Those Were the Fun Days, When Pete Carroll Ruled…

Q&A: Pete Carroll looks back 20 years after USC took a chance on twice-fired coach

Gary Klein (LA Times)  —  Twenty years ago, USC hired a twice-fired NFL coach named Pete Carroll.

For many Trojans fans and college football observers, it was not a popular choice.

“I’ve been an unpopular choice in the past,” Carroll said during his introductory news conference on Dec. 15, 2000. “What it is, it’s a challenge.”

Two decades later, Carroll is regarded as one of the most successful coaches in college and pro football history. He won two national titles at USC and has won a Super Bowl championship with the Seattle Seahawks.

1. Klein  —  Do you remember that day you were introduced at USC, and can you believe it’s been 20 years since?

I do remember that day. I remember kind of the tone and all of that. I remember my mentality: How I’m not going to be, you know, sacked (laughing) by what everybody else thought of what was going on. I remember I was trying to help [USC athletic director] Mike [Garrett]. He wanted to do it and he was just, he said ‘I don’t think they’re going to like this.’ (laughing).

2. You left USC 10 years ago [in January 2010]. You had overtures from multiple NFL teams before that. What made you decide it was the right move? Why the Seahawks?

[Former Seahawks Chief Executive] Tod Leiweke had a lot to do with it. And [owner] Paul Allen had a lot to do with it. Tod was a wonderful person and a guy that really wanted to make it right so it would be what it needed to be. He entered into the whole discussion about it differently than other guys. He wanted it to be exactly the way I needed it to be rather than, ‘This is the way we do it. Do you want the job?’ kind of thing. And that made a world of difference. Nobody else talked like that. And I trusted what he said. … I had so much control of the SC situation. You know when you’re there, you’re the GM and you’re the head coach and you’re everything to the job and the [athletic director’s] got 20 other sports. This felt like that. And it was not like I was so power hungry. … I had to have what was best for me to come across and all. And if I didn’t have that freedom, I wasn’t even interested. That’s why those other jobs were never hard to pass up.

3. There are people who still say you got out of town before the NCAA came down on USC. You said a few years ago that if you had known, you would have stayed.

Yeah, we didn’t know that that was going to happen. Remember, it was years in the making from when it started and we didn’t know if anything was ever going to happen. We weren’t hanging there like it was going to happen the next day or the next week or the next month. We didn’t think like that. Maybe we should have, but we didn’t. That wasn’t the issue at all.

4. Five years ago, Lane Kiffin was the offensive coordinator at Alabama, Steve Sarkisian had just been removed at USC, Ed Orgeron was the defensive line coach at LSU and Reggie Bush was kind of persona non grata at USC because of the sanctions. Five years later, Orgeron’s won a national title as LSU’s head coach, Kiffin is back in the SEC [as Mississippi’s head coach], Sarkisian is [offensive coordinator] at Alabama and Bush is co-hosting a national television show and can be welcomed back to USC. Any thoughts on that?

Well, really just thrilled for Eddie’s success. Particularly that he did it in Louisiana. Going home and all that. I was really glad that Reggie got to be received like the young man that he was when he was playing and having fun playing football and going to college and all that kind of stuff. I have not talked to him specifically about that so I don’t know what he feels, but I’m really happy for him and all that. Glad Sark got back in the saddle and got rolling again and is doing good and all that. And it’s always been a thrill to see what Lane is doing next (laughing).

5. When you coached at USC, you used to say that the NFL was the No Fun League. Has that view changed for you?

Yeah, I didn’t know how to do it before (laughing). Coming back to it now, in these 10 years I’ve had a blast. This is really fun. I’ve loved the relationship with the players, which I always really cherished in the NFL because the guys were always so serious and they love playing. People think that they’re big hotshots and that they’re hard to deal with. They’re not like that. They love what they’re doing, and they care so much and they compete so earnestly. Lots of times you feel like you’re pasting things on the college kids: You put sticky notes on them and stuff so they remember things. The relationship [with pros] is in a different stage of their lives. So I’ve always loved the league for that, and I’ve loved the league for how competitive it was. You’re going against the best in the world and you can’t ask for more than that if you really want to compete. So that’s always been fun and then this has been a marvelous place to work and to live and to represent. The fans are awesome and the support of the Allen family has been great and working with [general manager] John Schneider’s been great. It’s just been a really good-on-good-on-good deal. And I just want to win a few more though (laughing). But that’s always the case. I remember telling [former quarterbacks coach] Carl Smith, ‘You want to come in? We got maybe two or three years and they’ll give us a shot at this thing. They’ll probably kick us out and think we’re nuts.’ And so 10 years later who knew? I didn’t know how we’d be received. I thought we’d be successful, but I didn’t know how the way and the style and the approach and all that would be received. And as always, it’s always been under attack and scrutiny and people wondering how could you have fun: ‘You’re a professional coach, don’t you know you can’t have fun doing that?’ It’s just always been like I wanted it to be. It’s been good for the coaches and the families and I think it’s been good for the players too. They’ve had a good time doing it. They’ve always been able to see too that we’re still playing football. We’re still playing and that’s been probably my favorite thing about it.

