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Timing Isn't Entirely on Carroll's Side

December 16, 2000|CHRIS DUFRESNE

Works hard, looks good, loves tradition and Tommy Trojan.

All they were saying, was give Pete a chance.

Fourth choice, what went wrong, don't blame us, it took so long.

All they were saying, was give Pete a chance.

USC's hiring of Pete Carroll on Friday was all about defense.

After a tortured, 18-day search, the Trojans settled for a twice-fired, unemployed defensive specialist they could have hired . . . 18 days ago.

To boot, they had to pay him the going rate of $1 million per year.

When one of the nation's elite programs is spurned by, in order: Dennis Erickson, Mike Bellotti and Dean Spanos, you have to put on an all-out, F. Lee Bailey-type defense, and that's precisely the kind of lawyering USC did Friday.

If not, it could appear to an outsider that Pete Carroll is Paul Hackett with more hair, an exact, 11-letter, NFL-rooted replica of the coach who went 8-5, 6-6 and 5-7 on his way out the door.

There is no way in December to say for sure how this will play out come September. For as many dissenters as there were to Carroll's hire, USC lined up a host of credibility witnesses, from former Trojan and current New England Patriot defensive end Willie McGinest--"His style fits the college game, especially USC"--to New York writing sage Mike Lupica--"He is a good coach. Everyone talks about how hard the Jets played for Pete Carroll."

The problem for now is not Carroll but the timeline it took to secure him after he called to express interest in the job.

"No, no, I was not in a hurry," Trojan Athletic Director Mike Garrett said. "You guys were in a hurry."

Gee, what was the rush?

Well, for one, there is that baker's dozen of high school recruits that have been waiting in the lurch for this dope opera to play out.

Carroll was signed the night before the last weekend of recruiting before a two-week "dark" period in which no contact can be made with prospective recruits.

Realistically, Carroll will not be able to meet with players until early January, giving him less than a month to close shop on the heart of his 2002-03 squad before February signing day.

Matt Leinart, a Santa Ana Mater Dei quarterback who had verbally committed to USC, has already visited Oklahoma while USC's coaching search dragged on.

The Trojans have already secured 12 oral commitments and have 13 more scholarships to give.

Rick Kimbrel, editor of Southern California-based PrepStar recruiting service, says it's not too late to save the class.

"It's going to be up to Pete," Kimbrel said. "It's going to depend on his performance to close the deal. He seems to be a real likable guy. I think he'll be excellent in the living rooms with the parents. It's an interesting hire."

Carroll has some catching up to do on the couch.

He hasn't coached in college since a 1983 stint at the University of the Pacific, the same now-defunct football program that spit out UCLA Coach Bob Toledo, but Carroll doesn't think the 17-year gap will pose a problem.

"I just don't feel disconnected at all," he said.

Later, he added: "I've always coached college players. I just got them a little bit later. . . . The best way I can sell me is to be me."

Kimbrel says Carroll is in far better shape than Butch Davis when he took over at Miami in 1995 on the heels of NCAA sanctions.

Davis had only nine days to recruit.

"What Butch did in nine days was a miracle," Kimbrel said. "If I was Pete, I'd call up Butch Davis and say, 'What did you do in your nine days?' "

Garrett said he was more concerned about today's players than tomorrow's.

"We have great talent," Garrett said. "The real focus was to bring in a great coach. The recruiting has been secondary for me."

Garrett and Kimbrel agree that, to get a foothold on recruiting, Carroll will probably need to retain one or more current USC assistant coaches to help in the transition.

"I think a smart coach would do that," Garrett said.

Kimbrel says defensive line coach Ed Orgeron is one assistant USC should strongly consider retaining.

"Carroll has got to keep some of the key guys that have been busting their butts," Kimbrel said. "I think Orgeron would be a key."

Carroll will also have to go out and find a big gun, an assistant who knows the nooks and crannies of West Coast recruiting, someone who can compete for flesh in the highly competitive Pacific 10 Conference.

Kimbrel says USC already has secured a top 20 recruiting class with the potential to get better.

"Just being in Southern California, you have potential," Kimbrel said. "Just like if you were the head coach at Texas. You're sitting on a gold mine; a blind man can pick up some talent."

The larger question about Garrett was why he waited so long to make a hire he could have made the day after he fired Hackett.

Or sooner.

If it's true that Garrett made up his mind to make the move, no matter the outcome against UCLA or Notre Dame, he could have fired Hackett after the team's Nov. 11 loss to Washington State and gotten a two-week jump on the coaching search.

Garrett said it never crossed his mind. Besides, he said, he well remembers the scrutiny he received after he fired basketball coach Charlie Parker in midseason.

"I relieved a basketball coach during the season and they [the media] beat me up," Garrett said.

So where does USC stand with Pete?

Is it a stand pat?

For the moment, holdover players are relieved that their long, regional nightmare is over.

"The big thing is that it's finalized," linebacker Kori Dickerson said. "You get tired of reading in the paper who's going to be the coach."

And Dickerson's message to prospective recruits?

"Our athletic program is on the rise, our school is diverse, we're in the heart of L.A.," Dickerson said. "What's better than that?"

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