Pete Pushed The Envelope
People who know I wrote the first book on Pete Carroll, “Always Compete,” (St. Martins Press), have been coming up to me ever since he bolted for the NFL to ask the same question.
“Do you think he knew?”
My answer never varies. He had to know the NCAA sanctions were coming. I doubt he expected them to be as overwhelmingly severe as they were, but that still doesn’t do much for his image. He left the Trojans when they were about to be hammered for infractions that occurred during his tenure.
It was a lot like LeBron James. It wasn’t the classiest of exits.
What is interesting is that Carroll is about to return to Southern California this week to hype his own book, “Win Forever,” your basic motivational-type, coach-speak item that is likely to sell well, at least among those more forgiving Trojan fans.
In his book tour of other cities, the new Seattle Seahawks coach has been fielding questions about the USC mess and giving his own spin on it, basically claiming he never knew the plethora of riches Reggie Bush and his parents were accepting from fledgling agents in San Diego.
When I was writing my book, I had to address the same issue. I couldn’t finish it without getting Carroll’s take on the Bush problem and the sanctions everyone knew were coming. I look back now, on page 124 of the book, and I’m startled at Carroll’s reaction.
“I am held responsible,” he says. “What difference is it if it’s fair, or not? It would be bad if I didn’t recognize what my responsibility is. It’s my job to educate the players, their families, and extended family. I have to make them aware of the seriousness of the situation.”
That’s not exactly what he’s saying now, is it?
“OK,” people ask me, “so what is your real opinion of him at this point?”
Well, first of all, you can’t take away what he accomplished in nine years at USC. He elevated the program to a level few, if any, in this era have reached. He made the Trojans a bigtime national brand again and placed them right there, in the same rarefied environs with the Lakers in Southern California.
No one, not even the great John McKay, had a more spectacular, consistent run.
But what happened near the end, I think, is what happens to lots of successful people. They begin to believe they can do no wrong. They begin to think they are powerful enough to play by their own rules.
Pete did what so many winning coaches before him have done. He pushed the envelope.
He allowed the best offensive coordinator/play caller of the modern era to get away. He let his best recruiter and toughest disciplinarian leave. He hired at least one extra coach and/or adviser even though he knew it was against NCAA rules. And maybe, just maybe, he looked the other way when Reggie drove around the surrounding neighborhood in that tricked out car of his, or he failed to wonder why Bush’s parents, who were hardly your basic affluent USC mom and dad, somehow managed to make it to every game on the road.
Was it all his fault? No. Athletic Director Mike Garrett oversees the program and it is his responsibility to make sure coaches don’t run wild with power. Bush and his family, of course, are the main culprits.
But if, as it now appears, former assistant Todd McNair knew what was going on with Reggie, it’s difficult to believe his boss wasn’t aware of at least part of it.
All this would have been so much easier to deal with if Carroll were still at USC. He could have stood up, absorbed the blows and carried on from there.
But he left for Seattle, just like LeBron fled for Miami. The similarities are striking. They took care of themselves first and let others deal with the fallout.
So Carroll can spin it any way he wants this week. But the sad, bittersweet fact remains.
It is difficult to preach winning forever if you’re spotted slipping out the back door just before the storm clouds are about to arrive.
— Steve Bisheff