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Shelley Smith: Carroll Will Be Missed

1/9/2010
Shelley Smith

This all feels eerily similar. The biggest rock star in town decides its time to move on. Shaq did it in 2004 (okay he was traded) and Pete Carroll evidently is doing it now. Once again, the fun has just left the city. Kobe aside, Pete had the biggest cache of just about anybody in Tinseltown. Even when Matt Leinart was rocking Hollywood and Reggie Bush was rocking the end zone (and later NCAA investigators), it was always Pete at the forefront of celebrity. He stood with gang members in Compton, he surfed on the shores of Hermosa Beach, and he won. He won a lot.

He was everyman’s guy. A guy who pulled pranks on his team, throwing a dummy of Lendale White off a building next to the practice field (and was reamed by people who said it was insensitive to suicide victims). He worked with the Summa Children’s Foundation and laughed as his buddy, USC grad Will Ferrell did a tribute video, for “the children of sumo wrestlers, (dressed in a loin cloth.) He embraced a young developmentally challenged boy, Ricky Rosas, and made him his special assistant. He embraced Sourena Vasseghi, who graduated from USC despite cerebral palsy, and invited him to speak to the team. And he embraced 12-year-old Jake Olson, whom he took into his and his team’s world after Jake, a huge Trojan fan, learned he would lose his eyesight to cancer.

He opened practice and opened our eyes to the inner workings of big-time college football that so many of his colleagues go paranoidally out of their way to keep private. He invited the public, hoping for a more game-like atmosphere, he sprinted from field to field with his players, he played a silly gum game every single day with Tino Martinez, the equipment manager. He sang “Lean On Me” with Bill Withers and his players and late at night for two weeks, he cried in the hospital room with Stafon Johnson after Johnson was nearly killed after dropping a weight on his throat.

He is no saint, and has never claimed to be. He continues to plead ignorance to the Bush situation, the McKnight situation and allegations that the Trojans employed an extra coach last summer and he may be right. But he was in charge and it all happened on his watch. Because of the intense scrutiny, this move may be strategic more than anything else; if USC football is self-sanctioned like the basketball team just was, who wants to stick around.