When it comes to sports, there aren’t many issues that Danny Savitzky and Alejandro Madrid agree on. Here on Reign of Troy, we’ll exploit that constant sense of disagreement with a periodic feature entitled Trading Blows, which will pit the two editors against each other on a key issue regarding USC athletics. This week’s topic: Is Pete Carroll still a USC legend?
Danny Savitzky: Pete Carroll wasn’t always successful. After 10 years of slogging through midlevel college coaching positions, he broke through to the NFL, in which he encountered numerous hardships. As a head coach for the New York Jets, he went just 6-10 in one season, after which he was fired. He got a second chance with the New England Patriots. While he won the AFC East title in his first season, he was dispatched in the wild card round his next year and missed the postseason altogether the following campaign. He was fired once again.
Neverthless, the USC athletic department took a chance on Carroll, who replaced the substandard Paul Hackett. He didn’t have college experience as a head coach, he’d been out of the college ranks for 17 years, and Mike Garrett had many options slated above him.
He started off slow, going only 2-5 in 2001. With the pressure of decades of football greatness weighing on him, Carroll righted the ship, finishing with a record of 97-19 with a 7-3 bowl game record and two national championships before departing for Seattle.
For restoring the Trojans to glory and for his exceeding expectations beyond any conception, Pete Carroll will always be a USC legend, regardless of his questionable departure.
Alejandro Madrid: Without a doubt, Trojan fans owe Carroll a great deal for restoring a winning culture and national prominence back to the storied program at USC. However, his legacy has been irrevocably tainted. In the wake of the Reggie Bush scandal, USC had to vacate wins, including the romping of Oklahoma in the national title game. The perception around the country now is that USC was running a loose ship and only won because they avoided following the rules. Yes, Carroll orchestrated a run that will likely never be duplicated again in the Pac-10. But the accomplishment certainly becomes tainted. Winning is important, but the problems reflect negatively on the entire university and Carroll was the man running that program. Furthermore, Carroll left USC right before the NCAA hearing. While he couldn’t have known the extent of the penalties, Carroll certainly looks like a man who run from the fire he set. The man who preached “always compete” departed town at a time when USC needs to dig its deepest and find the will to compete.
Savitzky: First of all, your entire contention is based upon the notion that Carroll was aware of and complicit in Bush’s transgressions, which isn’t proven. That said, I am, too, skeptical that he wouldn’t have any knowledge of his best player’s wrongdoing, so it’s likely he did know.
But realize this: even though USC has officially vacated wins and its title against Oklahoma, everyone knows what happened on the field during those games, and as history tells it, USC was victorious. No symbolic revocation will take that away from the university. If Carroll did, in fact, know about Bush’s actions and chose to go public with his suspicions, the damage to the program would have been far more substantial. Bush’s career likely would have been derailed, the questions about USC would elicit speculation of more significant wrongdoing on the part of the team. Furthermore, without Bush, the team likely wouldn’t have won any of those games anyway.
Is the timing of Carroll’s withdrawal suspicious? Of course it is. But there’s no proof he knew what the NCAA was going to do, and not having to answer to the NCAA actually protects the university from having to divulge even more information, assuming that Carroll had any at all.
Madrid: I don’t contend that Carroll was aware of the problems. Nonetheless the fact that Bush received benefits while he was head coach still reflects poorly on Carroll. It is similar to parenting. You may not be aware that your child is out misbehaving. However, your reputation takes a hit because the child is under your watch and guidance.
Carroll couldn’t have known, but it is alarming that he didn’t have the decency to stand by the Trojans and stick around through the process. At this point, USC should not be trying to hide information from the NCAA because that’s what got them in trouble in the first place.
Savitzky: To get one thing straight, the relationship between player and coach is hardly analogous to that between a parent and a child. Bush spent only a fraction of his day under the watch of the football staff. If you’re selling cocaine out of your dorm room, is your RA responsible? You’re under his watch and guidance …
Furthermore, alerting the school of Bush’s actions is hardly selfish. He was protecting the team. Informing someone would have encouraged a probe of epic proportions, leading the school to investigate many more players than just Bush. Talk about alienating players who didn’t do anything. And please don’t delude yourself with the belief that USC would have been anywhere close to a championship team without Bush.
Carroll didn’t abandon the team. For all the public knows, the offer from the Seahawks came in when it did. It’s not like he could just get an NFL job because he wanted one. Seattle clearly wanted him, so it’s likely he took the job right when he worked the kinks out of the offer. Regardless of the connection he had to the USC program, another crack at the NFL was, fairly, too much to turn down.
Madrid: Bush and the coaching had a much better relationship than you portray. Why else would Reggie trust Carroll and McNair to help him choose an agent? The superstar obviously felt that the coaching staff had a good understanding of his situation and of his wants. As for the RA argument, that isn’t the same thing. You never even have to see or speak to your RA if you don’t want to.
Savitzky: Some things are kept private, even from closest friends and associates. If Bush and his coaches were so close, depriving them of incriminating information provides them with deniability and protects from from a fall. Isn’t it possible Bush kept Carroll in the dark because it was in the coach’s best interest for him to do so?
Madrid: While he may have been protecting the team, he also would have been protecting himself from drawing questions about the open program he was running. While the school may have investigated more players, they likely wouldn’t have found anything. The NCAA certainly didn’t. Carroll might have alienated players, but isn’t it worth it to keep your name clean and do the right thing? Football isn’t basketball. Bush was a great, great talent, but one player can’t single-handedly win a championship. The team had an excellent defense to match a powerful offense.
Once again, the timing is suspicious. Carroll turned out his worst season since 2002 and the NCAA was knocking on the front door. As for leaping for the NFL, the move is suspect. He had flirted with several other teams before, but always turned them down for USC.
Savitzky: It wouldn’t have mattered if the NCAA found anything. An extensive investigation would have rattled the players and crumbled morale, and sometimes the right thing isn’t always the best thing. Bush was, beyond the shadow of a doubt, indispensable to the USC football team during his time at the university, and no matter how many players the team fields, his loss would have had serious repercussions for the program.
But in the long run, Carroll’s immense success while at USC mitigates any damage his actions may have produced. We’re all aware of Pete Rose’s indiscretions, but what he’ll ultimately be remembered for is how he’s the MLB’s all-time hit leader. And Carroll’s actions are nowhere near as regrettable.
Pete Carroll is, and always will be, a USC legend.