I’ll never forget the day I met former USC head football coach Pete Carroll. It was 1997, I was living in Boston, and my New England Patriots (coming off a Super Bowl loss and the departure of Bill Parcells) had just hired Carroll as our head coach. I was walking into a bar that he was walking out of and I asked him if we were going to be a Super Bowl team again. He grabbed me by my lapels, got in my face, and excitedly said, “You just get ready to get pumped up about New England Patriots football!” Not being local, Pete didn’t yet realize that in Boston, we stay pumped up about Patriots football. But the thing I remember most is walking away thinking, “What is this, college?”
In four seasons as an NFL head coach, three with the Pats and one disastrous 6-10 season with the New York Jets, Pete’s teams won more than they lost only twice; and both times were with rosters built by Parcells. Carroll left USC five months ago for a shiny new $33 million contract to coach the Seattle Seahawks. But unfortunately for his new team, Pete Carroll is not a leader of men. After watching him bail on his players, his coaching staff, and the university that paid him more than $25 million over the past decade rather than take responsibility for rules violations that took place on his watch, it should be clear to everyone that Pete Carroll just isn’t much of a leader.
Four years ago, the NCAA was compelled to open an investigation into the athletics department at USC when it was discovered that former running back Reggie Bush’s parents had been living in a $750,000 house provided by a sports agent. It turned out that there was also a women’s tennis player, Gabriela Niculescu, who was allowed to run up thousands of dollars in long-distance phone charges; and the only big-time basketball player the school has seen in recent memory, O.J. Mayo, was recruited because of a man the NCAA had labeled an agent’s representative.
The football team, however, had much bigger issues than just one guy who only attended college because his professional sports league of choice said he had to wait a year before he could join. The USC football team had already been placed on probation and had scholarships reduced for allowing tutors to write papers for players (on Pete’s watch) in 2001, so there was no way the NCAA could let the university get away with policing itself. Coach Carroll’s team basically had an open-door policy at practice, in the locker room, and on the sideline for boosters and bagmen alike. And I’m sorry, but nothing good can come from having rapper/actor/pothead/pimp Snoop Doggy Dogg hanging around young men who are supposed to be student-athletes.
In a report released last week, the NCAA correctly concluded there was a lack of institutional control (ya think?) when it came to the athletic department and hit USC football with what’s known as the “death penalty.” Among other sanctions, there will be no bowl games or postseason play for two years, 30 scholarships lost over three years, and vacation of all victories from December of 2004 through the Trojans’ national championship over Oklahoma in 2005, which, of course, encompasses the undefeated 2004 season. It turns out that USC’s toughest opponent that year wore number five — and played for the Trojans.
Make no mistake about it: Pete Carroll could have gone back to the NFL at any time over the past three off-seasons. If he had made it known that he wanted to try his hand at coaching a pro team again, some team owner somewhere would have dumped his head guy, backed the money truck up Pete’s driveway in Palos Verdes, and thrown open the doors. It hadn’t happened before this off-season because Coach Carroll had it made at USC as the highest-paid private university employee in America, making about $4.5 million per year. He had also previously indicated he would want total control of football operations, meaning he would basically be head coach and general manager of whatever NFL team hired him. He backed off of that demand when the NCAA rejected USC’s self-imposed football team sanctions and he hurriedly took the Seahawks job. In fact, he announced his resignation from USC and his hiring in Seattle at the exact same time. Some of the players he recruited — and whose parents he’d made promises to — found out via news reports and not from their coach.
So when it became clear that the NCAA was going to bring the hammer down on USC football for what went on while he was in charge (including a call to running backs coach Todd McNair from Reggie Bush’s illicit business partners spelling out Reggie’s infractions in detail), coach Pete Carroll just skipped town and left it to others to clean up the mess the he knew — or should have known — that his star running back was making of the program.
That’s not what I call leadership.
Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider with four-quadrant crossover appeal who thinks the NCAA’s principle of amateurism is outdated and it’s time to pay the college students who generate billions of dollars for the NCAA and it’s corporate partners. His past columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.