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T.J. SIMERS

Here's an unbiased opinion: He simply prefers USC football

While Pete Carroll emphasizes fun, Rick Neuheisel is still on the defensive.

September 02, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

There appears to be some confusion out there.

Jim Shute e-mails to say, "It will be easier if you [would] just print, 'I HATE USC' in your LA Times articles. It would cut to the chase and get your point across faster."

And this from Mauricio Barba: "Your obvious bias in favor of SC football is nothing more than sickening. You take shots at Neuheisel every chance you get while praising Carroll as the greatest coach ever. The funny part is everyone sees through it and it makes you look foolish."

I see what you mean about everyone sees through it and looks foolish, so maybe it will help if I clarify.

I really don't like UCLA football, because what's there to like?

The best I can hope for every year with UCLA is a trip to El Paso. And that would be considered a good year by Bruins standards.

I like USC football, because how can you not?

The Trojans have so many better players.

And I really like Pete Carroll because when he came to town he made Mike Garrett irrelevant.

I also like Carroll because he emphasizes fun -- imagine that in sports -- while still overseeing big-time serious football.

Carroll can be snippy, as he is to start Tuesday's news conference when I inquire about Mitch Mustain, asking someone, anyone in the room other than Page 2 to ask a question.

And he can be testy as he is while being questioned about his decision to start freshman Matt Barkley, criticism in some corners -- and he's not used to that.

"No, I'm not testy," he says, while a little testy to say so.

Carroll has no choice but to start Barkley because of Aaron Corp's injury and missed practice time, but there's no reason to let him know he's right -- when he already believes he's never wrong.

He takes a deep breath after mentioning how interesting the parallel between Mark Sanchez's start with the Jets and Barkley's start with the Trojans might be, Page 2 interrupting to note, "You didn't think Sanchez would make it there."

The implication is obvious: Why should anyone think Barkley is going to be different and make it here right away?

He likes to go on and on because he knows he has this college game nailed and likes to hear himself talk, Page 2 often interrupting because I don't know how much longer I have to live. He likes to take questions from USC homers, Page 2 often interrupting because life really is too short for gobbledygook.

The sparring continues, the news conference over and Carroll stops by to say, "That was fun. I think I came out on top in this one."

Yeah, I like Pete Carroll a lot, "always compete," his mantra, while also always having fun. I admire that.

I liked Rick Neuheisel for a while -- when I was a reporter and he was a scab with the Chargers, the regulars on strike and the boyish Neuheisel playing quarterback. One of the best scabs they had.

But now he's nothing like I remember him.

Maybe it's because of experiences gone sour at Washington and Colorado and he comes across more wary.

Maybe he's still a Chargers fan, so we might never get along.

Maybe it's the false bravado he flashes, which is all he has to offer in comparing his work with Carroll's, and he was the one who wanted everyone to know the hold Carroll had on L.A. was over.

I began the week at a Neuheisel news conference, a big room with not many media in attendance, a depressing place really, the walls decorated with magazine covers of athletes when UCLA really had good football players.

There are five times as many folks at a USC news conference, admittedly the free food as big a draw as Carroll, but there is so much more energy in the room.

When things drag at UCLA's news conference, a minute or so after it begins, there's always former Bruins player and present-day broadcaster James Washington ready with a soft question to somehow highlight the progress the Bruins have shown.

Washington could be UCLA's MVP this season.

Unlike Karl Dullard, Neuheisel arrived here knowing how the questions were going to be asked, a little prodding, more teasing -- anything to bust up the bore that these media sessions tend to be.

But so far Neuheisel has reacted like a man blindfolded and told to stand against the wall. Mike Dunleavy is already a goner, and yet he shows more life. I long for Dullard.

Now you would think Neuheisel would be built for the entertainment capital, but he has yet to flash his charisma, more intent on delivering coach-speak, and making it obvious on TV while chewing out his quarterback that his false start as coach is because of his inept quarterback.

Brings back memories of Paul Hackett.

Hard to believe now, but Carroll took some heat when he began his USC run with a 6-6 record. You know Plaschke.

But then he went on to win the next 48 of 52 games coached. That's when I began to really like USC, which goes to show things change, and I could one day like UCLA football.

But I doubt it.

LIKE CARROLL, when the Fabulous Forum asks the question, "Who should be USC's starting quarterback?" there is no mention of Mustain in The Times' poll.

While Corp earned the most votes, 31% responded, "I don't know, but I trust Pete Carroll to make the right choice."

Another 7% admitted to being Bruins fans because they were allowed to remain anonymous.

THE DODGERS' Casey Blake said he hit his first career home run in 1999 in Cleveland while playing for Toronto.

"To get the ball back for me, they offered an autographed Manny Ramirez baseball," Blake said. "I would have preferred the Manny Ramirez autographed baseball; it'd be worth more than my home run."

--

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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