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Carroll Leaves Lasting Legacy at USC

LOS ANGELES - On Pete Carroll's last day as a Trojan, students, football players, professors and administrators at the University of Southern California, where Carroll in the past decade restored glory to one of college football's most successful programs, had different takes on the iconic coach's decision to leave for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.

Some were understanding, viewing it as Carroll taking advantage of a great opportunity.

"We all understand it's a business decision," Trojans fullback Stanley Havili said. "You can't blame him."

Some were complimentary, thanking him for all he had done.

"We will miss Pete, but he will always be a Trojan," USC President Steven Sample said.

And some were cynical, viewing Carroll not so much as pursuing a dream but escaping the nightmare of possible NCAA sanctions.

"It's a get-out-of-jail-free card," freshman Conrad Wilton said. "If I were Pete Carroll, I'd be on my way, too."

As for Carroll, he was excited, emotional, gracious and a little scatterbrained - in other words, the same man USC has come to know - as he held a news conference at Heritage Hall on Monday.

"It hurts to separate right now," said Carroll, 58, who will be introduced as the Seahawks coach at a news conference today in Seattle. "It hurts me. It hurts the (players). I never thought this would happen. This opportunity came along that I can't pass up."

Carroll, who earned $4.4 million annually at USC according to the latest tax documents, from 2007-08, signed a five-year contract with the Seahawks, but the terms were not released.

He said it wasn't about the money, and he specifically said it wasn't about possible impending NCAA sanctions or his relationship with athletics director Mike Garrett.

The only factor, Carroll said, was the opportunity to compete at the highest level. "If you say anything else, you're not saying the truth," he said.

Garrett declined to answer questions about Carroll's decision or possible successors.

"This is Pete's day. I'll just let his message resonate," he said.

Someone asked Garrett about the status of the NCAA investigation into alleged improper benefits given to Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Reggie Bush, allegations that first surfaced in 2006. Garrett didn't reply.

Across the country, Mark Sanchez did have a response. The former USC quarterback couldn't resist jabbing his old coach after his first career playoff victory Saturday, leading the New York Jets past the Cincinnati Bengals.

Carroll criticized Sanchez's decision last year to forgo his senior year at USC and enter the NFL draft. Said Sanchez on Saturday: "I just want everybody to know I completely disagree with his decision. Statistics show that it's not a good choice." He quickly added that he was kidding.

"Now he's giving me a hard time," Carroll said Monday.

College to NFL a perilous path

But there is truth to what Sanchez said. College coaches - great college coaches -have fared badly in the NFL. Steve Spurrier won a national championship at Florida, then flopped with the Washington Redskins, before returning to a college job at South Carolina. Nick Saban won a national title at LSU, flopped with the Miami Dolphins and grabbed the job at Alabama, where last week he became the first coach to win BCS national crowns with two schools.

Carroll's career path is somewhat different in that he had NFL head coaching experience before arriving at USC. He was coach of the Jets for one season (6-10 in 1994) and the New England Patriots for three (10-6, 9-7, 8-8 from 1997 to '99, plus 1-2 in the playoffs). He was fired from both jobs and was not considered a big name when USC hired him. In fact, he wasn't offered the job until USC had failed to lure Mike Riley (then coach of the San Diego Chargers), former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti and former Oregon State coach Dennis Erickson, currently the coach at Arizona State.

Carroll surprised nearly everybody by restoring USC to greatness almost immediately. His seven-season run from 2002 to 2008 is one of the greatest in college football history.

"These were gorgeous, gorgeous times at USC," Carroll said. "It was a marvelous experience."

Overall, his nine-year record at USC was 97-19.

"He rewrote the book on college football," Sample said.

Carroll loved the college atmosphere and seemed younger than his years - he was one of the first coaches to embrace Facebook and Twitter - and had always said he wouldn't leave USC for the NFL unless he were given total control over football operations. But the Seahawks have been down that road before, with Mike Holmgren, and didn't like the results. Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke said Monday that the team would hire a general manager, who will work with Carroll on personnel matters. Carroll replaces Jim Mora Jr., who was dismissed by the Seahawks on Friday after one season.

