Carroll to Seattle/Kiffin to USC-The Implications
Written by Curt Popejoy on 01/13/2010
The past ten days or so, there’s been a lot of uproar in SoCal as first long time head coach Pete Carroll decided to resign to accept a position as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, and then just a week later, former USC assistant Lane Kiffin returns to the Trojans as their new head coach. Both of these moves could have huge effects on these two football teams and I want to break them down a little.
First, what does Pete Carroll mean to the Seattle Seahawks? History says that a successful college coach moving to the NFL does not fare well. Carroll is a bit unique in that he does have 16 years in the NFL as a coach at some level. From 1984 to 1993 he served as an assistant, and in 1994 became the head coach of the New York Jets. This tenure was short lived as he went 6-10 and was fired. He became the 49ers defensive coordinator for 2 years and then got the job as head coach of the New England Patriots. They gave him two seasons, first making the playoffs as a wild card, and the next season falling back and was terminated.
Carroll is a forgotten man in the NFL as a head coach, because even though he made the playoffs, followed Bill Parcells, and then was followed by Bill Belichick. Tough way to go, but in the final analysis, Carroll was a very successful defensive coach, and finished 33-31 as a head coach. Probably the best record of any college head coach who went to the NFL in a long time.
Why did Pete leave? No, I mean why did he REALLY leave? I know Carroll said at his presser that he couldn’t pass up the challenge. But have there not been other “challenges” present themselves from the NFL in recent years? I have no problem with a guy moving up, and let’s be honest, Pete had 7 million reasons to leave. And let’s all be honest. The timing of this stinks. USC comes off a down year, where they had some humiliating losses, the worst in a decade. Then you follow that up with an NCAA probe into problems with Joe McKnight. Then you pile on most of the best Juniors heading to the NFL, and the “challenge” might have been keeping a straight face at his press conference.
Having said all that, can Carroll win in Seattle? Well, when you look at the roster of the Seahawks, Carroll has his work cut out for them. The team is aging at quarterback and along the line on offense, and their skill players are underwhelming. On defense, they have some great young players, especially their linebacking corp, but their dline needs work, and the secondary could use an upgrade. But all in all, when you consider how strong Carroll is on defense you have to think he can coach up those guys and play better with a few upgrades.
Another thing that Carroll has in his favor is the Division he plays in. The Arizona Cardinals are a very good football team with a Hall of Fame quarterback, who’s probably down to just a few more seasons, and let’s not kid ourselves, Kurt Warner makes that team go. You figure in the St. Louis Rams and San Fransisco 49ers who are up and down every year, with an emphasis on the down, the opportunity to be good is there in a year or two.
My easy prediction is Carroll will have the playoffs in his third year. He’s going to have to re-build that offense, and upgrade the defense, and with a potential uncapped year and how that will change free agency, this first year could be a little stagnant beyond the draft. I don’t believe that Carroll is going to get Seattle back to a Super Bowl unless he can find a franchise quarterback to come in and run that offense, while he builds a dominant defense. He’s going to have some tough decisions to make early on, and there will always be in the background the wonder if Carroll is going to try and load up on former Trojans for his new team.
Ok, so with this, USC suddenly had a giant void in their coaching staff. This is a team that for the bulk of this decade has been one of the best programs in the country, even winning a National Championship. When I heard Carroll was gone, I honestly expected to see Trojan Country to be in an uproar, but they were all surprisingly calm. I assume this is because when you are part of a top program, you assume you will bring in a top coach, and just keep the course, right?
When the Story first broke that Pete Carroll was headed to Seattle to coach the Seahawks, I immediately asked a close friend of mine who’s been loyal to USC for 23 decades who he wants to replace him. His comment was, “anyone would be a step back at least initially, but we just can’t take back Kiffin.”
What happened next, in a nutshell was USC AD Mike Garrett started the search. According to published reports, they went after Oregon State Mike Riley, who declined in light of the offer of a lifetime contract by the Beavers, former USC assistant Steve Sarkesian who is now the head coach at the University of Washington, who declined, made some contact with Tennessee Titans head coach Steve Fisher who has USC ties but I doubt was ever a realistic option, and then sent a contract with no interview to Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio who even in light of the tenuous relationship there declined.
