Dec. 30, 2006
LOS ANGELES (AP) -Southern California coach Pete Carroll grinned at reporters as he sprinted by with several of his players during a recent practice.
That's Carroll, being one of the boys.
"He participates in practice like he still has a couple plays in him," defensive end Lawrence Jackson said. "He's living out his dream."
And yet, Carroll is the unquestioned leader of an elite program that will be making an unprecedented fifth straight Bowl Championship Series appearance Monday against No. 3 Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
"I've seen him angry, when people mess up," linebacker Dallas Sartz said. "He's tough when he needs to be."
Jackson said Carroll is constantly surprising his players - in a good way.
"He does some things you don't expect him to do, like sing a rap song," Jackson said. "If you're having a bad day, he can cheer you up. His attitude is contagious. He's not artificial at all, he is what he is. He's not going to change for anybody.
"I don't know how old he is. He's something going on 22."
The 55-year-old Carroll has gone from a deposed NFL coach to unemployment for a year to fame and fortune at USC, guiding the eighth-ranked Trojans to a 64-12 record in six seasons.
His players seem to love him. They've certainly bought into his philosophies.
"He wants us to treat every game like it's the most important one there is," Sartz said. "You don't have to do anything special, you just have to do your job."
But that's not all - having fun is part of the deal.
"Some of the stuff he does is just goofy," Sartz said. "What you see is what you get. When he's out here (at practice), he's one of the guys, playing catch with everybody, running around, playing safety. It's fun to play for a coach like that."
Carroll has certainly done it his way, and his success has triggered several rumors in recent years that he's headed back to the NFL for big bucks.
He continually denies it, saying he's most happy where he is.
Maybe the NFL wasn't ready for the likes of Carroll in the 1990s, when he coached the New York Jets for one season and the New England Patriots for three.
Maybe it's not ready now.
"They don't have to be ready for it," Carroll said. "You have to adapt, fit in if you want to stay there."
Jackson, for one, believes Carroll is in the perfect place.
"I don't think he could be like this in the NFL - you have to be composed," Jackson said. "It's businesslike. The guys are there to work hard, collect their check and go home. We don't get a check, we're here to have fun."
Carroll said having fun is not a goal he's set, but it's clearly a byproduct.
"There's no reason you can't work really hard and be really strict and have fun," he said. "There's a rigid line of theory that goes along with what we're doing. The goal is to do really well. Every day we practice hard. Every day we practice fast. If it's not fun, then I'm blowing it in my approach.
"Nobody asked me about this when I was in the NFL. They thought it might be too far out there. What's really been cool is I've had free reign to create the culture that I've wanted it to be here. The level of seriousness that has embraced the NFL is outside of the norm."
Patriots owner Robert Kraft fired Carroll following the 1999 season. Carroll's teams were 27-21 and twice made the playoffs, but that wasn't enough. Kraft struck gold with his next hire, getting Bill Belichick, who's led New England to three Super Bowl victories.
"I was a new owner at that time," Kraft said Saturday by telephone from Florida. "I don't think I fully appreciated how good he really was. I think the biggest handicap he had when he was with us was the way the organization was structured. We didn't allow him to flourish. I take responsibility for that.
"He has a different style. He's genuine, he's a true person, he's not a phony. People in New England are a little different from people in California. I think USC should be really happy to have him and they should cherish him. Pete was one of the finest human beings I've ever been around in this business."
Carroll was hired at USC following the 2000 season, and he wasn't the first choice. But he turned out to be the best choice. The Trojans went 6-6 in his first year, but they're 57-6 since then including 10-2 this season.
"I've been around a lot of coaches. I can just tell you, this guy has the special ingredient that a lot of guys don't have, and that's how to do this in an exciting and fun way," said USC offensive line coach Pat Ruel, who's finishing his 33rd year in coaching including seven as an NFL assistant.
"You love the game even more when you're around him. The whole program is based on competition - it brings out the best in all of us. And having fun."