Crossposted on my blog Sports Talk with Rob & Leo: A Westcoast Bias.
Photo Credit: snipestreet dot com for that priceless screen cap
College football starts in less than a week! I can't wait! I was out in LA a few weekends ago visiting family and hanging out at some of my old stomping grounds, including the mighty University of California at Los Angeles (First off, please forgive me if this reads as impersonal. I wrote this on my blog and decided to share it with you all. On with the show)!
As I stood there reminiscing on Bruin Walk at about 9pm on a Friday night, with the Bruin Bear in front of me, Ackerman Student Union behind, and the Wooden Center to my right, a nice wonderful breeeze came through - you've got to understand, living in Phoenix, I haven't felt one of those in a while- and Rod, if you're reading, I still hold that the Valley is just as miserable heatwise as Phoenix; a few degrees here or there doesn't make much of a difference! I digress. Ahem (clearing my throat), where was I? Yes, the breeze. Standing on that beautiful campus had me wondering how this school wasn't a powerhouse in ... everything! Lets see. Undergrad education? Check. Graduate schools? Check. School of Engineering? Check. Anderson Business School of Management? Check. School of Law? Check. School of Medicine and the UCLA Medical Center? Check. Perinnial contenders in Softball, Baseball, Track, Golf, Tennis, Gymnastics, Soccer, Rowing, Water Polo, Volleyball, Swimming, Cross Country? Hey, first university to 100 championships- a definite check. Basketball? Check. Football? Che- uh, wait a second, you said football, right? Well, hmm, not really, not anymore. But we used to be dominant, always in the National Championship hunt every year, right? So what happened-or didn't happen? Or better yet, lets look at the flipside of that coin.
How did a "University" that was nestled in the heart of one of LA's worst crime ridden, drug infested areas (was a vibrant area throughout the history of Los Angeles, but since the 70's, has been the poster child for urban decay. The 80's crack epidemic did little to help the situation. Back to my rant.) become such a powerhouse in football, when a University steeped in tradition, offering one of the best educations in the world, sandwiched between some of the best neighborhoods in world- Bel Air, Beverly Hills, West LA, & Brentwood (Even OJ, the most notorious Trojan in the world, made it out to that side of town eventually!) did not. What makes recruits want to go there instead of here? How did the University of South Central, er, that is, the University of Second Choice, oops I did it again, sorry, The University of Spoiled Children (sorry, I couldn't resist!- for those who are not natives and do not know, USC is a private school whose tuition is somewhere in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars has an interesting student body mixture, comprised of rich kids whose parents money was able to get them into schools when their grades could not, smart kids there on scholarship, and athletes), how did USC become such a powerhouse? The answer to that question is quite loaded, so lets just stick to the sports side of things. In short, the answer would seem to be Pete Carroll (more on that in a minute). Watch out for the jump!
Let me first remind everyone that, as an alumni of the only real university in Los Angeles, my opinion might be slightly biased. Now, on with the show. I don't need to remind anyone of all the success that Petey has enjoyed, but I must say, I'm not impressed...well not entirely. While I am impressed with the empire that he has built in such a short period of time, I still say that he has, dare I say it, UNDERACHIEVED! Pete Carroll is a great recruiter, not a great coach...and a little lucky, too. Let's look into his meteoric rise to fame and power in Los Angeles as I attempt to prove my point.
In 2001, Carroll took over an average USC program (they initially tried for Dennis Erickson, Mike Belotti, & Mike Riley, but could not land any of them) that was floundering under the leadership of Paul Hackett. He assembled an excellent coaching staff which included Norm Chow, the former BYU offensive coordinator who was responsible for mentoring college football greats in his earlier years including Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, and Heisman winner Ty Detmer, and in later years, Philip Rivers, and Heisman winners Carson Palmer & Matt Leinart. His record speaks for itself. In addition, Carroll brought with him his affable personality which heightened his amazing talent for recruiting. Having these two weapons on their side (Chow's ability teamed with Carroll's recruiting), USC was poised for greatness. From 2001- 2003, Carroll brought in the likes of Reggie Bush and Tequila swilling LenDale White & Matt Leinart(Carson Palmer was already in the fold). His ability in recruiting speaks for itself. Just take a look at the recruiting classes he has hauled in over the years (according to rivals.com):
#3 in 2003
#1 in 2004
#1 in 2005
#1 in 2006
#2 in 2007
#8 in 2008
#1 in 2009
With classes filled with Blue chippers like these, it is difficult to criticize his mojo in that arena. But with all of that mojo, where are all of the "real" championships?
Before we continue our discussion on the legacy and greatness of Mr. Carroll, lets first look back into the NCAA history books. In 1998, a defining moment happened for the NCAA: two national champions were crowned. the Michigan Wolverines were deemed the champs by the Associated press (AP), and Nebraska held the title given by the USA Today/ESPN poll (for the record, Michigan would have won that matchup if it were to have ever happened). As a result of the confusion, the BCS, for better or for worse, was born. It was brought forth to eliminate any and all confusion, so that only one team can call themselves national champions (this was agreed to by all of the major conferences, including the Pac-10) at seasons end. Now back to Pete.
