Pete Carroll's Departure Signals The End Of USC's Dominance

January 11, 2010

The rumors have been officially confirmed -- Pete Carroll is leaving USC to become the Head Coach of the Seattle Seahawks.

Many will claim that Carroll is running to save his neck from a Trojans program that is slowly falling from its lofty perch.

They will note that when Carroll threw a fit during Mark Sanchez's news conference last year, it was because he knew then that the Trojans national title hopes had gone down the drain.

Those detractors also will observe that the 2009 Trojans suffered numerous Pac 10 defeats while starting a true freshman quarterback. Moreover, NCAA trouble threatens to doom the program with scandals involving Reggie Bush, Joe McKnight, and the cover up of an assistant coach's chemical addiction.

Others will counter that Carroll is free to leave 'SC guilt-free, having invested a decade of blood, sweat, and tears putting the Men of Troy back atop college football's elites. They will point out that Carroll owed no duty to restore USC's now lost aura of invincibility.

Finally, a third faction of talking heads will argue that Carroll ultimately has unfinished business in the pros, and that it was only a matter of time until he went back to the NFL.

In fact, all three viewpoints are partly correct.

What is not being discussed, however, is just what long term impact Carroll's departure will have on USC.

The Effect on USC

Last season, USC lost its aura of invincibility, losing 4 games in Pac 10 Conference play. Now that Carroll's gone, there is no guarantee that its invincibility will return anytime soon.

Although Carroll's successor will inherit several excellent talents such as Barkley and running back Marc Tyler, those returning players alone will not re-elevate the program to the customary Top 5 status it enjoyed the past decade. And the reason for that will be the loss of the team's true engine - Pete Carroll himself.

Carroll's strength lay in more than just X's, O's, and scheme. With Carroll, his unique personality was his best asset.

Carroll was a relentlessly positive person who also happened to be a tenacious competitor. That combination produced two immediate benefits for the USC program: (1) an "always compete" team spirit on the field, and (2) a magnetic recruiting draw off of it.

When Carroll took over 'SC, the school was a decent bowl-caliber school with a rich tradition from an elite conference, but certainly not the BCS monster it would soon become.

Carroll, however, was able to effectuate a quick turnaround before having had the benefit of seeing his first recruiting class put 4 years under their belts. He was able to do this by changing the team's attitude.

Under Carroll, practices became quicker and more enthusiastic. Starting jobs were open to everyone under a "may the best man win" philosophy. Moreover, every play of every game was treated with the respect that it deserved.

In blowouts or against inferior competition, Carroll often challenged both his team and his opponents by going for it on 4th down. In other words, Carroll honored his foes by still treating them as potential threats to win the game, rather than as some harmless kid brother. In doing so, he elevated the standard of play in the Pac 10.

That drive and "always compete" mantra served him even more on the recruiting trail.

Not only was Carroll able to nab California prep stars such as Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Winston Justice, and Barkley, but he was also able to recruit the elite preps from other states. Joe McKnight was a Louisiana kid. Running Back LenDale White was from Colorado. Receiver Dwayne Jarrett was a Jersey guy. All of which proves that Carroll had a truly national recruiting reach.

Even more impressive, Carroll stockpiled talent at certain positions, but was able to convince incoming recruits at those same positions to come to Los Angeles.

In a recruiting world of playing time guarantees, Carroll instead put the onus on the recruit - and the recruit's ego - to rise to the occasion and win the job. That approach worked masterfully, as Carroll at one time had a tailback depth chart with as many as 10 players.

A clear example of this tactic can be seen with backup QB Mitch Mustain, who went 8-0 as a freshman starter at Arkansas only to transfer to USC.

Since his arrival, Mustain has not gotten off the bench, but dutifully continues to practice with the belief that he will improve simply by being in such a competitive environment. And perhaps Mustain is correct, as he need look no further than prior Trojan backup Matt Cassell, now the starter at quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs.

However, with Carroll's approach and charisma removed from USC's recruiting process, the program could now return back to the rest of the pack.

Already some of this year's prospective signees are having second thoughts about their verbal commitments. More importantly, however, is the long term picture.

Long Term Recruiting Impact

For the past 30 years the three states which have produced the greatest college football talent have been California, Texas, and Florida. In fact, California's Long Beach Poly High School seemingly has put more players in the NFL than some universities.

Typically, the school which can monopolize the best recruits from one of those three states will put itself into the national championship picture.

Take Florida for example. In the 80's, Miami essentially owned the state recruiting battle, and that translated directly into a national championship under Jimmy Johnson. Later, Bobby Bowden began to win out some of the state's best, and Florida State began its run of top 10 finishes. Currently, the University of Florida has taken the lead, and correspondingly, has put itself into the national title picture.

USC has been in a similar situation, as it has been the top attraction for the truly elite prep stars in California. Were that to change in any way, so too would the program's fortunes.

Unfortunately for 'SC, history has shown that it takes a unique coach to maintain that prestige on the recruiting trail. Tradition, facilities, and superior climate do not guarantee dominance, as past coaches Paul Hackett, Ted Tollner, and Larry Smith all have discovered.

So in all likelihood, a shift in the balance of power could be coming, regardless of who the Trojans hire.

Next year Oregon is expected to be the favorite in the Pac 10, not 'SC.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, UCLA has an up-and-coming program that certainly will be able to make inroads on the Trojans stranglehold over local talent. The Bruins figure to be particularly effective getting talented offensive players, as they have the lure of a star offensive coordinator in Norm Chow.

Then of course, there are the out-of-conference threats dipping into the California talent base. With Boise State playing in a BCS bowl, the WAC and the Mountain West certainly have become more high profile destinations for California preps.

So, expect the Trojans to remain an upper-echelon Pac 10 school, and a Top 25 team. Expect them to be in a BCS bowl or two in the next two years. But an invincible, year in and year out Top 5 program, similar to the Bush-Leinart days? Highly unlikely.

Those days went out the window when Pete Carroll departed.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for


  1. Not so fast. Kiffin is back, with his dad and Norm Chow. USC will be fine.

  2. Dreadnaught,

    Monte Kiffin is a huge asset, and so is Orgeron. Getting Lane Kiffin also should keep some of the recruits from running, but over the long haul his attitude will also drive people away.

    Also, Shelly Smith's report might be wrong. I don't think Chow has been confirmed. Why would he leave one assistant post for another?

  3. Why would Chow leave the Bruins to work with that lil punk? Kiffin used to be Chow's intern at 'SC.

    Plus, Chow would be making a lateral move, going from assistant to assistant positions, but no head coaching gig.

    I luv it. Chow turned those fools down and said he'll stay in Westwood!

  4. Kiffin is livin off his pops' name. he comes off as a brat with a bad attitude which probably hurts the trojans recruiting.


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