USC Coach Pete Carroll eager to move to ‘a whole different level’ with Seahawks

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Pete Carroll had no choice.

Not really.

In Carroll’s mind, the opportunity to coach again in the NFL, in a situation that appeared to offer him all that he could hope for, was no longer a possibility.

“I had given up on it,” he said during a phone interview early this morning, “but it came out of nowhere.”

Actually, it came out of the Pacific Northwest, from the Seattle Seahawks and billionaire owner Paul Allen. The NFL team reached agreement with the 58-year-old Carroll on a five-year contract that will pay him nearly $33 million and give him the control he never enjoyed with the New York Jets or the New England Patriots. Carroll is expected to sign the deal today and be introduced in Seattle on Tuesday.

But before he begins a transition back to the NFL, where he last worked in 1999, Carroll will meet today with USC players at Heritage Hall.

“By far the most difficult thing is leaving the young guys that just came into the program and just started,” he said.

Carroll declined to identify which coaches from the Trojans staff would follow him to Seattle. However, play-caller Jeremy Bates, offensive line coach Pat Ruel and linebackers coach Ken Norton reportedly will join Carroll.

Carroll said his decision to leave was not influenced by the specter of possible NCAA sanctions that could result from an investigation of allegations that Reggie Bush and his family accepted improper benefits while the Heisman Trophy winner was playing for the Trojans in 2004 and 2005.

“Not in any way,” Carroll said. “Because I know where we stand. It’s just a process we have to go through. We know we’ve fought hard to do right.”

Carroll also rejected reports that his departure was hastened by a strained relationship with Athletic Director Mike Garrett.

“There’s no sour grapes, no slinging of mud,” he said. “I don’t have any issue with Mike Garrett.”

Carroll’s exit, however, comes at a sensitive time for USC. National signing day for high school seniors is less than three weeks away, and uncertainty regarding Carroll’s successor puts the Trojans in danger of losing what had the makings of another top-five recruiting class.

Carroll said he received a phone call Sunday night from Illinois high school receiver Kyle Prater, who had made a verbal commitment to the Trojans. On Saturday, during a nationally televised high school all-star game, Prater said Carroll’s situation had made him reconsider his plan.

“I told him, ‘We’re not disconnecting. I’ll just see you down the road,’ ” Carroll said, adding, “This is an amazingly great class if it can hang together.”

Carroll, an enthusiastic and tireless recruiter, sounded as if he was ready for a new challenge. He won one Bowl Championship Series title game, lost another and took his teams to five other BCS bowls.

Last week, he worked as a television analyst for the BCS title game between Alabama and Texas at the Rose Bowl.

“It’s not the same,” he said, comparing the atmosphere to the NFL playoffs. “It’s a great spectacle, but the other thing is a whole different level.”

Carroll sounded as though he could not wait to begin the next phase of his career with the Seahawks. The team has built a luxurious new practice facility on the shores of Lake Washington and has the sixth and 14th picks in the April draft.

Carroll took the Trojans from a moribund program to one that produced three Heisman Trophy winners, two national titles and seven consecutive Pacific 10 Conference championships in nine years.

But he acknowledged that Trojans fans might not be cheering his latest move.

“Maybe they’ll understand,” he said. “Maybe they won’t.”

Carroll, however, has no regrets.

“I’ve given everything I’ve had,” he said. “There was never going to be a good time.”