I like to think that after two decades of covering sports, I am hard to shock. But when the University of Southern California (USC) head football coach announced he was moving to the NFL's Seattle Seahawks I was caught off guard. Pete Carroll had become USC football. When he arrived there in 2000, he instantly turned the programme from mediocre to dominant. During his tenure USC won two national titles, had two Heisman Trophy winners and had 14 players selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
He became a household name as the coach of the best college football programme in the west of the United States. "We've had a marvellous run of players who made this thing happen," Carroll said of his success at USC. "These have been the most cherished times of my life. I don't expect to ever top this." Carroll was last an NFL head coach in 1994 with the New York Jets. He failed. It had always been rumoured that even with all his success at USC, Carroll had unfinished business with the NFL.
"It hurts to separate right now, but it can't keep on going because I can't pass up this opportunity." Carroll said. "This is the challenge of a lifetime and it's too difficult to pass up. It's not about money or any tangible issues. It's about the challenge." I see his point. This is an area in coaching that he has yet to tackle successfully, but I still have two questions? Why Seattle? I am not saying Seattle is not a nice city or that their football team are second rate, but to leave one of the premier jobs in college football for an NFL franchise who are not media favourites seems an odd move. He will be paid a ton of money and have total control of the Seahawks, but on the food chain of American sports, being Seattle coach is not a premier position.
So maybe the reason is that USC football tailed off a bit this year. They neither dominated nor played for the national title. Maybe big-time NFL teams stopped calling Carroll and maybe Seattle were his only option. Why now? Beyond the fact that USC football had an off year, there are two ongoing National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) investigations into the programme and possible rule infractions by USC players for taking improper benefits from the boosters who fund the team.
It is not out of the realm of possibility that Carroll saw NCAA punishment on the horizon and bailed out for the first offer that came his way. We will not know if that is true until the NCAA finish their investigation. When I see Carroll jump back into the NFL coaching fraternity, I wonder what the attraction is that makes successful college coaches leave secure jobs for the uncertainty of the NFL ranks.
Steve Spurrier was on top of the world at the University of Florida in 2001 when he left to coach the Washington Redskins. He flamed out in two seasons. Nick Saban did the same when he left Louisiana State University in 2004 for the Miami Dolphins. He too lasted just two years. Is it just that the NFL is the pinnacle of American football coaching? Is it tougher to deal with naïve 18-year-old college football players or 25-year-old millionaires?
It seems to me I would prefer coaching at college level, but time after time top college coaches leave the comfort of a successful programme for the challenge of the NFL. So in two years will Carroll be another Spurrier or Saban? Will he be kicking himself for leaving USC when he was on top? He probably answered this the day he left USC. "I never thought this would happen," Carroll said. "I thought I'd be here forever."