The three candidates that seemed most logical for USC to contact, and who topped the school's wish list, according to the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Daily News, were:

- Riley, Oregon State coach. Riley, a front-runner for the USC job before Carroll was hired in December 2000, might have been atop Garrett's list this time, too. But he took his name out of the running by signing a three-year contract extension that the school announced Sunday night.

- Jeff Fisher, Tennessee Titans coach. A former USC defensive back, Fisher told NewsChannel 5 in Nashville that he would stay with the Titans for "a couple more years at least."

- Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville Jaguars coach. A former USC linebacker, Del Rio was unavailable to comment Monday, and the Jaguars had no comment, team spokesman Dan Edwards said.

Would USC try to lure back Carroll's former offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, who just completed his first year at Pacific-10 rival Washington? In a text message to the Associated Press late Sunday, Sarkisian said he had not been contacted.

Would USC go outside the Trojans family and try to entice one of the hottest coaches out there - Boise State's Chris Petersen?

Would they even consider Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, a conference rival who had a testy midfield exchange with Carroll at the end of Stanford's 55-21 thrashing of USC this season?

Monday, Garrett offered no answers.

Off-field issues grow

The lopsided loss to Stanford - and the uncharacteristic 9-4 final record - represented growing on-the-field issues for the Trojans, whose wide talent edge over their Pac-10 rivals during the last decade seemed to evaporate last season.

Off the field, the issues continued to pile up. The Bush investigation lingered. That, plus allegations the school broke NCAA rules in its recruitment of former basketball star O.J. Mayo, opened the possibility that the USC athletic department would be found by the NCAA to lack institutional control and be hit with major sanctions.

USC announced self-imposed sanctions on the basketball program last week - no postseason play this season, loss of two scholarships and other recruiting limitations - but said nothing about the investigation into the football program.

Junior running back Joe McKnight became the subject of a USC investigation when the Los Angeles Times reported that he had been driving a Land Rover owned by a Santa Monica businessman whose background includes marketing and who once registered a website called 4joemcknight.com.

McKnight and junior wide receiver Damian Williams, probably the Trojans' two best players last season, have announced they are leaving USC and going pro.

And on the day Carroll said goodbye to USC, another potential problem surfaced. According to a report from SI.com, former Trojans assistant coach Dave Watson stated in legal documents that he received prescriptions from team and university doctors that he used to feed his addiction to painkillers. In a deposition, Watson said he told Carroll of his addiction in February 2008 but was allowed to keep his job and use a vehicle provided by the school.

On Monday, USC public relations spokesman James Grant said, "Because of health care confidentiality laws, we cannot discuss any individual's private medical information or the interaction of our physicians with any particular patient."

Now, Carroll is gone, and USC must find a way to move forward.

"Pete is a staple here at USC," said freshman Johnie Freatman, who happens to be a Seahawks fan from Seattle. "Pete was such a figure here and such a great recruiter. The face of the program will be completely different."

The quarterback won't be, however. Matt Barkley, the true freshman who played through growing pains last season, said he wasn't considering a transfer.

"I came here because I wanted to be a Trojan," Barkley said. "Nothing about the head coach leaving would change that."

There is urgency to hire a coach, as Feb. 3 is the national signing day.

Already, Carroll's departure and the uncertainty about who will take his place have had an effect on recruiting. Carroll could take several assistants with him, but he didn't offer specifics when asked about the future of the USC staff members.

Barkley, however, told the AP that quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates is leaving.

Kyle Prater, a wide receiver from Proviso West in Hillside, Ill., considered the No. 2 recruit in the country by Rivals.com, was ready to start classes Monday at USC until he heard that Carroll was being considered for the Seahawks job.

Instead, after playing in the Army All-American Bowl high school football all-star game Saturday, Prater returned home to consult with his high school coach, Famous Hulbert.

"USC is not out of the mix," Hulbert said. "It's still the front-runner, depending on whom they hire as coach. But it's not just the head coach. As of now, we don't know who's going to be the position coach and strength coach, either."

Seantral Henderson, a mammoth (6-8, 301 pounds) offensive line prospect and the No. 1 recruit on Rivals.com, is considering USC along with a host of others, including Notre Dame, Florida and Ohio State, according to his father, Sean Henderson. His father also said the uncertainty could become a factor.

"If USC is found guilty of any wrongdoing, they are going to be kept out of a bowl and maybe off TV," he said. "You don't want to walk into a situation like that."

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