Mr. Carroll began coaching at USC during the 2001 college football season, coming off of two seasons of dormancy because he could not regain employment in the pro arena after a lackluster stint with the New England Patriots during which he was criticized for not working hard enough, at least as far as NFL head coaching is concerned. While he has been amazing at recruiting at SC, his coaching resume remains average. During this time of greatness, a time according to many in the media is unrivaled by any other program in history, USC earned ONE national championship. If you didn't hear me the first time, I'll repeat it for you, ONE national championship! If you let them tell the story, you would think that the Trojans are gearing up for their 8th title defense! Some of you might be saying to yourselves, I'm sure they've won more than that? Well, lets look into the record books, shall we. Here's how the National title count shapes up this decade:
Since 2000, Bob Stoops and Oklahoma have taken home a title, LSU 2, one with Nick Saban and one with Les Miles. Florida and Urban Meyer have 2 BCS trophies to polish when they see fit. Miami & Larry Coker have 1, Ohio State & Jim Tressel have one, Texas has one with Mack Brown (over USC), and yes, USC and Pete Carroll have 1...from 5 seasons ago! In addition, all of these programs are perennially in the Top 10 at seasons beginning and end. So why all of the love for SC & Carroll? Well for starters, despite the agreement with the BCS, USC and their followers have tried to horn in on the parties of both Ohio State (2002 BCS champions- FYI, Ohio State was undefeated while USC had 2 losses) and LSU (2003), despite not actually making it to the BSC National Championship Bowl games in either year. They would have tried the same last year, but certain publications couldn't justify moving them back up to the top of the list after losing to Oregon State and tumbling in the rankings while other heavyweights remained strong. In addition, despite the losses to lesser teams, Pete Carroll & his biased media cronies who have all been drinking that special brand of Jim Jones-flavored Kool-Aid, without fail, proclaim the Trojans as the best team in all the land! Well if all it takes is to simply say it and people believe it to be true, then, UCLA too has been the best program of the decade and we were robbed last year by not getting a shot at the 'chip last season despite our 4-8 record!
Now that we have settled the National Championship discussion, lets delve a bit deeper and dissect that lone championship from the Carroll era, or shall I say, the Norm Chow era. There, I've said it! The cat is out of the bag! In spite of his ability to field a NCAA all-star team year in and year out, Carroll has been unable to take his boys back to the promised land since Norm Chow left town (Carroll's ego got in the way of him giving Chow his due credit). When Pete began at USC in '01, he brought with him one of the greatest offensive minds the game has ever known. Coupled with the recruiting efforts of Pete, the Trojans were able to improve quickly. In just two seasons, they found themselves in the National Championship hunt, and by the 2004-2005 season, they landed in the National Championship game. They quickly disassembled the unsuspecting Sooners en route to a 55-19 drubbing, showcasing the perfect marriage between the playcalling/coaching chops of Norm Chow, and the talent on the field assembled by Carroll. Finally, the Trojans had a Championship that they actually earned (if you discount the fact that Reggie Bush was a professional athlete at the time, making more than some NFL rookies) on the field instead of in the media.
Shortly after that victory though, because of irreconcilable differences, Pete & Chow divorced. Chow took the brilliance with him, but Pete kept the kids. The following season, with Chow's holdovers (he coached them and taught them everything that they knew, though they were Pete's recruits), despite the Bush-Push fiasco, the Trojans made it back to the National Championship battlefield, but this time, without General Chow (is anyone else getting hungry?!). In the Rose Bowl, just miles away from their home, in a stadium they supposedly own, the Trojans were neither able to come up with an answer for slowing down Vince Young, nor a drive in response to his game winning touchdown. In just one year, they go from a 55-19 victory against Oklahoma on the other side of the country (Miami, Florida), to a 38-41 loss to Texas in their own backyard. Difference? Chow.
Since his departure, the Trojans have tried hard fouling up every National Championship opportunity they've had, losing to lesser teams every year (didn't Dorrell lose his job for the same reason?)- Oregon State & UCLA in '06, Oregon & Stanford in '07, & Oregon State in '08 (both Oregon schools had great seasons during the year of their respective victories, but comparing the talent level, neither should have been competition). And of course, at season's end, Pete Carroll and the local LA media crown the Trojans as the best team in the land, despite having 2 losses on their record in two of those seasons. Hmmm, I wonder what happens this season after 3 losses (Ohio State, Notre Dame, Cal)?! I'm sure Pete & Plaschke will find some way to spin it.
So where is Mr. Norm Chow now you ask? He's back home in Los Angeles where he belongs, along side a gregarious young head coach with a propensity for recruiting, a talented young quarterback at the helm (Kevin Prince), and a versatile, dynamic, lightning fast running back in Jonathan Franklin. Sound familiar? Not at all. This head guy is capable as both a coach and recruiter, and would never let pride get in the way because he understands the importance/greatness of the Chow. With the new regime in LA, the sky is the limit. Maybe there will be real championships in LA afterall!