USC Three Card Monty: How Pete Carroll Hustled Us and The NFL
There are currently 42 players in the NFL that went to the University of Southern California. Obviously, to make the NFL, each player must be a talented, extraordinary individual, except for those who were coached by Pete Carroll that is.
First, I have to hand it to Pete. He is coaching what was perhaps the worst team in the NFL. They can't beat anyone on the road, but the Seattle Seahawks are a good home team. And that is a nice start for a head coach of a "bad" team. Okay, that wraps up the section where Pete Carroll gets congratulated. The last good thing I'll say about him is that he is quite a hustler, a master of the long con. That may be a backhanded compliment, but you can take it or leave it Pete.
Think about how good all of Pete Carroll's USC teams were. He coached the Trojans from 2001 through 2009 and in that time they won "two" national championships (Reggie Bush); they made the title game one more time and took the loss; they won the Pac-10 conference and finished in the AP top four for seven consecutive years; they had "three" Heisman Trophy winners (Reggie Bush), etc. etc. The winning was unparalleled. USC during the first decade of this century was peerless. We all thought the reason was Pete. Everyone assumed Carroll was the ultimate recruiter, but also one of the top coaches in the country year in and year out. Each USC team had too much talent and was too polished for anyone else to compete. This would be shown in how many of Carroll's players make and succeed in the NFL. But let's take another look at that list of USC alums. This is where the USC long con reveals itself.
Every school puts players in the NFL that are not stars. This is an unavoidable fact. No matter how good a player is, not everyone can be a star in the league. You have players like Darnell Bing, Rey Maualuga, Mike Patterson, Terrell Thomas, and others who were all very good in college but were not expected to be more than starters in the pros. Yet let's go back through and examine everyone that was supposed to be a star at the next level.
Starting with quarterback, the case against Carroll begins rather quickly. He duped us all. Carson Palmer, the first Heisman winner under Carroll, was a solid pro. He made a couple Pro Bowls even. But to say Palmer is a star quarterback would be a mistake. In fact he has been so bad in 2010 already that that discussion has long since subsided.
Matt Cassel never started a game at USC. He was a backup. Yet, for some reason, people believed he could cut it in the NFL. Perhaps people were falling for the Pete Carroll con again. After having a solid season for New England and cashing in, Cassel has been flat out bad in Kansas City as the full time starter. That team has talent and the weak link might be at quarterback if anyone would ever admit it.
Matt Leinart was the second Heisman winning quarterback during the long con, and another first round draft pick. He was supposed to carry the Arizona Cardinals. We know what happened with that. He hasn't had a single respectable season his entire career. He is JP Losman without the arm strength yet we all expected the world of him coming out of USC.
Here is the sneaky fact that helps confirm Pete's con: Mark Sanchez. Remember when Sanchez was leaving early for the draft? Pete told him it was a bad idea. He needed another year in school. In reality, it was Pete who needed him another year in school. Sanchez has turned a corner this year in the NFL and is playing very well. Carroll knew he would succeed within a year or two from entering, but wanted him to stay in school. When Sanchez ignored Carroll's advice and left anyway, Pete decided to leave too.
But it isn't just quarterbacks under Pete Carroll that disappoint. What about the running backs? Reggie Bush was one of the greatest college players ever. His "Heisman" proves that. He was the second overall pick when he came out. In the NFL, he is nothing more than a third down, scat back. His career will be lucky to have the length and success of Chester Taylor. Yet coming out of USC, who would have expected anything less than the Hall of Fame?
LenDale White probably speaks for himself. He was too fat, too slow and not good enough to make a roster this season. The one, important thing I'll point out is that he was cut by the Seattle Seahawks. Not even Pete Carroll wanted him. No wait, I should rephrase that. Of course Pete Carroll didn't want him! Pete knew the impostors USC alums are.
It may be too early to throw Joe McKnight on this list, but I'm going to anyway. The Jets drafted him expecting him to replace star return man Leon Washington. Let's just say it hasn't happened yet.
Continuing with the skill position theme, we cannot forget about Fred Davis, Mike Williams, and Damian Williams, who turned heads in college but don't even force defensive shifts in the NFL. The only Trojan pass catcher who has had any type of success is Steve Smith. He had a great year in 2009 for the Giants. Let's hope it wasn't another Carson Palmer-type one-year wonder.
But I am not going to allow Pete Carroll to hustle me just on the surface. We have to go deeper and examine linemen as well. Linemen are the most overlooked positions in football, where success is so easily gained with a great line, and so impossible to reach with a bad one. Here is a quick list of linemen, both offensive and defensive, who were great at USC: Sam Baker, Shaun Cody, Sedrick Ellis, Everson Griffen, Winston Justice, Deuce Lutui, Mike Patterson, and Frostee Rucker. All stars at USC and none of them are anything more than serviceable NFL players. In the trenches, where games are won and lost, is where Pete Carroll did the most damage. I can't even name a single USC lineman who is an NFL star.
Here is the crux of the long con. It may be that Pete Carroll actually tricked us into thinking he was a good recruiter, when he was actually "just" a good coach. Think about it. If he was simply recruiting the best players, they would be some of the best players at the next level as well, just based on talent, strength and speed. But there are so few good USC pros that it must be more than that. Carroll must have done a good job coaching these players in college to be able to win as much as he did.
Yet if you're going to believe that, then Carroll duped you again. The long con wasn't about being a good coach. It was about being a bad coach. You see, he obviously recruited talent. The evidence is in the recruiting class rankings, the top 100 high school players, etc. It wasn't Pete ranking these players and telling us how good they were. It was other people telling us how good Pete's players were going to be. So he had the talent, and really, talent wins out in NCAA football. Where Pete really gets us is in his ability to coach so many players down.
All these guys, with tremendous talent and ability, fail in the NFL. It must be because they weren't made ready to succeed. Pete Carroll didn't want to prepare any of these guys for the pros. It wouldn't help him. It would ruin the foundation of the con. Instead, he was able to use their vast skills to win at the college level, and made sure no other coaches benefited in the future. Brilliant. Evil and devious, yes, but brilliant.
Of course, there are always some guys who are too good to ruin. In Pete's case, he was not a bad enough defensive coach. He was too competent to ruin Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, Keith Rivers, Lofa Tatupu, or Troy Polamalu. On his way out though, his last year at USC, Carroll was able to leave one lasting reminder of his con in the defensive backfield. Safety Taylor Mays was going be a star of stars until his last year under Carroll. He then tested slow at the combine and dropped dramatically in the draft. When it was the Seattle Seahawks' turn to draft, they chose a safety out of a big-time college program. It was Earl Thomas out of Texas. Pete knew to avoid Taylor Mays. Even if Polamula and those other defensive players got through Pete's system, he was going to get one of them. Taylor Mays would be an NFL disappointment.
In the end, whether you want to call Pete Carroll a mad-man, an evil genius or a conman, you'd be right. He turned many promising youngsters into professional failures all for the glory and success of his master plan. I don't know how successful he'll be coaching the Seahawks, but his other times coaching in the NFL with the Jets and Patriots were not very successful. I guess coaching down doesn't work when there is no next level to screw over.
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