Pete Carroll celebrates with Michael Robinson after the Seahawks’ win in the infamous “Fail Mary” game against the Green Bay Packers in 2012. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

6. At 69, you’re the oldest coach in the league. What’s it like competing in an NFC West against Sean McVay (age 34), Kyle Shanahan (40) and Kliff Kingsbury (41), all these young coaches?

Yeah, they’re frickin’ good, man (laughing). They’re all really good. They’re remarkable coaches. And why I’m so impressed with them is how well they’ve done so early in their careers. They’ve come so far so fast. I would have thought that it takes years and years to get your act together because it took me that long (laughing). Those guys have done so well so early that it’s really impressive. Shoot, they’re taxing me right now.

7. You made some changes in your diet and lifestyle a few years ago and you seem to be as energetic as ever on the sideline. Are you a vegetarian?

No, I wouldn’t call it that, but it’s a plant-based diet for sure. I’ve found that I had lot of aches and pains over the years, having a knee replacement and a bunch of surgeries, bones and noses and everything that’s been busted. And I used to ache a lot. And I don’t have that anymore. I used to have arthritis. I attribute it to diet, so I think that’s been a wonderful gift. I had no idea. I didn’t do it for that reason and I realized it after the fact that things changed. It’s a marvelous way to go for people who are really hurting because that’s an uncomfortable lifestyle.

8. You famously used to chew several packs of bubble gum during practices. Have you eliminated sugar completely?

I haven’t nailed that completely. I chew gum only on game days, but it really doesn’t work with masks (laughing). You know the whole mask thing, jumping up and down, so that’s really cut back on my Bubble Yum.

9. You seem to continue to remain diverse with off-the-field projects like the podcast you’ve done with Steve Kerr and other community things.

I had a wonderful run with “A Better LA.” That was really one of my favorite things I was ever involved with. That was really an important challenge at the time. Always have tried to stay connected to that mentality, you know, that helping and working and learning and growing and understanding people that are different than you, and seeing where you can help and all that kind of stuff. It’s been a real avocation. I love that work. Right now we have a new group that we’re working with. It’s called Amplify Voices, and we’re helping people that need to be heard because of the marvelous work and things that they do and all that. Really excited about it. The work kind of continues and it’s somehow always related.

10. You recently addressed that you received a contract extension. So how long do you want to keep doing this?

I’m kind of on the five-year plan. I’m going for it and I have no angst about what’s next or the decision-making. I’m just going for it until it seems obvious to do something different. And I’m really having the time of my life. … Things sometimes change when you least expect it for unexpected reasons. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I don’t care about doing anything else. I’d like to just keep winning. The winning is really fun and I love coaching the guys. We’re playing with a quarterback [Russell Wilson] that’s a career quarterback. I love Russ and everything about what he stands for, [linebacker] Bobby Wagner and the guys that lead this team and so it’s just been a really special opportunity and we’re having fun. But it’s frickin’ hard to win.

11. Finally, when you come back to LA, is it like any other game or does it resonate as different?

Of course. I love that we had so much fun and we were able to create memories and all that kind of good stuff with so many people and we had so much fun at SC … It was just a blast. And for the longest time I never thought how could I ever want to do anything different. I couldn’t even imagine that. That was really clear in my brain that that was the truth until I got challenged again, you know, and the challenge of it, the competitiveness of it, and it was stronger than anticipated. … I used to say that all the time, that this is as good as it gets and I meant it. But if you truly are a competitor and that’s what your life is based on then that overrides everything and you’ve got to go for it. And that’s exactly what happened. And even knowing that and this is the hardest, most challenging level to be on, still, I wasn’t going to go because the situations weren’t going to be the right one. So fortunately it turned out and we made something of it. It’s fit together and it worked. … So anyway, when I come back to L.A., I looking forward to seeing the place. We’ve flown over the stadium a couple times during the process when it was being built. It’s just got to be an extraordinary place. I’m really grateful that I have the feeling I have and the relationships that we were able to establish over all the years. … It was a blast so I’m grateful to be connected to it all.

Pete Carroll gets doused in the waning moments of the Trojans’ victory over Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl to claim the national championship.
(Robert Gauthier / LA Times)

__________

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rleeholder1
Noble Member
December 2, 2020 9:31 am

I don’t blame Pete for going after the NFL opportunity Seattle gave him. I do think the timing was bad as it looked like he dodged a bullet at USC. Also, I think he knew more about “Bushgate” than he’s letting on. It boils my blood that Reggie still has not come out with a public statement on what happened.

