Pete Carroll is known as a players’ coach. He sees nothing wrong with that. And judging by his record in three seasons at the University of Southern California, his way of doing things is working just fine.
“I think you can have a great time playing this game, coaching this game,” Carroll said in leading the Trojans to a 12-1 record in the 2003 season, capped by a 28-14 win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl. “I have a need to find fun and make it fun for the players and coaches.”
Carroll doesn’t believe in closed practices. He allows the players’ families to visit and watch from the sidelines. When the players have a pickup basketball game, Carroll is usually in the middle of it. He has been known to jump into the pile during a scrimmage, wearing no padding, but laughing just the same.
“The players love Pete,” said Ed Orgeron, USC’s defensive line coach. “But they don’t take him for granted. He’ll get on their tails. He’s strict on them, but in a way they know it is the right way.”
USA Today’s David Leon Moore credited Carroll with “the rejuvenation of a once-dynastic program that had grown mediocre and stale.” The Trojans were 19-18 in the three seasons under coach Paul Hackett before Carroll took over in 2001.
The Rose Bowl victory was USC’s 20th win in its last 21 games under Carroll, who tonight will receive the 15th annual George Munger Award as the Maxwell Club’s choice for College Football Coach of the Year. The Trojans were ranked No. 1 at the end of the regular season, the first time they held that position since 1972.
In the 2003 season, USC set Pacific 10 records with 506 points scored and seven consecutive games scoring at least 40 points while winning the conference title for the second year in a row. The Trojans accomplished all this after losing quarterback Carson Palmer, the 2002 Heisman Trophy winner, and three senior running backs to graduation.
“The energy (Carroll) brings to the field every day and the work ethic he brings on and off the field, it’s inspirational,” said defensive lineman Shaun Cody. “The guy works so hard. He’s with you in the huddle. He’s all around. You can feel his presence everywhere.”
The 52-year-old Carroll was born in San Francisco and attended University of the Pacific, where he was an all-conference defensive back. He coached 16 years in the NFL, including one season as head coach of the New York Jets and three seasons as head coach in New England. Carroll had a 27-21 record with the Patriots and twice led them to the playoffs, but he is happier and more fulfilled coaching at the college level.
“I think you can take (college) kids farther than you can take them in the NFL,” Carroll said. “This is more fun because of the freshness and enthusiasm of the kids and just the way they respond. It’s like watching your kids grow. This is more like being a parent than a coach.”