The model of bliss

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – They all seem to call these days, whether they're moving from college to the pros or from the NFL to college. Coaches all want Pete Carroll's advice about what's right, about what's not, about what's waiting for them.

He's become the sage of the profession, the career-advice guru, because Pete Carroll has the life they all want.

Which is interesting because, just over four years ago, he was unemployed.

"I'm not surprised it turned out so well," said Carroll, the head coach of Southern California, as he prepared his team for the Orange Bowl and another national championship here in bright, sunny South Florida on Sunday. "I always thought it would turn out well. I expected it."

Carroll is eternally optimistic and confident. So perhaps he did expect this when, after being fired for the second time in the NFL (Jets, Patriots) and sitting out a year, he began pursuing college jobs even though he hadn't coached in the NCAA since being an assistant at the University of the Pacific in 1983.

Leave it to Carroll to talk USC into turning over its cherished but challenged program to him.

The Trojans are 41-9 since Carroll got the job, including 35-3 over the last three seasons. Last year the Trojans went 12-1 and were named AP national champs. A victory Tuesday over Oklahoma would secure the BCS championship and 13-0 mark this season.

As good as Southern California has been through the years, it has never been better than this three-year stretch. Incredibly, the way Carroll has been able to recruit, USC's future might be even brighter than its present if that is possible.

"We have such a young, talented team, it's scary to think about," said Heisman trophy quarterback Matt Leinart, one of 17 starters who could return next year.

Which is why, as happy as winning coaches generally look, it is difficult to imagine anyone ever projecting a more content self than Carroll.

At 53, tan and fit, Carroll clearly is having the time of his life.

"Coach Carroll has a saying, 'Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent what you do with it,'" defensive end Frostee Rucker said. "I think that's why he is [so positive]. He says the day he got fired [by the Patriots] was the best day of his life because he knew a better opportunity was coming."

While Carroll was by no means a washout as an NFL coach – 34-33 in four seasons – no one could have envisioned this much success happening this quickly. He looked like a good hire. He turned out to be a great one.

"A lot of people told me SC would never be at this level because times had changed, recruiting had changed, scholarships had changed," Carroll said. "I said, 'I guess we'll see.'"

His NFL credibility and naturally enthusiastic motivational style have worked perfectly with college kids. But it's his ability as a recruiter that no one saw coming.

After 18 years away from the player procurement business, Carroll hit the road four years ago – and immediately became perhaps the best recruiter in the nation.

The talent in the program is stunning. The Trojans lost four starters to either injury or eligibility this year and didn't miss a beat. That includes wideout Mike Williams, who may be better than both Leinart and fellow Heisman finalist Reggie Bush and could go No. 1 in the NFL draft.

While many coaches, especially ones with NFL experience, dread recruiting, Carroll says he loves it.

"It depends on who you are recruiting for," Carroll says with a smile.

"When I was at [Pacific] no one wanted to talk to you. It was like selling a product that nobody wants," Carroll says. "Our situation, recruiting for SC, it's awesome. Kids are excited to see us in their high school. They want to talk to us. People think it is a drag, a grind. It isn't any of those things.

"I didn't know how much I would enjoy it."

Which is why the coaches call. The partition between coaching in the NFL and college is breaking down. The era of long-term contracts – think: Paterno, Landry, Bowden – is over.

A quarter century with the same school or NFL team used to be the model of coaching bliss.

Now Pete Carroll is.

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