he doesn’t receive a new deal. Last week old friend Marshall Faulk(notes), in an interview with The Tennessean’s Jim Wyatt, advised Johnson to stay away until he gets paid. Later I caught up to Faulk (or maybe I just imagined I did) as the NFL Network analyst made like an early ’80s Michael Stipe – yes, Cal softball fans, I have Athens, Ga., on the mind – and laid it all out for CJ, to the tune of R.E.M.’s “Don’t Go Back to Rockville.”

Looking at your Twitter mentions, waiting for your agent to call back
Going to Miami Beach Memorial Day weekend, it’s a wrap
On a team that grinds you to the bone
They don’t give you any money they don’t owe
You’ll wind up in free agency, pushing 30 and nowhere left to go
Banged and bruised with creaky knees, broken down and on the shelf
I know it might sound strange, but I don’t think
You should go on back ‘till you get paid

Don’t go back to Nashville
Don’t go back to Nashville
Don’t go back to Nashville
And waste another year

Remember back in ’99? Said I’d hold out
Cause Polian was screwing me
I got traded to St. Louis
Who did we beat in the Super Bowl?
Right, Tennessee
So something better happen soon
Or they’ll have to find another running back

Don’t go back to Nashville
Don’t go back to Nashville
Don’t go back to Nashville
And waste another year

Two thousand yards – now they should feed you
If you were there they’d only bleed you
You are the fastest dude around, nobody can get you down and
They should show you the money
Well I know it might sound strange, but I believe
You’ll be gettin’ paid before too long

Don’t go back to Nashville
Don’t go back to Nashville
Don’t go back to Nashville
And waste another year

Don’t go back to Nashville
Don’t go back to Nashville
Don’t go back to Nashville
And waste another year

Michael Silver covers the NFL for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Mogotxt, Twitter and Facebook. Also check out ridewithsilver.com. Send Michael a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, May 28, 2010