Pete Carroll's record in nine seasons at USC is 96-19, a winning percentage… (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)
It isn't supposed to be this way. The sun comes up in the east, and USC goes to a big, big bowl game.
Maybe the Emerald Bowl, which is 7 years old, looks big to the other contender, Boston College, but not to USC fans -- not compared to the Rose Bowl game, which is 107 years old. To them, when some other Pac 10 team gets into the Rose Bowl, it's a fluke, like a two-headed calf. When USC qualifies, it's the natural order. Anything less is just the trinket in the Cracker Jack box.
But today Pete Carroll -- winner of seven consecutive Pac 10 titles and three consecutive Rose Bowl games and two national championships, and USC's head coach for nine years -- must lead the Trojans, with their 8-4 record, into the Emerald Bowl.
USC's woes haven't ended on the field. Three players have been benched because their grades didn't cut the mustard, and another player might join them there, if it's ruled that he broke NCAA rules by tooling around in a 2006 Land Rover that belongs to a Santa Monica businessman.
Carroll is a man accustomed to dealing with the rough turf of big-time football. He spent 15 years coaching winners and losers in the NFL, bounding across the country as if he were following some wacky airline route map: Buffalo Bills to Minnesota Vikings to New York Jets to San Francisco 49ers to New England Patriots to Seattle Seahawks to USC.
Like others of his station, he's called Coach by his team and fans and staff and colleagues, without a "the," the way nurses refer to Doctor and believers refer to God. So what does Coach have to say about an underwhelming season?
Are you looking forward to the Emerald Bowl?
I am. I'm a San Francisco native, going back home; show the kids [the players] San Francisco, some of the sights.
In business, a 70% or 80% success rate is pretty darn good. But in sports?
Here at SC, we've wanted so much to elevate standards and expectations. People always say, "Is it hard, the high expectations of the alums?" And I say, "Not at all, because our expectation is to win every game." And we're trying to prepare a team that can do that. If you're able to reach your potential and max out what you're capable of, to me that is winning. There's no one accomplishment, no one championship, no one Heisman trophy that would ever define us. We want to be defined by a body of work over a long period of time.
What's the response been from alums and fans this season?
Everybody's frustrated, like we are. Nobody's more frustrated than I am. We've always taken great pride in our ability to transition [as players graduate or go pro]. And this year we weren't able to do that in the same fashion. We have to deal with it and move ahead differently.
It's no longer from the top; we have to climb our way back into it, and we have to fight our way into doing that. There's a different mind-set and a different mentality to that that we've already begun to recapture. Hopefully in the next couple of seasons we'll be able to do that.
One thing about fans -- when I was in New England in the third year, it was hard. I knew I was in trouble. [He was head coach.] I was having trouble sleeping, and in the middle of the night, I woke up and I flipped on the television. The Babe Ruth movie was on with John Goodman. The fans were calling him every name in the book and just ripping his butt. And it hit me -- those fans look like the exact same fans yelling at me every week. They're saying the same things. I thought, they're yelling at Babe Ruth like that? I'm OK! It's just fans being fans. They were like that a hundred years ago, and they're like that now. They just want to win, like I do. It gave me a different perspective that really has affected me ever since.
What did you think of the new football movie "The Blind Side"?
It was enjoyable, a really nice story. When we recruit kids, we're introduced to the families, the relationship begins. We have to create a circle of support and it includes the most significant ones, the moms, the dads -- it's important to be connected to them.
When lawyers or journalists, for example, watch movies about lawyers or journalists, they wince and say, "Oh, that would never happen." Is it the same with coaches and sports movies?
A little bit. All those guys in ["The Blind Side"] said something that's out of line with [NCAA] compliance. I was, "Oooh, I can't believe they're saying that."
Is there a sports film you really like?
There's a lot of them. The classics -- the Jim Thorpe story and "The Babe Ruth Story," the old black-and-white one. And "The Natural." I like "Field of Dreams" a lot.
You did charity work in the NFL, and here, you've helped found a community outreach program called A Better L.A., to reduce gang violence. How is that going?