Highly successful USC football Coach Pete Carroll was close to reaching an agreement with the Seattle Seahawks on Friday evening, headed toward a job switch that would deliver yet another blow to the university’s besieged athletic program.
While USC has come under fire for not properly monitoring athletes -- with two investigations involving football -- Seattle is offering big money and wide-ranging control.
The 58-year-old Carroll has been offered the job of both coach and president at an annual salary of $7 million for five years, according to a source close to the negotiations who was not authorized to comment on the situation.
Although Seahawks officials did not talk publicly about their interest in Carroll, a contingent from the team, including Chief Executive Tod Leiweke, met with the coach in Los Angeles this week.
Seattle announced early Friday it had fired Coach Jim Mora. Team President and General Manager Tim Ruskell was forced to resign early last month.
Reached at his Hermosa Beach home, Carroll had no comment. Since arriving at USC in late 2000, he has vaulted to the top of the college game -- and become one of the winningest coaches in school history -- by leading his teams to a pair of national championships and seven major bowl games.
His meteoric rise overshadowed a less-than-sparkling history in the NFL where, during the 1990s, the New York Jets fired him after one season and the New England Patriots after three.
The control Carroll would have as Seattle’s president is important because he thought he had too little say about drafting and signing players in his previous NFL jobs.
Those decisions fell to general managers and personnel directors -- an issue that reportedly arose when Carroll negotiated with the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers in recent seasons.
News reports about Carroll meeting with the Seahawks came on the same day USC lost star receiver Damian Williams and tailback Joe McKnight, who both announced they would forgo their senior years to make themselves available for the NFL draft.
For USC, Carroll’s timing could not be worse.
McKnight missed the team’s victory over Boston College in the recent Emerald Bowl, sidelined by an investigation into whether he violated NCAA rules by driving a Land Rover owned by a Santa Monica businessman.
Of even greater concern is an ongoing investigation of former tailback Reggie Bush.
A pair of would-be sports marketers have alleged they gave cash and gifts to Bush, and that his parents lived rent-free in a San Diego-area house owned by one of them while Bush was playing for the Trojans in 2004 and 2005.
Now with the New Orleans Saints, Bush has denied any wrongdoing, but the NCAA continues to pursue the matter.
Carroll’s name was dragged to the forefront of the investigation last month when one of the sports marketers, who is suing Bush to recover alleged gifts, won an appellate court ruling that would allow his attorney to question the running back and Carroll in depositions.
NCAA officials could use any evidence gleaned from the civil suit
“This will play out in open court for the public to see,” said Brian Watkins, the plaintiff’s attorney.
Though Carroll’s reputation has remained largely untouched during all of this, the investigations have sparked some grumbling that he plays loosely with NCAA rules.
Last summer, the USC coach answered allegations that he had a special-teams consultant act as an assistant coach, putting the USC staff over the allowable limit.
Neither the athletic department nor the Pacific 10 Conference has commented on the status or potential outcome of that matter.
Not that football has been the only program under scrutiny at USC.
Responding to allegations that former basketball star O.J. Mayo received cash and gifts from a Los Angeles events promoter, the university recently announced the team will forgo postseason play this year, forfeit victories and curtail recruiting.
But with the NCAA previously combining its Bush and Mayo investigations, looking at a potential lack of institutional control within the athletic department, those self-imposed sanctions were seen as an attempt to avoid or at least soften future NCAA punishment for the football program.
Football has always reigned supreme at USC.
According to the most recent documents that colleges must file under the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, the football team generated $35 million in revenue between July 1, 2008, and June 30, 2009.
The team’s success was also thought to be greatly responsible for about $39 million in revenue from sources such as support groups, donations and endowments.
All of which meant that football allowed the athletic department to balance its $80-million budget.
In return, USC paid Carroll $4.4 million a year, making him the highest-paid employee at a private university in the nation, according to the most recent figures available.
Originally an unpopular hire in 2000, a fall-back option after the Trojans failed to land bigger names such as Dennis Erickson and Mike Bellotti, Carroll watched his first team start 1-4.
But the Trojans rallied to win five of their last seven games in 2001 and never looked back.
In addition to the major bowl games and national titles -- one of which was shared with Louisiana State -- they captured a record seven consecutive Pac-10 championships and, in a span of four years, saw three players -- Bush, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart -- win Heisman Trophies as the best college players in the land.
Overall, Carroll has a 97-19 record over nine seasons and a reputation as a tireless recruiter.
If Carroll were to leave USC now, it could badly damage a team that fell to 9-4 this season, missing a Bowl Championship Series postseason game for the first time in seven years.
The search for a coach could extend through the conclusion of the recruiting season, hampering the Trojans’ ability to restock with new talent.