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USC Goes Carrolling

College football: Former Jet and Patriot coach is Garrett's choice to succeed Hackett.


Pete Carroll has been here before.

The media wondered if he was too inexperienced to become the New York Jet coach in 1994.

New England Patriot fans questioned if he was good enough to replace Bill Parcells in 1997.

"I've been an unpopular choice in the past," Carroll says. "What it is, it's a challenge."

Carroll took on another challenge Friday when he was introduced as the new USC football coach, a controversial selection at the end of a long and often tumultuous search.

Almost three weeks after USC ended its season with a disappointing 5-7 record and fired Paul Hackett, the university signed Carroll to a five-year contract. Though financial terms were not released, sources put his salary close to $1 million a year.

USC had originally hoped to land a prominent college coach, pursuing Oregon State's Dennis Erickson and Oregon's Mike Bellotti, both of whom decided to stay put.

In recent days, the choice came down to a pair of NFL names, Carroll and San Diego Charger Coach Mike Riley.

Riley was entangled in contractual obligations and had second thoughts about uprooting his family. Athletic Director Mike Garrett turned to Carroll, a coach he had tried to hire once before, in 1997.

"He couldn't take [the job] at that time," Garrett said. "I'm excited that he's finally here."

Carroll, 49, comes to USC with 26 years experience, having started his coaching career as an assistant at schools such as Ohio State and North Carolina State. The last 16 years, however, were spent exclusively in professional football.

He was an NFL wunderkind when he took over the Jets in 1994. He was fired--unfairly, some said--after one season when the team lost five games in a row to finish 6-10.

Then came a three-year stint in New England, where he took over a Super Bowl runner-up. The Patriots made the playoffs the next two seasons but never quite matched the success they had under Parcells.

Carroll was again fired after the team finished 8-8 in his third season. He spent last season out of football.

So USC represents a new chance for a man still trying to prove he can be a successful head coach. He retains a reputation for being smart and energetic, a defensive specialist who molded top-ranked squads with the Jets and later, as a coordinator, with the San Francisco 49ers.

That caught Garrett's eye.

"I wanted someone who was really strong on defense," he said.

On Friday, Carroll talked about his preference for aggressive schemes that attack the ball and create turnovers. He also addressed the offense and USC's need to adapt to the high-scoring style of the Pacific 10 Conference.

Not exactly Student Body Right.

"Wide-open, spread the field, use the space, calling on the athletic ability of your players," he said. "That's what we have to do to win the Pac-10."

But the new coach will have to contend with more than Xs and O's. Much of the college game is played off the field, with the added responsibilities of academics, boosters and recruiting.

Those were the issues Hackett said he underestimated when he arrived at USC. Carroll said he is prepared for the burden.

"If you can understand the process in the NFL, in the draft process it's all about watching players in college," he said. "I don't consider myself unfamiliar with the college game at all."

In recent days, however, Trojan fans did not share his confidence, flooding the USC athletic department with angry calls, voicing their opposition to local media.

Many drew unflattering comparisons to the NFL veteran Hackett. They questioned hiring a coach with no USC ties.

Carroll and his bosses seemed acutely aware of the negative reaction.

Before the news conference, USC officials talked to the media about giving Carroll a fair shake. A public relations firm contacted reporters on his behalf.

Former USC players such as Ronnie Lott and Willie McGinest, both of whom played for Carroll in the NFL, came to his defense.

"His style fits the college game," McGinest said. "His energy suits college guys. They'll love him."

Garrett dismissed much of the criticism, saying "the Joe Blow doesn't know football." Associate Athletic Director Daryl Gross, heavily involved in the search, took a more enthusiastic approach.

"Believe me, I understand the public opinion," he said. "But if you ask people in the industry of football, 99% of them would say Pete Carroll knows football.

"I feel like that guy who says, 'Come see it and, if you don't like it, I'll give you your money back.' "

Friday night, the uproar appeared to be dying down. Entries on Internet message boards were beginning to soften, alumni talking about giving the new guy a chance.

It remains to be seen if those fans will remain patient once next season begins. Carroll inherits a talented but mistake-prone team that finished last in the conference for the first time in school history.

The schedule will do him no favors. The Trojans play Kansas State early on, then travel to Oregon, Washington and Notre Dame in short order.

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