The departure of USC's Pete Carroll to the Seattle Seahawks hit me in the gut. As a USC alumnus and employee, and as an unabashed Carroll worshiper, I spent days mulling why he would go back to the pros when he stated so emphatically so many times that he wouldn't do it.
In the end, I knew we Carroll fans were wasting our prayers and breath in wishing for him to stay forever. I realized this late in the 2005 season, when Carroll had reached unimaginable heights at the tail end of USC's 34-game win streak. A local Fox sports reporter asked him in a long, philosophical interview if he felt that his transformation from a failed pro coach to a rock-star college icon proved that his true bliss comes as a teacher of young men than as a manager of jaded millionaires. It was Carroll's opportunity to show that he really did "get" it, that he understood himself to be more of a John Wooden than a Bill Belichick, more a Coach K than a Pat Riley.
Carroll didn't bite. He said he saw no difference in the two roles, and that both college and the pros are simply about competing. He went on to say that the NFL represented the pinnacle of his profession, but that he felt the USC gig just seemed more "right" for him.
To use those terrible Ginger & Marianne analogies from Gilligan's Island, I came to realize that college ball would never be more than his Marianne, the sweet but plain girl that he tried to settle down with; but his passion was still with glamorous Ginger, if she would only give him another shot -- especially on terms he felt would give him a better shot to succeed.
And so it was inevitable that his insistence that he'd stay in LA would be meaningless. Those exclamations about refusing to leave were a case of, "He doth protest too much." Now it can be seen why Mark Sanchez's own decision a year ago to shun college glory for NFL glory provoked Carroll to act a bit immature in denouncing it at Sanchez's farewell press conference: Sanchez had rushed onto a path to which Carroll had been trying to resist returning. Carroll's own inevitable return may have been hastened at that point.
Upon leaving, Carroll told the LA Times on Monday that being at last week's BCS title game at the Rose Bowl, but "it's not the same" as the NFL playoffs. "It's a great spectacle, but the other thing is a whole different level." Indeed. The NFL was his dream, and we were never going to keep him here forever. There will never be one like him, a hero for LA and USC -- but I suppose we Trojans are trying to take it better than Tennessee fans rioting over Lane Kiffin's sudden exit to replace Carroll. Sheez, and I thought I took this stuff too seriously.
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