Taking the blame

Special to The Times

USC’s football season took a dramatic turn Oct. 6 when the then-No. 2 Trojans were stunned by Stanford, 24-23, in the Coliseum. Coach Pete Carroll was interviewed Tuesday on a variety of topics and spoke about that defeat and more.

Question: You’ve lost a lot of talent over the years. Norm Chow, Ed Orgeron. Of the guys you’ve lost in coaching, who do you miss the most?

Answer: I think we miss Lane [Kiffin, now coach of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders] the most. He’s been here since the first day. The fact is that he was on offense, and I’m on the other side of the ball. He’s an extraordinary coach.


You guys were [complaining about] him last year too. You’ve been [complaining about] everybody forever. That’s the way it is. I know the whole point of this article is to try and come up with reasons why we’re not doing as well. We lost a game, man, you know. We really blew it against Stanford. We screwed it up because we played a guy that was hurt. I made a mistake on that. That was me. That wasn’t Norm or Lane or Eddy-O, or any of those guys. That was me screwing it up and not recognizing it, and sitting on the football at the end of the game. We kept throwing it with a guy with a broken hand.

Really that’s what’s happened. That’s it. It isn’t about the guys that aren’t here, it isn’t about any of that stuff. It is what you have to try and answer questions to, and try to create reasons why, and in essence position blame. But that’s really not what happened. These guys are freaking gifted. Johnny Mo [Johnny Morton, wide receivers coach] is such a good football coach. He’s so much more experienced at coaching receivers than Lane was. He adds another whole dimension to those guys. It’s extraordinary what he’s up against with these young guys.

Q: It’s his first time dealing with college kids. [Actually, Morton was an assistant at the University of San Diego in 2005.]

A: No. Every kid in the NFL is a college kid, dude! Every one of them. They’re just a couple years older. He’s had rookies. Every one of them -- they’re the same thing. It’s not different. People don’t understand that. Until guys get into their sixth and seventh year, then they become NFL veterans, those guys are different. But for the first three, four or five years, they’re just a couple years older. They just went from here and stepped over there. What changed? If anything, they’ve become more stupid because they’re not in that game. That’s all. It’s not because of anything else. Overrated. . . .

What do you think happened to us this year? Do you think I’m not as smart as I was? Have I lost my edge? None of our guys have. We transitioned to a backup quarterback. It’s really hard to win games with your backup quarterback. We’ve won two of the three. It’s really hard when he’s never played before too. Look what happened to Cal. Remember Cal? It doesn’t have anything to do with talent. It’s experience at that position. And watch the NFL. What happens when the backups come in? Look what’s happened in Arizona without Matt [Leinart] in there. . . . That’s just the way football goes. It’s almost impossible to overcome that loss. And when you can . . . we almost did it, you know? The screwed-up part is we played a guy when he was hurt. We should have got Mark [Sanchez] in there. That’s where we messed up. And then we go against these guys in Oregon, they’re really, really good -- and really good on that day. . . .

I hoped we could make it to the midway point and find Joe [McKnight] -- we knew he was awesome -- get him to surface, and find out what the running back thing was. It turned out to be Stafon [Johnson]. He got hurt, went out, and that’s just the way it is. But the season isn’t over. Our job is to overcome this. Those aren’t excuses -- that’s the reality. What you have to do is find ways to minimize those factors. It’s not the obvious things that you would think. It’s just the reality of what you have to deal with. You’re juggling balls, you’ve got to move around and hope you do it right. I had a chance in the Stanford game. I talked to John [David Booty] about three different times. “You OK? You feel comfortable? You don’t look right.” Then you come back and zoom, he zings one in there. I’m sure he’s OK. He says he’s OK. He looks OK. But then all of a sudden, he threw four picks in the second half. What am I thinking? You know? Yank [him]! Don’t make him throw it! We’re still confident throwing the ball. If anything really was a factor, it was my cockiness that there was no way we could lose a game. It didn’t matter; we could keep running our offense, keep working on stuff and they would never beat us. And sure enough -- all of a sudden -- you’re kidding me! Fourth and 20 they made it? All they have to do is throw one more ball out of four chances? And they did.

I felt the same way in the Washington game. Which really isn’t the best way to feel, but it’s the way I’ve felt for so many years and it’s helped us stay on course.

Q: So you’ve got a different paradigm now. Do you enjoy this more? When it’s more of a challenge, do you like that?

A: Every season is like that. You wouldn’t realize that sometimes when things are going really well there are just as many or more distractions. Every year has a whole bucket full of stuff. You’ve got to work your way through it, and try to clean it all up and not allow it to be a factor. . . . All of that stuff -- it comes in different sizes and shapes and forms. I think it’s really weak that guys point to a coach that isn’t there, or point to Jimmy Harbaugh’s comments, or whatever you want to go to. Any of that stuff.

Q: It’s more complicated?

A: Of course it is. But . . . the quarterback was hurt. He’d never thrown four picks in his life in a half.

Q: Or four picks in a game?

A: No! Nobody has around here, ever. Broken hand? What was I thinking? I’m the one that screwed it up. He’s a warrior. He’s the one telling me “I can play.” That’s what he should be telling me.

Q: That’s the college cockiness?

A: No! Every NFL competitor will tell you the same freaking thing. They’d all tell you they’re not coming out of the game. “I’m playing!” In essence, we foster and breed that mentality so that they can overcome the setbacks and issues they have to deal with. With our wisdom, we have to be able to see through that. Sometimes we can’t see. I missed one. I missed a big one. It cost us a game that really cost us the flavor of this season. We’ve been tainted ever since, for obvious reasons. We gave away a game to a team that’s won two or three games. Amazing. But it’s awesome for football, it’s awesome for Stanford and all that. Great for those guys. [Not great for] us in that regard. We screwed it up.

Adam Rose’s blog “All things Trojan” appears regularly at