If USC fans could hire any person in the world to coach the Trojans in their bowl game and for the near future, the decision would be really easy.
It would be Pete Carroll.
The reign of dominance of USC football under Carroll is astonishing by itself, but even more impressive given the fallout of Trojan football since his departure. But unfortunately for SC fans, Carroll’s done himself pretty well up in Seattle, so USC Athletic Director Pat Haden will have to look elsewhere to bring back the magic that Carroll once brought to the Coliseum.
So who’s the next Pete Carroll? Or the guy with the best chance of being the next Pete Carroll?
Jack Del Rio.
Del Rio was an All-American his senior year and the MVP at the 1985 Rose Bowl as a linebacker for the Trojans, but has never been back yet to coach the Trojans. To know why he’s the most like Carroll, we have to take a look back at what made Carroll successful.
In nine seasons between 2001 and 2009, Carroll won two national championships, seven straight conference championships and six BCS bowls including four Rose Bowls. He had an 8-1 records in rivalry games against both UCLA and Notre Dame, 25 first team All-Americans and three Heisman trophy winners. Insert NCAA sanction joke here.
Equally impressive, Carroll was able to change the landscape of college football in the 21st century without playing 21st century football. While so many in college football have resorted to the high-flying, no-huddle, spread offense, Carroll was able to put together some of the greatest offenses in college football history–did I mention Carroll set an NCAA record when his Trojans scored 20 or more points in 63 straight games?–by running a traditional, pro-style offense. USC had enough tradition as a perennial contender in football. It didn’t need to change its identity by bringing in the faster, more fan-friendly spread offense to generate attention or get people into the stadium.
But the two stats that are most impressive and most indicative of Carroll's success during college are these: 53 players selected in the NFL draft, 14 of whom were picked in the first round.
There’s a reason why Carroll was so effective at what he did. Sure, fans and players loved his happy-go-lucky Southern California style, but the real reason why he got all the best players to come to USC is because they knew that Carroll and the Trojan coaching staff would get them to their ultimate dream, the NFL.
Go ahead naysayers; say it was the recruiting violations that really got the best talent into the Coliseum. Like steroids in baseball during the 90s, recruiting violations were rampant around college football. What set Carroll apart was his ability to prepare players for the pros.
And what sets Jack Del Rio apart from the other USC coaching candidates is his ability to do just that.
The same way that Carroll did, and unlike any other major candidates for the job, Del Rio could bring years of head coaching experience in the NFL into college. Sure, Del Rio hasn’t had a ton of success as an NFL head coach, but neither did Carroll before he was hired at USC. The important thing is that he’s been exposed to the level of play it takes to get there by working with NFL players every day. On top of that, Del Rio had an 11-year playing career in the NFL, so he really knows what it takes to get to the highest level as a player.
If I’m a top recruit, the thing I want to know most is how am I going to get to the NFL. The multi-million dollar contracts and lifestyle of a professional athlete sound really awesome, and I want to know who can get me that, maybe even in three years. If a man walks into to my living room that has been there before, coached there before and tells me that he can get me there if I put in the hard work, I’m probably going to believe him and go play for him.
Del Rio was officially demoted today from the interim head coach of the Denver Broncos back to defensive coordinator of the team as former head coach John Fox has recovered from an emergency heart surgery that left him unable to lead Denver the last four weeks. Del Rio went 3-1 during his brief stint, leading the Broncos to an overall record of 10-2. His only loss was to to New England in overtime. His three wins include one win over AFC West rival San Diego and then two wins over the formerly-division leading Kansas City Chiefs to leapfrog the Broncos into the division lead.
For a guy that has spent time as a head coach in the NFL, eight seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars and four weeks just now, the lure of coming back as a head coach instead of as an assistant must sound pretty appealing, especially if it's at his alma mater. Though NFL teams may be looking at him for a potential head coaching job next year, so bringing him back to the college game may be a hard sell.
USC's search has reportedly honed in on two candidates, James Franklin and Steve Sarkisian. Current interim head coach Ed Orgeron has done well enough to secure a spot as an assistant head coach next year, but Saturday's loss to UCLA knocked him out of the running to maintain his current gig. Both Franklin and Sarkisian have had very good runs as head coaches in the college game, Franklin at Vanderbilt and Sarkisian in Washington.
But Del Rio brings in the unique factor with his NFL pedigree. The fact that he’s a former Trojan will certainly please an alumni base excited to see an old player back in the Coliseum and would speak volumes of the pride and tradition of USC football. But more importantly, if USC fans want to go back to considering the Trojans as the unofficial NFL team in Los Angeles, they’ll need a man who’s been there to lead the charge.