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At USC, it was no rest for the week

The time surrounding Pete Carroll's departure and Lane Kiffin's hiring was among the most tumultuous in the program's history

January 17, 2010|By Gary Klein

Pete Carroll buttoned his jacket, straightened his cardinal-colored tie, clipped on a microphone and settled into a seat on ESPN's "GameDay" set.

It was Jan. 7, the day of the Bowl Championship Series title game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Texas.

USC's telegenic coach, winner of two national titles and the leader of perhaps the decade's most high-profile college football program, was at the Rose Bowl to provide guest commentary, his Trojans having finished a disappointing season two weeks earlier at the Emerald Bowl.

For the first time in eight seasons, USC had fallen short of a BCS bowl appearance and the multimillion-dollar payout that goes with it. Carroll, his hair matted by rain and his pants and shoes caked with mud, had appeared drained in the aftermath of his team's victory over Boston College at San Francisco's AT&T Park.

Now, as Alabama fans in the Rose Bowl stands shouted his name, a relaxed-looking Carroll laughed, sat up in his chair and put a hand to his ear, playfully baiting them to bring more.

A few hours later, confetti covering the turf after an Alabama victory, Carroll walked off the set, the college football season officially ended.

But for USC, it was just the beginning of perhaps the most tumultuous week in the history of Trojans football.

Farewell Friday

Carroll's unexpected departure for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks and Lane Kiffin's surprising return to USC in his mentor's place rocked college and pro football.

But plenty happened in between, leaving even casual fans dizzy.

The chain of events started about an hour before Carroll went on the air that Thursday at the Rose Bowl, when Trojans quarterback Aaron Corp announced he was transferring to Richmond. Corp's quiet exit was only a temblor.

On Friday morning, tailback Joe McKnight announced he was leaving for the NFL.

The junior, a 1,000-yard rusher in his first season as a starter, had been held out of the Emerald Bowl by USC after compliance officials began investigating his use of a sport utility vehicle that was owned by a Santa Monica businessman.

USC was already in the midst of an NCAA investigation into its athletic program dating to 2004. It centered on 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush's time with the Trojans and also included former basketball star O.J. Mayo's short stay at USC.

Later in the day, receiver Damian Williams announced he was turning pro.

But all of that was background noise amid reports that Carroll had met with Seahawks officials earlier in the week and was close to reaching an agreement that would send him back to the pro ranks, ending perhaps the most successful run in Trojans history.

Meanwhile, Carroll relaxed with family and friends in Hermosa Beach and then hit the surf on a stand-up paddleboard.

Search Saturday

USC officials did not wait for an official announcement. Not with recruits at an all-star game in Texas telling a national television audience they were hedging on their commitment to the Trojans.

Nine years earlier, Athletic Director Mike Garrett had targeted Mike Riley to replace the fired Paul Hackett and wound up with Pete Carroll instead.

In retrospect, of course, Riley's inability to escape from the San Diego Chargers set USC on course for an unprecedented string of success on the field and at the bank. In the 2008-09 school year, USC's athletic department generated $80 million in revenue, largely because of Carroll's football team.

Now, with Carroll on the brink of returning to the NFL, money was not going to be an issue in the search for a new coach.

Once again USC targeted Riley, a former Trojans assistant in his second stint at Oregon State. His teams had upset top-five USC teams twice in the last four years.

But by the time USC contacted Riley, Oregon State already was putting together what amounted to a lifetime contract for the 56-year-old Corvallis native.

So Riley told USC no.

"I basically said I really appreciate it, but I like where I'm at and what I'm doing and I can't and wouldn't want to leave Oregon State," Riley said later in a conference call with reporters.

Confirmation Sunday

Although fans and the NCAA want to think otherwise, most top college football players -- at USC and elsewhere -- consider themselves commodities.

At USC, their goal is to join the 14 first-round draft picks and dozens of other former Trojans whom Carroll has sent to the NFL.

When they arrive as freshmen, most are overwhelmed to a degree by the demands on their bodies and their minds as they attempt to navigate college life and the commitment necessary to succeed in major-college football. By the time they are sophomores, their attitudes are hardened by older teammates and they count the days until they are eligible to begin earning an NFL paycheck.

So when linebacker Chris Galippo received a text message from a staff member confirming that Carroll was going to the Seahawks, he did not get misty.

The Seahawks were going to pay Carroll nearly $33 million over five years.

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