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Carroll says he’s staying at USC

Times Staff Writer

Pete Carroll says he’s staying at USC.

The Trojans coach returned to campus on Tuesday and confirmed that he met with Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga last weekend while on vacation in Costa Rica.

And during an often confusing news conference, Carroll spoke glowingly of Huizenga and an NFL situation that would afford him full control, seemingly leaving the door open for a possible return to pro football.

But about 30 minutes after meeting with reporters, Carroll called Times columnist T.J. Simers and emphatically repeated several times that he would not leave USC even if the Dolphins offered him everything he wanted.

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“I’m not leaving USC,” Carroll said.

If Carroll were to change his mind, he would not be the first coach to claim he was staying before bolting for another opportunity.

Nick Saban did the same thing repeatedly before announcing last week that he was leaving the Dolphins to become coach at Alabama.

“He was very firm about his stance and then things change,” Carroll said during the news conference.

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Bobby Petrino, who left Louisville to become coach of the Atlanta Falcons, also could attest to that.

Carroll, who has guided the Trojans to a 59-6 record and two national championships in the last five seasons, has been connected with NFL coaching vacancies after nearly every one of his six seasons at USC.

But he has never ventured as far, literally and figuratively, as he has with the Dolphins.

Huizenga flew from Miami to Liberia, Costa Rica, to meet with Carroll on Sunday.

Carroll said he was in remote locations without his cellphone and had learned of Huizenga’s interest by calling his phone and checking his messages.

Carroll, who coached the New York Jets in 1994 and the New England Patriots from 1997 to 1999, was intrigued by Huizenga’s proposal to meet.

“This is a very unique owner,” Carroll said. “He’s like the only guy I know who’s in the NFL that actually hires guys to do everything. That’s why I thought it was worthwhile talking and hearing him out.”

Carroll said he learned of kicker Mario Danelo’s death, and then contacted Dennis Slutak, USC’s director of football operations, minutes before his airport interview with Huizenga and other Dolphins officials that he declined to identify. Danelo’s body was found Saturday at the bottom of a cliff in San Pedro.

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“That was the first thing we talked about,” Carroll said. “I was in shock.”

Carroll said he met with Huizenga for four hours but that no offer was made.

“I’ve said the exact same thing for six years: That I can’t imagine there’s a situation that could present itself that would have the kind of format and the kind of freedom that would even get me a chance to listen,” Carroll said. "[Huizenga] does have that so I listened.”

Carroll described the Dolphins’ coaching job as “a one-voice program ... I don’t think there’s any other one like that in the NFL.”

Asked if he would talk to Huizenga again if the owner wanted to further discuss the job, Carroll said, “I’ll take his phone call.”

But Carroll also said the meeting with Huizenga “only strengthens my resolve about being here and knowing what I have and how lucky I am to be in the situation I’m in.”

USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett said he wasn’t worried about Carroll’s interviewing with the Dolphins.

Garrett said the NFL team did not contact him to seek permission.

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“It’s no big deal,” he said. “Nothing like that surprises me.”

Dolphins officials have confirmed that they also have interviewed Cam Cameron, Ron Rivera, Ron Turner, Mike Tomlin, Ken Whisenhunt, Dom Capers and Chan Gailey.

Carroll said he was not concerned about the effect the meeting with the Dolphins would have on recruiting. The Trojans have received commitments from 14 players and are on track to sign another stellar class on Feb. 7.

“I understand there are recruiting innuendoes and things like that -- I’m not worried about that one bit because I know how it’s going to end,” Carroll said.

Carroll also was not troubled by the perception by some that he should have returned to USC sooner in the wake of Danelo’s death.

He said he had talked to Danelo’s father, Joe, and that he would participate in a memorial service Friday in San Pedro.

Carroll said he attempted to schedule an earlier departure but was unsuccessful.

Asked why he did not have a USC alumnus send a plane to get him home, he said: “I didn’t think of calling any of the alumni to do that but I did try to figure it out.... This was as soon as I could get back.”

gary.klein@latimes.com


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