USC Coach Pete Carroll, right, is on the spot, and Athletic Director Mike… (Wally Skalij, Alex Gallardo…)
From San Francisco — Where's Mike Garrett?
Every time I run into the USC athletic director he takes off running, only now beginning to understand why -- obviously the administrator in training for the next controversy to plague his athletic department.
Former USC basketball coach Tim Floyd told The Times recently Garrett abandoned him when Floyd had his problems.
"Mike's reputation took precedence," Floyd said. "All loyalty, all support stopped."
Here we go again, Pete Carroll now on the spot, the perception nationally the Trojans' football program is out of control, if not in need of an NCAA spanking, and Garrett is nowhere to be found to assist the guy who saved his career.
Garrett owes every day on the job, every penny earned to Carroll after stumbling across him almost a decade ago and hiring him to take the job Mike Riley, Dennis Erickson and Mike Bellotti turned down.
And now, as wacky as it is to even suggest, Carroll needs Garrett to buy him some time to regroup.
It has been a terrible year for Carroll, starting with the embarrassing way he reacted to Mark Sanchez's decision to turn pro knowing more than anyone he'd be left without a solid quarterback -- and leading all the way up to this week and the Joe McKnight affair and three players declared academically ineligible.
"I don't think he did anything wrong," Carroll says, but if that's the case, then why isn't McKnight here practicing with his teammates?
"It's out of my hands," Carroll says, a hint of dissatisfaction and even disagreement in his voice, and so where's Garrett, the school's top athletic administrator, who might explain such things?
The way this season has gone, does USC really want a flippant Carroll, who sometimes cannot hide his athletic arrogance, to do the talking?
"You let everyone down this season," he's told by way of teasing Monday, you know, "everyone figuring Uncle Pete would never allow Oregon and Stanford do what they did to one of your teams, not to mention Arizona."
"I agree," Carroll says, while acknowledging the PR hits are beginning to add up. "It started with Sanchez."
There's also the controversy regarding UCLA, recruiting and Ken NortonJr., Carroll allowing an unsportsmanlike bomb thrown against the Bruins, three players declared academically ineligible this week and the undisciplined behavior of his players at times.
He might win arguments to the contrary on any one of these, but cumulatively they paint a troubling picture.
"You're right," he says. "And it hits you right in the gut.
"I care so much about this program, but all I can do is just keep battling."
He says he has talked to McKnight but never asked him why he lied -- saying he never drove a car that a Times reporter spotted him driving several times. And why not?
"I asked him what happened and I know what Joe told me, but I can't say," Carroll says.
If McKnight has done nothing wrong, why can't Carroll say?
"Let's go on . . . anybody else [have a question]?" he snaps, testy, defensive and essentially helpless.
Why isn't Garrett here, Carroll answering the football questions and Garrett the administrative inquiries? What's Garrett doing? Ordering socks for the women's volleyball program?
Call his office, and all you get is an answering machine. Maybe he's expecting a call from the NCAA.
A spokesman says Garrett is at the Nut Bowl's V.I.P. dinner, his way of saying he's unavailable, and I guess a Very Important Peanut.
Seven years ago this week, the toughest question facing Carroll and his No. 5-ranked Trojans was why had they all welcomed O.J. Simpson to an Orange Bowl practice.
That was considered a controversy, Carroll taking some heat after saying, "It's great to see O.J. come out," the Trojans hugging Simpson and many asking for his autograph.
Here's how things have changed: Everyone wants to know whether McKnight will ever again be welcomed to a USC practice, the unranked Trojans preparing for the Nut Bowl, practicing at City College of San Francisco where Simpson played, but -- in what might be considered the only sign of progress of late -- honoring Simpson's memory with a tour of Alcatraz.
It's been a grand ride for USC until now, the Reggie Bush whatever hanging somewhere in the air, but so many games sold out in the Coliseum and so much fanfare.
There's no reason to think Carroll has lost it, maybe some of his athletic arrogance tamed a tad as he reflects on his inability to overcome the transition of so many players to the NFL in the last two years.
But now how does he keep each bit of bad news from feeling like an avalanche?
For example, did the players declared academically ineligible recently quit on Carroll after it became obvious the Trojans would not be playing in one of the more prestigious bowl games?
"We don't do the work for them," Carroll says, which is good to know should that ever become an issue.