Trojan5
Knighted Member
rleeholder1
Noble Member
December 3, 2020 3:32 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Seems to be that way in the Corporate world I worked in for over 40 years. I was one of the few guys who made it to the top without being a “brown nozer”. I let the combination of hard work, frequent communication (especially when the news was negative) and making key connections pave the way. It kind of pisses me off that Bush met with the USC Administration privately and has never come clean publicly. He apparently convinced them to let him back into the Trojan Family and not be banned anymore. Anyways, I’m not a fan of him… Read more »

TrojanRJJ
Diamond Member
December 1, 2020 6:30 pm

There are certain people who are simply gifted at coaching. Pete was one of them. I personally think the greatest coach I have witnessed in my lifetime was Bill Snyder of Kansas State. What he did at that school is utterly remarkable and I think he does not get the credit due him. Prior to his arrival, Kansas State football made Vandy football look like AL under Saban or Bryant. It is in the middle of no where and was beyond repair. Yet Bill Snyder turned it into a top 10 program.

LawyerJohn
Knighted Member
December 2, 2020 8:23 am
Reply to  TrojanRJJ

Count me in as a Bill Snyder fan. I recall one of his teams handling SC one year.

John Weld
Admin
Diamond Member
December 1, 2020 5:03 pm

USC basketball is playing in the Roman Legends Classic. The Trojan’s played the first game of the tournament today beating the favored BYU Cougars, 79 to 53.
USC is now 3-0 on the season and will play UCONN, on Thursday, in the second round of the tournament.

Last edited 1 month ago by John Weld
Jamaica
Knighted Member
December 1, 2020 6:34 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Where’s the respect? There are multiple teams with 2-losses and one just above at 3-losses that are all ahead of Clay Helton’s managing program. The PAC-12 & Clay Helton will seemingly throttle what this program accomplishes in the eyes of those who rate CFB. Will the PAC-12 ever strive collectively to compete at the same level the other Power 5 conferences do? And will Carol Folt ever realize how she is missing the boat on supporting the potential that USC can accomplish in its foot all program? In the meantime, USC continues to be a forgotten and disrespected player in… Read more »

rleeholder1
Noble Member
December 2, 2020 9:17 am
Reply to  Jamaica

There are 5 Big-10 teams ahead of us which boggles my mind. Larry Scott and the PAC Presidents did a number on the PAC-12 conference by not, at a minimum, starting the season at the same time as the Big-10. I just saw some non-CFP Bowl projections and SC is projected to be in the Fiesta Bowl on January 2,2021 against Iowa State. As I now am in Bullhead City, AZ, driving down to see the game in Glendale, AZ would be fun if SC makes it and fans are allowed to attend.

Last edited 1 month ago by rleeholder1
TrojanRJJ
Diamond Member
December 2, 2020 9:44 am
Reply to  Jamaica

Jamaica, Once again we agree. But, the disrespect is well earned. So far, not one SC opponent has won a game. And, SC was handled by an awful AZ team (which I doubt will win a game this year). In addition, even with five turn overs, SC failed to win convincingly against Utah, not even scoring a TD in the 2nd half. Clay also has a well earned reputation as an at best mediocre coach who squanders talent and fails to develop it. Never thought I would see the day when the Pac does not have a top 20 team.… Read more »

John Weld
Admin
Diamond Member
December 1, 2020 1:25 pm

USC Football has been officially cleared by the County Health Department and the PAC-12 to resume football practice activities.
If the players decide to respect the football bubble then we will be playing on Sunday.

RialtoTrojan
Noble Member
December 1, 2020 12:58 pm

I remember being told I was on the “bandwagon” when Pete was in the middle of his successful run. I got to a point where I didn’t even care what people said. I was actually sitting in the same seats I occupied before 2000. There is so much to like about a game at the Coliseum that great football was a bonus.

Chris
Knighted Member
December 1, 2020 3:33 pm
Reply to  RialtoTrojan

I love the whole bandwagon thing, as if that matters. As a lifelong Raiders and fan I understand the agony of defeat (old enough for thrill of victory with them as well), but if they all of the sudden started winning again I wouldn’t care if others jumped on. My family jumped on post season Dodgers and had a blast coming over to watch the games with my dad and I, knowing we were lifers. I hope USC football has a whole bunch of the bandwagon folks soon, it means we’re winning or fun.

TrojanRJJ
Diamond Member
December 2, 2020 9:47 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I think this is the best story in the 2020 Trojans. It is obvious that Sean Snyder has control over his personnel. Clay would never have allowed a true frosh to beat out an established player (look at Toa, for example). But Snyder let the best player get the job and the true frosh is clearly the best player. Chase wants to play, so he is moving on, which also makes a lot of sense, because Chase may have a NFL career in his future.

