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BILL PLASCHKE

For Pete's Sake, USC, Why Did You Do It?

December 16, 2000|BILL PLASCHKE

I'm not mad at Pete Carroll, OK? Let's get that straight.

You can't be mad at a guy who dribbles basketballs down office hallways, who runs fastbreaks into players' arms every time they make big tackles.

You can't be mad at a guy who had the misfortune of working in New York and replacing Bill Parcells in the same lifetime.

You can't be mad at someone who is so excited about coming to your town, he was nearly screaming over the cell phone Friday night, clacking like those bugs in the banyan trees, leaving you breathless in some deserted parking lot along a Louisiana bayou.

I'm not mad at Pete Carroll.

I'm mad at USC for hiring him.

I'm mad that, during its most important times, the most enduring football institution in this city sometimes acts as though it discovered the game only last week.

We should give Carroll a chance. He deserves at least the 20 minutes--OK, OK, it was more like 10--that we gave Paul Hackett.

Carroll made the playoffs two of three years as a head coach in New England. Hackett never was an NFL head coach.

Carroll was rushed into the football fraternity as a defensive coordinator, working with the sort of street kids that USC is trying to recruit. Hackett, an offensive guy, sometimes struggled while relating to those kids.

Carroll has never been a college head coach, while Hackett had already failed at Pittsburgh before arriving here.

So stop with that Pete Carroll-is-Paul Hackett argument, OK?

I'm not mad at Pete Carroll.

But as for USC, well, I'm just, well, you know what I said when I heard they were hiring Carroll?

Maybe you said the same thing.

"Oh, no."

Oh, no, the Trojans did it again.

Oh, no, they hired somebody non-traditional to lead a tradition.

Oh, no, they ignored the idea that their new coach might only be as good as the coaching staff he can bring with him.

Oh, no, they again forgot that this was college football.

Oh, yes, it's going to be six more months of winter.

I'm mad at USC for making their publicity people, the best in the country, continually scramble around to justify their odd decisions.

I'm mad at them for turning even their few remaining reasonable alumni into screaming chat-room freaks.

I guess I'm most mad at Mike Garrett, although maybe there's also irritation with President Steven Sample.

This town should be thankful to Sample for recently making it clear that one of our important educational institutions was not going to be driven by football.

But could he, you know, perhaps pay just a little more attention to it?

I am not mad about the keystone coaching search. I didn't care about the search. I stopped paying attention. It didn't matter.

I kept saying, as long as he hired the right guy, I didn't care if Garrett did it in a Denny's on Dec. 25.

But, eventually, many of us said something else.

"Oh, no."

Carroll is considered one of football's nicest men and hardest workers.

But because he has been out of football for a year, and college football for 17 years--the stat of the day--what is he going to do about a coaching staff?

Look at your best college teams. Most of them have coaching staffs that have been together longer than any of their players have been in college.

With today's college head coaches serving as little more than bullhorn-toting CEOs, stable coaching staffs win championships. Does Carroll have the time and connections to put one together?

"I know I need to make some huge hires, I am already down on the road on that," he promised.

By hiring a college coach of any sort, the Trojans would already be farther down that road.

Carroll is also considered one of football's best minds and motivators, a guy whose laid-back approach can work as long as everyone knows he's the boss.

Yet they sometimes forgot that in New England. Will he be unafraid to remind them here?

"I'm not a stereotypical authoritarian coach," he said. "But that should not be misinterpreted. I believe in communication, and that can mean a lot of things, including a kick in the butt."

Carroll's new ideas and relaxed culture didn't quite work in the cutthroat NFL, but friends and co-workers say that perhaps the college game will be perfect for his approach.

Maybe it will. As a football fan in this town, I hope so.

I hope he makes us quickly forget about Colorado State's Sonny Lubick, or the Chargers' Mike Riley, or any number of college guys who could have slipped in here without a shoehorn.

He deserves a chance, like all of us deserve a chance, and maybe everyone should just back off and let him have at least until January to win a game.

After all, in an appropriately ironic ending to a perfectly weird month, the hiring of Pete Carroll is not about Pete Carroll.

I'm not mad at a guy for being in a position where the players are uncertain and the fans are angry and the administration is worried.

I'm mad at USC for putting him there.

*

Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address: bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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