Carroll takes risk in thankless NFL

Pete Carroll had been in that room over a hundred times before.

He would normally run down from his second floor office at Heritage Hall, wearing some sort of USC paraphernalia, and take a seat in the middle of the oversized granite table surrounded by a bunch of media members devouring the bottomless plates of pasta and bread sticks.

This time Carroll, who hadn't been seen for four days as rumors swirled about him, sauntered into the Varsity Lounge like a gray-haired stranger from the Northwest. He wore a white button-down shirt and black slacks. The only bit of cardinal and gold touching him was on the carpet he walked on.

It was an unfamiliar situation in the most familiar of settings for Carroll. A little over nine years after walking into the lounge to be introduced as USC's new football coach, he was now walking in to announce his resignation after accepting the head-coaching job with the Seattle Seahawks.

He was getting one last moment in the spotlight where the attention at USC always showered him like the California sunshine. Soon he would be going up to Seattle, where he likely will be received with the same cold chill of a winter day near Lake Washington.

The king of Los Angeles was leaving to become a coaching civilian in Seattle.

Carroll was the chiseled jaw of the USC football program and the suntanned face of one of the most prestigious universities in the country. He was college football royalty and one of the biggest celebrities in a city brimming with them.

In Seattle, he will simply be the football coach of the Seahawks, another name in a forgettable list that includes Jim Mora Jr., Dennis Erickson, Tom Flores and Chuck Knox. Even Mike Holmgren, who reached a Super Bowl with the Seahawks four years ago, never attained the popularity he enjoyed in Green Bay. The Seahawks might have one of the wealthiest owners in sports and one of the nicest facilities in football, but as far as the rest of the country is concerned, they might as well be in Vancouver.

It's an indictment not just of the Seahawks but of the NFL as a whole.

While college football glorifies championship-winning coaches, the NFL chews them up and spits them out. Only three coaches who have led their teams to Super Bowl wins are still with those teams.

While college football is powered by the personalities of iconic coaches like Carroll, Urban Meyer and Nick Saban, the NFL is full of faceless coaches enlisted with the thankless task of motivating multimillionaires before they are shown the door after one bad season.

While college football enabled Carroll to hear an entire student section and marching band chant "Big Balls Pete" every time he went for a big play, the NFL will enable him to be second-guessed by fans and critics alike anytime he calls a play that goes against the grain.

Carroll always wanted to go back to the NFL. He always wanted to prove that he could win in the league, where he has a 34-33 record as a head coach. It irked him to no end when people called him a great college coach but a failure in the NFL. He would always find a way to bring up his winning record and two playoff appearances when talking about his time in the NFL. The man who will not allow you to get the better of him in a gum-throwing match was certainly not going to miss an opportunity to prove his NFL critics wrong.

"It hurts me, it hurts these guys, and I know our fans wish it could just keep on going," Carroll said. "It can't keep on going because I just can't pass this opportunity that just came up. If you know anything about me, I can't pass up a competitive challenge. You can challenge me right now and I will go right now. I'm nuts for it. So what this next step presents is a challenge of a lifetime in one of the most challenging levels of performance."

As he stood in the building where he delivered a pair of national titles, three Heisman trophies and seven straight Pac-10 titles, Carroll acted as if those were all nice achievements but paled in comparison to the opportunity to win in the NFL.

"I always said that the NFL is the highest level of competition," Carroll said. "It's the most intense thing. Those guys aren't going to class and trying to graduate. There is a different focus there. Honestly, the guys that have been around me, you know how I have looked at that over the years. There was never an opportunity. I'm just attracted to the aspect of this whole thing."

It was as if Carroll, who was born to coach the college game in between bodysurfing at Manhattan Beach, forgot everything he had learned about the NFL and college football. He knew what he did in the NFL. He saw what Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino did when they left college football to coach in the NFL and he didn't care. The hardheaded kid who saw everyone else get burned wanted to touch the fire himself once more just to make sure.

The end result may be apparent to everyone but Carroll, who seems intent on ignoring history. Unfortunately for him, he'll be the one who gets ignored a year from now. I can only hope he soaked up his last bit of sun as he left his bright spotlight in Los Angeles.

Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com.