No matter how many times he said “psyched” or “blast” or did cannonballs into the university pool, Pete Carroll was always going to leave USC and go back to the National Football League.
The only questions were the time, the date, the team, the billionaire owner and whether Carroll would: 1) get out on top, after a national championship; or 2) bolt for the door after a one-win-shy-of-10 season and the NCAA cops in his rearview mirror.
So the final answer looks as if it’s: No. 2.
Carroll appears headed to the Seattle Seahawks -- not long after a judge ruled he could be deposed in the long-running Reggie Bush case, USC self-imposed sanctions on the basketball program, quarterback Aaron Corp transferred to lower-division Richmond and tailback Joe McKnight and star receiver Damian Williams declared for the NFL draft.
All that and $7 million per year makes leaving sound like a savvy business decision.
It would have been a cleaner send-off had Carroll departed for the first reason, following the 2004 season, after the Trojans trounced Oklahoma, 55-19, to win his only BCS title.
He might have been questioned for using USC to get back to the NFL, where he was always going to have to prove he was not the less-than-spectacular coach who ran the New England Patriots and New York Jets.
Bill Parcells says “you are what you are” and Carroll is who he is -- same as Urban Meyer is who he is. You can’t alter DNA and the compulsive need to keep moving no matter what is, or what isn’t, chasing you.
Carroll is a remarkable 97-19 in nine seasons at USC, winning two national titles and maybe leaving a few more on the table. His services to quality football and the community would be missed.
But the last year was strange from the hut-go. It started with the bizarre Mark Sanchez news conference, continued into summer when Carroll sold out starting quarterback Corp for true freshman Matt Barkley, pushed onward through the nearly-incited player riot at the end of the UCLA-USC game, and concluded at 9-4 and No. 22 in the final Associated Press poll.
Carroll is who he is, but what is USC now? Where would it go?
Under scope of NCAA scrutiny, and the timing of Carroll’s departure looking as if it will come at the worst possible time in terms of recruiting, who should/would be the Trojans’ next coach?
There are terrific names out there:
* Mike Riley, Oregon State. Looks good on paper, but really? Riley was set to become USC’s coach in 2001 instead of Carroll, but he couldn’t get out of his contract with the San Diego Chargers. A former USC assistant and maybe the best coach in the Pac-10, Riley would be a sensational hire. But could he walk out of Corvallis, his hometown, this close to national signing day for a school with an uncertain NCAA future?
* Steve Sarkisian, Washington. This could have been a seamless transition had USC locked Carroll’s 2008 offensive coordinator into one of those popular successor-in-waiting deals. Now, it would take 10 tons of guts for Sarkisian to walk out on star quarterback Jake Locker, who walked away from NFL millions to stay in Seattle.
* Al Golden, Temple. Interviewed by UCLA before the Bruins hired Rick Neuheisel, Golden led Temple from the verge of extinction to a 9-4 record this year -- same as USC’s. He’s a Penn State graduate, though, so he might be waiting for Joe Paterno to retire.
* Dennis Franchione. He’s looking for work, was a finalist for the Nevada Las Vegas job, and has major coaching experience at Texas Christian, Alabama and Texas A&M. Don’t expect a letter of recommendation from Alabama.
* Gary Patterson and Chris Petersen. Golden boy coaches from Texas Christian and Boise State, the question again is, why? Both guys are already sitting on teams that will compete for the national title next year.
* Jim Harbaugh, Stanford. He just signed a three-year contract extension, but is that just paperwork for Mr. Go-For-Two? Another theory: If you can’t beat him, hire him.
* Mike Bellotti, Oregon. A possible two-for-one bargain. The former Ducks coach can run the team and also has experience as an athletic director.
* Jon Gruden. He gets mentioned for every opening.
OK, time to return to Planet Earth.
In this time of tumult, USC would probably need to call home a former Trojan to shepherd the program through possible sanctions pain. And that means placing calls to two head coaches in the NFL:
* Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville Jaguars. The former USC star linebacker and MVP of the 1985 Rose Bowl might be looking for a change of scenery. And then Jacksonville could follow him to L.A.
* Jeff Fisher, Tennessee Titans. For years, he seemed like USC’s logical next choice, but the former Taft High star and USC cornerback under John Robinson seems entrenched in the professional league. But he would probably accept USC’s phone call.