I've followed Pete since he came to USC, especially starting in his second year. His enthusiasm was contagious. I loved watching him on the sidelines. When the team started winning, that made it even sweeter. I was intrigued by this energetic coach who so obviously loved the game. "Who is this guy and where the heck did he come from?" I wondered. I was drawn to Pete's natural charisma and positive attitude, something so lacking much of the time in our increasingly cynical world.
I started reading everything I could find about Peter Clay Carroll. The more I read, the more impressed I became. I have to admit to developing more than a tad of hero worship. I had to try very hard not to put him on a pedestal and heap unrealistic expectations on this special, but still very human, individual. "No one is perfect, and he will make mistakes like anyone else," I constantly reminded myself. I needed to remind myself because USC was on a run the likes of which had never been seen in modern college football.
In the middle of all that winning, word started filtering out about late night treks into the city. First one article, then another, then one more describing how Pete and Bo Taylor had been going alone into some of the worst neighborhoods in LA to talk to guys, try to give them hope, and even help some find jobs. Then Pete and Lou Tice founded A Better LA. A few more articles trickled out, along with TV coverage. I discovered those excursions into the inner city had been occurring for a good year or two before the press found out. My hero worship was turning into a full-on crush.
And just when things were humming along beautifully, Reggie Bush and his parents (and OJ Mayo) got greedy. The NCAA jumped on it like a starving dog on a bone. Nearly four years of investigations ensued, with unfounded rumours, stonewalling in court between Reggie and his lawyers and Lloyd Lake and his attorneys, negative recruiting by other schools, and on and on. Fan forums turned negative, with some people ready to pick apart every perceived issue, valid or not. Media pundits who had loved USC suddenly acted like jilted lovers, looking to find anything to make Pete and the team look bad. This "Sword of Damocles" hung there, threatening to fall and wearing on all who loved the Trojans, including the ever-optimistic Pete Carroll.
And then there was Paul Allen. His team was in disarray, and he wanted it fixed. He and Tod Leiweke decided Pete Carroll was the guy they wanted, and they were willing to give him whatever he needed to make it work. The itch to try the NFL again had always been there for Pete, but he had felt he'd never get a legitimate shot to do it his way. And he truly loved USC. He'd been a USC fan as a kid. His father-in-law was an alum, as was his daughter. His youngest son was a USC student. But here were Paul and Tod with this incredibly enticing offer...
I was among the shocked when Pete announced he was leaving USC. Only Pete knows for sure why he ultimately decided to come to Seattle. Critics claim he was running away from impending sanctions at USC. Perhaps. I tend to think he simply needed a change after several years of negativity, and the chance to prove himself at the NFL level on his own terms was too great a challenge for such a fierce competitor to pass up.
Once I learned that Paul Allen had given Pete the tools and opportunity to do it his way, I had faith he would succeed. I actually thought it would happen sooner. That it didn't shows just how bad the team was when Pete and John first arrived. I initially thought the team had turned the corner after the win against the Giants last year, but they didn't quite have the pieces in place yet; they didn't have Russell.
Three years into the "Pete Carroll era" in Seattle, the rest of the world is once again starting to believe what I've known for over a decade now: Pete Carroll is a dammed good football coach, a master motivator and a man who truly loves life. He isn't perfect. None of us is. But I believe in him. I've talked to him, albeit briefly, three times now. I've read extensively about him. I've seen the results--on and off the field--with my own eyes.