BILL DWYRE

Pete Carroll's redemption arc is complete

The feel-good story line for the former NFL reject may have even desertion-stung USC fans reveling in Seahawks coach's Super Bowl stunner.

A highlight of the Super Bowl celebration, on a large platform amid a cheering crowd and a rain of confetti, was a past Trojan hero bringing the championship trophy to another past Trojan hero.

Presumably, at that moment, there was an outbreak of goose bumps in Trojan Nation.

After all, if you live and breathe the Cardinal and Gold, how could it get much better than having Marcus Allen deliver the Lombardi Trophy to Pete Carroll?

There is no question about goose bumps for Allen. But Carroll?

In these parts, the jury may still be in deliberation about him. If Gallup took a poll, it would be interesting.

How many now simply appreciate Carroll for the excellence he brought to USC's football program in the nine seasons he coached and made Trojans fans feel as if John McKay had been reincarnated?

Or, how many have yet to find forgiveness in their hearts for his departure to the Seattle Seahawks in January 2010, while rumors of impending NCAA sanctions were in full bloom and would become reality in five months, when the NCAA took action that was basically a scorched-earth campaign on USC's football program?

Carroll, who spoke often and enthusiastically during his days at USC about loving the college game and left the impression that USC would be his last stop, has said little in ensuing years about the perception that he cut and ran. But when you get to a Super Bowl, as he did with the Seahawks, the media horde will pursue every angle. And so, he was asked to address the still-smoldering perception about his USC departure in a story in Sunday's edition of The Times.

"It does bother me because it's not right and it's not accurate," Carroll said. "I didn't feel bad about leaving because I knew what the truth was."

Several follow-up questions seemed in order. Such as: What's not right? What's not accurate? And what was the truth?

Even with the Trojans set to endure one last season of scholarship shortages under the NCAA mandate brought about by the Carroll years, Trojan Nation questions about what he knew and when he knew it likely carry less resonance now. They say time even mellows an angry Trojan.

Most likely, the majority of USC fans watched Sunday with pride and nostalgia — and even a sense of loss — as Carroll's Seahawks demolished the pride of Denver, Peyton Manning's Broncos.

It was a game simple to analyze. Carroll's defense was near impenetrable. Manning may be the best of all time, and the Seahawks neutralized him. They were faster, stronger, more inspired and, obviously, better coached.

Now, after watching the Seahawks win the Super Bowl — even for those who remain angry at Carroll for his quick departure as the NCAA rolled on Heritage Hall — it seems time to give the devil his due.

The man can coach football.

The Forbes magazine website, in an article released shortly after Sunday's lopsided victory, said, "The win squarely places Carroll in an elite circle of all-time great football coaches."

That's high praise for a man who was fired twice in the pros and was somewhat of a forgotten player in the national coaching ranks when he convinced Mike Garrett, then USC's athletic director, that he was the one for the Trojans job. By then, Garrett had already had unsuccessful talks with, by most accounts, his three leading candidates: Dennis Erickson, Mike Bellotti and Mike Riley.

That made Carroll a somewhat unpopular No. 4. But soon, alumni and fan squawking turned to adoration, as national rankings and Bowl Championship Series postseason games became the norm. The Times' Bill Plaschke, who originally ripped the hire, wrote his mea culpa in 2003, featuring this classic summary line: "He may be the only coach in history who was on the hot seat before he even had a chance to sit down."

Now, No. 4 at USC has become the most celebrated coach in the NFL, and in the coaching world.

Crucial in any Super Bowl appearance is keeping a team loose in the midst of the pregame, commitment-laden pressure cooker. Carroll invented keeping a team loose. Practices at USC used to include an occasional reporter going down-and-out for a pass from the coach, or a TV guy getting a snap or two before the camera was turned on.

Carroll coaches like a man convinced, at least until a few years ago, that he could still play a few downs in the defensive backfield and not get beat. Most men 62 have stopped competing, except for a few $10 Nassaus. Not Carroll. He is forever restless, always itchy. If his team doesn't do it right, his first reaction is more likely to be putting on the pads and showing them, rather than hollering at them.

People mistake his sideline demeanor for cockiness or excessive swagger. There's some of that, but it's more an abundance of energy and a fire in his belly that never goes out.

It has been an amazing 13 years and six months since this underdog coaching candidate stepped to the podium as USC's new football boss. That was Dec. 15, 2000.

Now, he is the toast of the coaching world.

We can scoff at that and cling to our bad memories.

Or we can feel good that he was once ours, give him credit for what he has achieved and let the past become just that.

The second option is healthier and feels better.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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