A familiar-looking man unexpectedly roamed the sideline at Edison Field the other night when Long Beach Poly faced Loyola in a Southern Section championship game.
No one knew why Pete Carroll might be interested in two high school teams that play some 3,000 miles from his home on the East Coast. Carroll didn't say.
But the former New England Patriot coach took a moment to approach two USC players, tight end Antoine Harris and cornerback Darrell Rideaux, also watching from the sideline.
"He walked up and introduced himself," Harris said. "We talked for a little while."
Carroll did not need to mention that he had interviewed for the Trojans' vacant coaching spot. His lingering presence in Southern California--days after he spoke to USC officials--had been enough to fuel speculation about his chances of landing the job.
After two full weeks, without any clear signal from Heritage Hall, the coaching search was made of such things.
It seemed simpler when the Trojans clearly pursued Oregon State Coach Dennis Erickson or Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti. The current leading man, San Diego Charger Coach Mike Riley, was said to be sitting on the fence, unsure whether he wanted a job that, officially, he had yet to be offered.
If not Riley, then who?
Carroll was initially thought to be a longshot, a guy hanging around Los Angeles to watch his daughter, Jaime, and her teammates on the USC women's volleyball team win their regional final last Friday.
But with Riley undecided, Carroll was suddenly mentioned in the media as a viable candidate. The fact that he remained in town over the weekend only fed the flames.
The other name on the radar screen continued to be Colorado State Coach Sonny Lubick, who insisted he was content in Fort Collins, Colo., but was also known to be intrigued by USC.
Published reports had Lubick coming to Los Angeles for an official interview today but the coach, reached by telephone on a recruiting trip Sunday evening, said that was untrue.
In speculation further on the fringe, USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett was reportedly spotted lunching with Florida State offensive coordinator Mark Richt in New York last week. This tale came with an internal logic. Garrett was in the city to attend the Heisman Trophy ceremony and Richt was accompanying the eventual award winner, quarterback Chris Weinke, to the same affair.
At least one problem: Richt was in Tallahassee, Fla., watching the whole thing on television.
Still, heading into week No. 3 of the coaching search, the guesswork heated up with rumors that USC will extend an offer in the next few days.
Riley remained the favorite, followed closely by Carroll and Lubick. Of course, there was talk of a mystery candidate.