Former USC football coach Pete Carroll shows his game face in denouncing the NCAA's penalties against the school, contending they are too harsh because he and other administrators never knew that star athletes such as Reggie Bush had violated the rules.
But Carroll has been shy about mentioning that the NCAA found his quiet hiring of an extra coach, a big name from the NFL, was a major violation. The association also said that Carroll did not clear the hire with USC's compliance office, a finding that contradicts what he told The Times last year.
Now, as USC presses an appeal of the heavy sanctions the association imposed, Carroll's culpability could diminish the school's prospects of persuading the NCAA to ease the punishment, experts say.
"That's going to hurt USC on its appeal," said Michael Buckner, a Florida attorney and Trojan alumnus who specializes in sports law. "There are major rule violations found against not only his student athletes but against his coaching staff and a decision he made."
The decision, as The Times reported last July, was to hire Pete Rodriguez, a former NFL special teams guru, in violation of the association's cap on coaches. It gave USC "more than a limited competitive advantage" over other schools, the NCAA found. Carroll did not list Rodriguez on the coaches roster while he served as a "consultant" for the Trojan kicking squads during the entire 2008 regular season.
In its June report on the violations, the NCAA says USC's compliance office learned of Carroll's arrangement with Rodriguez only when an unidentified school complained about it in February 2009.
Carroll said last year that he could not give a "chronology" of his dealings with the compliance office, but "whenever we do anything, we go through all of the channels to figure out whether we can do it … whether it's OK, and we did that...."
"We've tried to do this exactly the right way — compliance, all of that stuff, to the letter."
The decision on the Rodriguez matter reinforced the NCAA's broader conclusion that USC demonstrated a "lack of institutional control" over its athletics department.
Among the most serious violations the NCAA found were payments of thousands of dollars in cash and other benefits to Bush and his family by would-be sports marketers. In addition, the NCAA said that former running backs coach Todd McNair knew or should have known about the violations involving Bush and that he misled the association's enforcement staff.
The NCAA has banned USC football from bowl appearances for two seasons, stripped the program of 30 scholarships over three years and placed it on probation for four years.
In its appeal, USC seeks to reduce the bowl game and scholarships penalties by half.
On a YouTube video he posted shortly after the penalties were announced, Carroll says he did not think there were "any facts that supported these significant sanctions....
"The primary issue throughout this process was, 'Did the university know?' The university didn't know; we didn't know. We were not aware of any of these findings."
Carroll, who left USC in January to become head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, does not discuss the Rodriguez finding in the 2-minute video. He did not respond to an interview request, made through the Seahawks, for this article. USC and the NCAA declined to comment.
The NCAA report states that USC and Carroll admitted that his hiring of the NFL veteran broke the rules — he insisted otherwise in the Times interview last July — but that the school believed it was a "secondary" violation, the type that does not warrant severe punishment. The association disagreed.
Buckner and other attorneys differed over how much weight the association might give the Rodriguez hiring in considering the appeal, which could focus mostly on technicalities and precedent. But the lawyers and legal scholars agreed that the hire, coupled with the lack of intervention by the USC compliance staff, underscores the NCAA's larger determination that there was a pattern of administrators and coaches failing to be vigilant about the rules.
And Carroll's defiant YouTube declarations hardly help, said Buckner: "What I got from Pete Carroll's video statement was that he is trying to protect his legacy, his reputation."
Vermont Law School professor Michael McCann, a sports law expert, said the Rodriguez affair goes to the heart of whether USC's administrators and its compliance staff had the will to rein in a marquee coach like Carroll, who won two national championships for the Trojans.
"The NCAA will say that Pete Carroll and others connected to him were making wrong choices, and the institution should have been uncovering it," McCann said. "It was probably hard for a compliance officer to confront Pete Carroll … but that's the way it is. Schools have to do more to not let the coach be so powerful."