What was Garrett to do? He sought out Kiffin, and in what I think most have to consider a surprise decision when asked Kiffin said yes, even though he had only been at the University of Tennessee one season. Now, before I go into the details of all this, let me just say I have no beef with Kiffin moving up just as I didn’t with Carroll. If his contract allows him to do this, everyone has the chance to improve their situation both financial and professional so yes I realize Vols fans you are hurt, but someday when you are in the work world you may have the chance to move up, and I’d hope you take it as well.
Now turning my attention away from how Kiffin got there, let’s think about if this was a good decision. Last night, when I first heard, I was working on some scouting reports and tweeting, and the Twitterverse exploded with Kiffin jokes and I was right in the middle of it. It was lots of fun. And among all that lots and lots of facts about Kiffin started to pour out.
Two angles came to mind immediately. First is the recruiting angle. Kiffin and his recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron can bring the talent. I sort of half buy this, because let’s not kid ourselves. Carroll didn’t recruit chumps. But I will concede that recruiting is better with Kiffin and Orgeron on board. The second angle I keep reading is about the coordinators. Lane is bringing his old man Monte’ to run the defense, and they are trying to lure Norm Chow away from UCLA to run the offense. It’s like the Blues Brothers and they are getting the USC band back together.
This whole idea that they can rationalize hiring Lane Kiffin to run the USC football program, because his offensive and defensive coordinators are great, is absurd to me. It’s like what’s going on in Kansas City. Head coach Todd Haley is under a huge amount of fire in his first year, so GM Scott Pioli comes in and brings in Charlie Weis to run the offense and now is bringing in Romeo Crennel to run the defense. Haley just needs to stay out of their way. That’s no way to run a football team, and it’s really no way for a program like USC to run it’s program. Let’s not forget all these guys didn’t like each other much toward the end of their first time at USC, so there will be tension.
What does the future look like for USC? First off, you cannot understate the possibility that the hammer from the NCAA is coming. Carroll knew it. I suspect that for the other 4 coaching candidates they couldn’t get assurances it wasn’t enough to bring them in, and for Kiffin he’s just enough of a nutjob to not care. The next couple of weeks will be significant, because how Kiffin is going to do, will depend in large part by what the NCAA says.
I am going to base my prediction for Kiffin and USC on the best case scenario from the NCAA. A slap on the wrist. Anything else and it won’t matter because you can’t give out schollys your program will die. So, assuming no significant losses, here’s how I see this thing playing out. USC will not be able to sign Chow. He wants NFL money to come over and I’m not sure Garrett will give it to him. I also think that USC is going to parlay all this short term into some tremendous recruiting and talent onto the roster. Kiffin failed as an NFL head coach on a grand level, and at Tennessee he did ok, with Fulmer’s players but there’s no way to judge if he can coach college football based on that small sample. What you can be sure is, he knows how to run his mouth about other coaches, and he knows how to run a Recruiting Hostess Program.
I don’t see USC becoming a National Champion anytime soon. They will continue to contend for PAC-10 titles, and will continue to be in the mix. There won’t be a huge fall from grace. But I see no way this team is better today in terms of coaching than they were under Carroll. No way. The bar was set high by Carroll and the idea Kiffin, even with Chow and his dad is crazy. I am a little disappointed in how quickly USC fans have turned on Carroll like he wasn’t a great coach and they are better off without him, because that simply isn’t the case. Great players will always come to great programs, so the recruiting angle is less important, but at some point all the 5 star recruits in the world can’t win without good coaching. And do we think that Kiffin is going to take a backseat to anyone, especially Chow? No way. Things could get ugly in a hurry. Oh and I predict that if Kiffin has some initial success next season, and the NFL comes calling again(even though he was so bad at Oakland), he’ll be gone like a thief in the night just like he was at UT.
In the final analysis, I think Seattle is better today, and USC is worse. I don’t think either team will be contending for championships under their current staffs, but I also don’t think either Carroll or Kiffin are in it for the long haul with their teams. But both will make for great news and keep us all busy.
Last Edited: 01/13/2010