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Seeking Pete Carroll's successor at USC, Mike Garrett should aim high

Carroll turned the USC coaching job into one of the most important and glamorous in college football. Athletic Director Garrett needs to hire someone who will keep it that way.

January 12, 2010|Bill Plaschke

Nine years ago, an NFL retread wandered onto the USC campus to watch his daughter play volleyball and wound up becoming the head football coach.

He was Mike Garrett's fourth choice.

He was questioned by the boosters and ripped in the media.

But none of it mattered because USC was in relative tatters, without a bowl win in five years, without a 10-win season in more than a decade, without a national title in 22 years.

The Trojans could hire Pete Carroll because they were desperate.

Nine seasons later, Carroll has built the program to the stature where they cannot hire someone with his credentials again.

What was perhaps the best hire in school history would now be one of the worst.

The Trojans have become too big and successful to replace this Carroll with that Carroll.

The new guy cannot be considered an NFL failure. The new guy cannot be someone discovered hanging out at Heritage Hall on parents' weekend. The new guy can't have a mediocre record and unknown potential.

The old Carroll was solely recommended by former assistant athletic director Daryl Gross; the new guy has to be celebrated nationally.

The old Carroll was a funky backup singer; the new guy has to be a rock star.

He will be the coach of what has become Los Angeles' NFL team. He will have the leading role in what is now Hollywood's hottest football hit.

Considering Carroll became more rich and famous than nearly any coach anywhere, with a team that became more renowned than nearly all others, this might be the most attractive and important coaching job in all of football.

This is a star job in a star town, and nothing less will do.

The Lakers replaced Del Harris with Phil Jackson. The Dodgers replaced Grady Little with Joe Torre.

The new USC football coach must be in their class. He must be able to share their dais, match their presence, hog their spotlight.

It's the hot gig in a hot town, and Athletic Director Garrett needs to act like it.

Think big. Think beyond big. Think Super Bowl. Seriously.

Garrett's first calls should be to Jon Gruden, Brian Billick, Tony Dungy and Bill Cowher.

Garrett probably will be publicly rejected by all four former champion coaches, but that's fine. The sports world will know that USC is serious about maintaining the Carroll mold. Potential recruits will know that Garrett means business.

After kissing the rings, chase the legacies.

Call Jeff Fisher and Jack Del Rio, two former Trojans who have strong NFL credentials. Fisher is considered one of the league's best coaches, whose Tennessee Titans once finished within inches of a Super Bowl championship. Del Rio has a career winning record with Jacksonville and a Super Bowl ring as a player.

Even if both say no, you owe it to your Coliseum-filling constituency to ask.

After flipping through your NFL Rolodex, then move to the biggest and best of the colleges.

Call Bob Stoops. Why not? Send Urban Meyer a get-well card. Tell him you're just checking.

I would say call Nick Saban, but did you see how he embraced the traditional Gatorade shower at the end of Alabama's national championship victory over Texas last week?

He acted as if he had just been bathed in battery acid.

No, do not call Nick Saban.

Then, yes, bite your lip and call the guy who many think would be a good first choice, that Trojan-disturber up north known as Jim Harbaugh.

He has the swagger. He has the brains. He's one of the few coaches who could be cool enough to coach here at the coolest place in the country.

I thought he was weak for tacking on that two-point conversion against Carroll this season, but if coated in a little more class that brashness can be a strength.

Of course, recruiting for Stanford is one thing, recruiting for USC is quite another. But, hey, that's why you bring back Ed Orgeron from the University of Tennessee and Kennedy Pola from Jacksonville.

There have been other college coaches mentioned in other stories, but, no offense, they're just not big enough.

Those dudes from Boise State and Texas Christian? They're going to be a presence in a living room in Compton?

Mike Riley of Oregon State? Nicest guy in the world, but can he own a Hollywood Saturday night?

Steve Sarkisian of Washington? One big career win isn't enough, even if it was against his mentor Carroll.

There will be some talk that coaches will be afraid of the USC job because of the possibility of NCAA sanctions.

That should not lower Garrett's sights.

Anybody watching Carroll's remarkable goodbye news conference Monday was reminded that he's been coaching this team under an NCAA investigation for several years.

Carroll was always arrogant enough to believe they would not be punished. That's not what drove him away. And even impending sanctions should not keep a top replacement away.

This is all about Garrett believing this is the best job in the country, and hiring someone consistent with that belief.

Always compete? Now, more than ever.

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