Carroll is now alone at the top
From a dreary field in Seattle to an eerie field in Eugene, the whispers have been the same.
From first downs at the Coliseum to the last series in South Bend, the wondering has been incessant.
Who is coaching these guys?
While the source of the rips and tears in this strangely ragged USC football team can be debated, the overall appearance cannot.
Pete Carroll’s Trojans do not look like Pete Carroll’s Trojans. They don’t swarm, suffocate or scheme like them. They don’t attack with the same intensity, defend with the same abandon, or behave with the same inspiration.
And, oh yeah, these Trojans don’t tackle like those Trojans, largely because they don’t tackle at all.
Who is coaching these guys?
After five years of whirlwind turnover, the answer is, we don’t really know.
And the scary part is, perhaps the players don’t either.
At a time when Carroll’s coaching staff should be fostering his philosophy through the sense of stability that comes with nearly a decade of success, its most important voices are either too new or too unsteady.
At a time when the coaching staff should be building on the philosophies that led to consecutive national championships in 2003 and 2004, well, the heart of that group is gone.
Seven coaches gone, to be exact.
Call it the Curse of Chow.
The unnecessary departure of offensive coordinator Norm Chow after the 2004 championship led to an all-star coaching stampede out the Heritage Hall doors.
Offensive gurus Chow, Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, gone.
Lineman touchstones Ed Orgeron and Tim Davis, gone.
Heart and soul guys Nick Holt and Kennedy Pola, gone.
They weren’t thrown out, they walked out, to better jobs or different scenery, but their departures left a hole in the heart of this program that has not won a national title since.
Five years later, Carroll is left with a new and ever-changing staff that lacks either the experience or security to challenge the boss.
The players are left with some coaches who lack the championship credibility and cultural understanding necessary to sell them on the boss’ vision.
The program has been left with a team that no longer has the sort of foundation that can help it consistently rise to the moment.
The Curse of Chow has left Carroll in the sort of role that ironically drove Norm Chow away in the first place.
Carroll now has an unchallenged voice and unchecked responsibilities that might be leaving him hoarse and distracted.
Be careful what you wish for.
“I will not make any excuses, this is all on me, I’ll take every hit here with anything involving this program,” said Carroll on Tuesday.
But he did acknowledge the benefit of having longtime assistants.
“When guys have been here a long time, they know our way, and they keep me on track,” he said. “I have a tendency to become a little distracted, and guys who know me can keep me in touch with the way we’re supposed to be doing things.”
The two national championship teams were loaded with those guys. Does he have them now? Not really, at least not in the right positions.
Carroll’s Trojans have always been run by a solid offensive coordinator who has not been afraid to tell the boss to mind his own defensive business.
This year’s offensive coordinator, Jeremy Bates, is new, NFL-trained and not yet college-tested.
Carroll’s Trojans have also always had a strong defensive voice that can both amplify and adjust the boss’ vision.
This year’s defensive coordinator, longtime Carroll protege Rocky Seto, is also new to the position and the responsibilities.
Finally, Carroll’s Trojans have also had special teams coaches who run the one part of the game that sometimes eludes the boss’ attention.
Then there is special teams coach, Brian Schneider, who is new and whose units have been struggling.
That a football program would enter a season with three of its most important coaching spots being manned by three new names is not unusual -- for a team with a new head coach.
In other programs run by coaches with tenures similar to Carroll’s nine-year run, the key coaches rarely change.
In Texas, 12-year Coach Mack Brown has a 12-year offensive coordinator and defensive tackles/special teams coach.
In Oklahoma, 11-year Coach Bob Stoops has an 11-year defensive coordinator and an eight-year offensive coordinator.
When it comes to the Trojans’ turnover, it is difficult to know how much of it is ambition, and how much of it is Carroll.
Obviously, guys such as Sarkisian, Kiffin and Orgeron had to take head coaching jobs.
But did Chow really want the same offensive coordinator job with the Tennessee Titans? Not really, but he felt Carroll’s increasing autocratic nature gave him no choice.
Did Tim Davis really need to leave for a similar job with the then-struggling Miami Dolphins? Did Kennedy Pola, the ultimate Trojan, really need to join the staff of the then-awful Cleveland Browns? Didn’t USC have a higher football profile than either of those teams?
And, let’s face it, how was Sarkisian able to steal Nick Holt to do a job similar to what he was doing here?
If there were ever a moment where Trojan fans felt the stiff breeze from the Heritage Hall revolving door, the loss to Washington was it.
“We get skyrocket guys here, guys who want to move up and out, and I’m proud of that,” said Carroll.
And he should be, as long as those guys are leaving for something instead of running from something.
Just as his players need to examine their roles this week in the wake of the likely loss of the Rose Bowl and national championship hopes, so does Carroll.
Is he giving his coaches enough room? Is he giving them enough responsibility? Is he giving them enough credit?
One of the underlying themes of Carroll’s motivational mantras is that nobody can do it alone.
Surely he knows that this includes him.