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Two competitors stake out positions at USC

Pete Carroll is leaving USC.

When we talked Tuesday, he wouldn’t say where he’s going, or exactly when, making everything a mystery of sorts.

“I like mystery,” is how he put it.

I attempted to be more specific, but he said, “I’m not going to be pushed into a corner.”

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I tried anyway, voices were raised and I remember at some point Carroll mentioned Washington, Atlanta, Indianapolis and Seattle.

I had a question to ask, told him so and four times he walked away while we haggled in Heritage Hall. Each time Carroll returned to keep talking, the conversation jumping from contentious to good-natured before taking it outside.

I could tell you where it went from there, but I just don’t feel like telling you. You can say, “that’s not fair.”

Well, I’ll you what Carroll said. “You’re right, it’s not fair, but that’s what I’m going to do.”

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I HAD plans to attend the Bob Hope Classic this week in the desert -- thinking maybe somebody should go.

It’s a dying PGA tournament, as you know, and aren’t they all when Tiger isn’t playing?

This one is so far gone it’s not on network TV this weekend, has none of the top 20 players in the world, and will be competing for attention here with the NFL, Lakers and UCLA taking on USC.

But I still thought it’d be fun to shadow the Hope’s celebrity host, George Lopez, like I did Oscar De La Hoya before his last two fights, and like the week-long trip to Nebraska -- write four or five Page 2 diary columns on the Hope.

Lopez, proving he’s willing to do almost anything for the Hope, agreed to make himself available 24/7, including parties, dinners and an invite to caddy for him Saturday.

PGA Tour officials, though, said Lopez didn’t have the power to promote the Hope in such a manner, thereby killing the diary. The concern, of course, what happens if one of the golfers is seen wearing a lampshade at one of the parties? How would it look on Page 2 if I couldn’t put a name to a face of one of their players?

It was a legitimate concern since the tour is now loaded with players who lack identity -- the exception being John Daly, who wouldn’t draw a second look if he was wearing a lampshade, because that’s John Daly.

The PGA Tour’s idea of hyping the dying Hope was to make three players available for interviews Tuesday, and if I told you three of the six names here belong to golfers -- Lane Frost, Charley Hoffman, Billy Bishop, John Ware, Anthony Kim and Richard Johnson -- could you pick them out?

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Hoffman is Hope’s defending champ, and was joined in the interview tent by Kim and Johnson. The other three names belong to men who really are dead.

SPEAKING OF dead men, I stopped by the Clippers’ locker room and ran into Sam Cassell.

Cassell is playing for a team with 11 wins, and given his postseason experience and the Clippers’ look to the future, it’s a good bet Cassell will be a goner by the Feb. 21 trade deadline.

Cassell didn’t disagree. “You know I can help somebody,” he said, and then as if to prove it, he went out and scored 32 points on 15-of-21 shooting against the Suns.

OK, SO getting back to Carroll. Now you know what it’s like talking to someone who just leaves you guessing what’s going on.

I told Carroll he was arrogant and trying to teach the media a lesson by not talking about the Atlanta job. He agreed.

And that’s why I like him, because he gives straight answers, or so he did.

He said he’s not going to answer questions about NFL coaching jobs. He said he’s been answering them since he arrived at USC, and while that’s a slight exaggeration, he said no matter what he says, no one believes him.

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“I’ll tell you when there’s something going on,” he said, and I laughed.

“Yeah, when you’re standing behind the podium in the NFL headquarters of the team you’ll be coaching,” I said, and that’s the only time I got him Tuesday.

We continued to argue. The chat became animated. An elderly pair walked by, and one of them said, “That’s telling him, Coach.”

We were standing a few feet from seven Heisman trophies, Trojans fans hanging around just to catch a glimpse of the college game’s best coach, and it was obvious who had the home-field advantage.

“Did you talk to the Atlanta owner on the telephone?”

“That’s personal,” he said.

He wouldn’t give in, but he was smiling, because he figured he was winning again. He does that a lot -- smile and win.

I said honest answers to reports that his name has been linked to an NFL opening would end the scrutiny, and what about all those Trojans fans who hang on everything that happens at USC?

He said there were all kinds of examples of coaches who had said something only to have things change and then be painted a liar.

“So that would suggest you might be interested in leaving USC if the offer is right?” I said, and he said, “There you go -- another question. I say something, and there’s always another question.

“I’m here,” he said, while making it clear that’s now going to be his answer to every NFL question.

“What if you were in our position?” I said.

“I’d keep asking the question,” he said, because he’s a competitor and competitors keep after it, and so when “Atlanta, Washington, Indianapolis and Seattle are mentioned,” he said, he expects to hear the questions, but just don’t expect to hear any answers from him.

“Come on,” I said, “that’s not fair.”

“OK,” Carroll said, “so what’s the question you wanted to ask so badly?”

“I forgot,” I said, and we laughed, and he left to play basketball along with my departing wish, “that he miss every shot.”

“I’m too arrogant to think that will happen,” he said, and you know what, I’m going to miss the guy when he leaves USC.

And probably be the last to know.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.


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