LawyerJohn
Knighted Member
December 1, 2020 11:28 am

Many thought Pete got out of ‘Dodge’ because he saw the Bush sanctions headed SC’s way, but I will buy his explanation. It did take a lot of time for ‘Bushgate’ to fully evolve, and Pete finally got his NFL dream offer in Seattle where he was granted dictator-like control. Besides, it is hard not to like Coach Carroll.

John Weld
Admin
Diamond Member
December 1, 2020 1:35 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

As you stated, no one but Lane Kiffin wanted the job and that was because every coach in the country knew the NCAA was going to come down hard on USC, so for Pete to say he did not have any idea about that, is pure BS.

Steveg
Mt Rushmore
December 1, 2020 1:50 pm
Reply to  John Weld

I can understand Pete taking off for the Seahawks. He was offered everything he ever wanted, how could he resist. He probably knew some trouble was coming, but NOBODY could have seen what the ncaa did to USC coming at them. I will never understand USC bending over and just taking it from them like they did.

redondob
Active Member
December 1, 2020 3:08 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

IMO a recurring problem at USC has been deferring to the lawyers rather than making the tough management decision based on the bigger picture.

In the cases of Puliafito and Tyndall, they were afraid of tenure lawsuits and tried to pay them off to disappear rather than firing them.
.
My corporate lawyers always told me they they could make legal recommendations, but in the end, I had to decide on behalf of the organization.

ATL D.D.S.
Diamond Member
December 2, 2020 5:02 am
Reply to  redondob

In any corporate or government structure, very few people want to make a tough public decision….

UtahTrojan
Knighted Member
December 1, 2020 3:11 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

The BOT may have had a lot to do with it, but just the threat made almost everything go away with Penn St.

John Weld
Admin
Diamond Member
December 1, 2020 3:03 pm
Reply to  Steveg

I will agree that the Seattle job was the perfect scenario for Pete and that no one could have imagined the severity of the NCAA penalties but Pete has repeated the statement several times that he was surpised that USC was penalized at all, and that he would have stayed at USC if he thought they were going to be penalized, and that I find to be BS.

UtahTrojan
Knighted Member
December 1, 2020 3:10 pm
Reply to  John Weld

I agree that Pete knew something was headed down the tracks, but I don’t believe he thought the near death penalty would be the punishment. For what Pete did for USC I harbor zero hard feelings.

UtahTrojan
Knighted Member
December 1, 2020 3:08 pm
Reply to  Steveg

It’s called Pat Haden, who I seriously suspect has stronger alliances with Notre Dame now than he does with USC.

Jamaica
Knighted Member
December 1, 2020 5:54 pm
Reply to  Steveg

Absolutely and then some…… PC was being wined & dined by NFL teams it seemed like every summer. But he didn’t jump at the first offer that came. And that should tell people he wasn’t unhappy still being at USC. In fact he turned down two possibly three serious offers to leave CFB. Some said what he demanded, no owner was going to give him that much power. But when the Seahawk’s did, how could he turn it down? Would anyone in his position turn it down? I will forever be grateful for PC coming here and turning a football… Read more »

LawyerJohn
Knighted Member
December 2, 2020 7:33 am
Reply to  Jamaica

All so true. And even if Pete’s hands are a bit dirty, it does me no good to hold a grudge against the guy. I would rather reflect on how he brought national championships to SC for the first time in a quarter of a century! The ’80s and ’90s saw the Trojans in 13-game lapses to ND, and an 8-game losing streak to sucla.

UtahTrojan
Knighted Member
December 1, 2020 3:02 pm
Reply to  LawyerJohn

I think the pace of the investigation by the ncaa was also meant to be part of the pain they intent to inflict. It made recruiting harder with that hanging over the program

ATL D.D.S.
Diamond Member
December 2, 2020 5:05 am
Reply to  UtahTrojan

I hate the fat dead guy from MIA that ran the infractions committee for the NCAA. I still need to make a road trip so I can piss on his grave….

ATL D.D.S.
Diamond Member
December 2, 2020 7:12 am
Reply to  ATL D.D.S.

Paul Dee–I remembered his name. Fat bastard giving USC the shaft while Rap Stars were paying the players at Miami–where he was president or AD.

ATL D.D.S.
Diamond Member
December 2, 2020 7:13 am
Reply to  ATL D.D.S.

And yes, I think holding grudges are appropriate at times….

UtahTrojan
Knighted Member
December 2, 2020 11:32 am
Reply to  ATL D.D.S.

I am with you on this one. The level of corruption at Miami while they were trashing USC was amazing. Making it worse was Miami received a slap on the hand.