USC Football: The Unbearable Lightness of Pete Carroll
Damn you, Pete Carroll. You heard me, Coach. Damn you. Damn you for making it so hard to hate you.
In case you missed it last week, the Pac-10 held its annual media day in one of the many hotels near LAX (an appropriately Los Angeles-centric venue), and, as usual, Carroll was as good a cheerleader for his football team and conference as one could have asked for.
Then again, I guess one could argue that 'U$C' (the only accepted spelling where I come from) is the conference and it would be hard to find much disagreement during the nine years Carroll has helmed the Trojans.
It's no coincidence that Carroll was the last coach to speak to the media, at around noon. Meanwhile, the Paul Wulffs and Steve Sarkisians of the world had to run through the dog-and-pony show when most other Americans were napping through their bus or subway ride to work.
It's the same reason some band you've never heard of plays when the sun is still up. You know, right before the band everyone came to see decides to take the stage.
To keep with the musical theme, the Pac-10 could be said to be a conference as much as the Pips could be said to be a band. Maybe "vanity project" would be a more apt description than "conference," and if you're wondering whose vanity project it is, well then, you haven't been closely reading this article or paying attention to West Coast college football for the better part of a decade.
Back to media day. The nine dwarves dutifully played their part as warm-up act to Pete, Prince of the City, as $C beat writer Scott Wolf refers to him, talking as if it really matters how their starting quarterback's reps looked at spring practice, or how deep their linebacking corps will run this season, when their team's fortunes rely more on whether the team from South Central decides to show up on the appointed rendezvous with destiny.
There have been whispers that this is the weakest Trojan teams in years and that the potential blowback from previous years' scandals awaits, but I don't believe that Lou Holtz-style chicanery for a minute.
Meanwhile, the dwarf I was listening to most on Pac-10 media day, Jeff Tedford, was tackling questions about the biggest concern for my team, the Golden Bears from THE University of California, which happens to be how they'll overcome the shame of riding a bus to their game in southern California when they play the UCLA Bruins this season.
Unfortunately, as goes the state, so goes the state university, and if you haven't had a chance to crack the news section on your rush to the sports page lately, that's not exactly the most lucrative position to be in right now.
Is there a more appropriate metaphor for the private school-public school split than a school bus? The only bus the Trojans ever have to worry about catching is the party bus that takes them to West 28th after the game.
I desperately want to hate this guy.
But how can I? Carroll usually offers respect to the opponent (especially the California Bears) unless he feels that opponent—which can sometimes be the national media—have disrespected or slighted him, or his program, in some way.
Unlike other fair-haired princes and spoiled children, many of whom populate the campus he represents, he HAS known adversity and professional travails, the kind of suffering that builds that most underrated of virtues—character.
The man was all but run out of the professional game. As he recounted at media day, "I'm very blessed the opportunity at SC [sic—$C] came when it did, after the experiences that kicked my butt. You get fired and fight through it and reinvent yourself to have this opportunity to make a statement over a number of years."
Even with the rigors of running a championship-pedigree program, he still finds time to do good works in LA's urban communities, often driving at all hours of the night into neighborhoods no one would want to speed through at any time of day, an effort that was chronicled by 60 Minutes late last year.
You know you're going to have a difficult time painting someone as a villain when even the news organization that gave us Mike Wallace is slobbering over him.
So, why do I hate him so much? The only good reason is that he has what the Bears and every other team in the conference so desperately wants. Multiple Rose Bowl appearances. Multiple national championships. National respect and, more importantly, fear.
Envy, it's a deadly sin.
I feel so bad that I'll let Coach Carroll have the last word on the Trojans and the Pac-10:
"Our most difficult games come from our own conference. I can't imagine anybody better than this conference."
(Jeez, what an insufferable jerk.)
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