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Jan 6
Lemonade from Lemons in a Rose Bowl
Let’s see. You have been fired at what you thought would be the top of your career. You find a job in an organization that has a storied tradition of success but recently has fallen on hard times. Maybe that is why they hired you instead of several others that walked away from the position. And a new regulatory environment will make it even harder to compete and return to the domination that seems only like ancient history.

Welcome to the world of USC head football coach Petepete carroll.jpg Carrroll circa 2000. Carroll was coming off 17 years in the NFL where he had been fired by two teams. The program he was to inherit finished last in the Pac-10, the season before he arrived and had played in only one bowl game (it lost) in the past five years. He was not USC’s first choice. In fact he ranked fifth out of a short list of five. But the top four thought they had greener pastures elsewhere. Among administrators, media and fans, USC athletic director Mike Garret seemed to stand alone in his support for Carroll. Sound like fun? No wonder USC had a hard time finding a coach. Who needs that?

Pete Carroll apparently did and saw opportunity where others saw misery. But the bright future Carroll envisioned was not shared by the institution that settled for him as coach. Back in 2000, no on thought Pete Carroll would fit in the college game. The criticism was harsh and plentiful. Most comments from fans and media followed these lines

“He has never proven himself at the NFL level” and “Look a this record everywhere he has been. New England? Loser. New York Jets? Loser. USC? Loser, but rebuilding. That equates to another two or three years of losing, but locking up big money.”

I remember the hullabaloo. You can’t escape it if you live in southern California as I do. Living here and not being a USC alum, I had despised the Trojans and their arrogance and the media’s obsession with the mighty men from Troy and supported whoever played USC. To see them flounder and flail through the nineties was pure pleasure culminating with a trouncing at the hands of Utah (my alma mater) in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl.

But Pete Carroll is relentlessly optimistic. What many would see as a hopeless situation, he saw aspete carroll 2.jpg an opportunity. Looking back he says that “the fact that the reception was so slanted …added to the opportunity to make a big impact early.” His vision was there is no place to go but up. I wonder if he knew just how high “up“ was.

After going 2-5 in his first seven games, Carroll has provided the leadership that had led to a 52-4 record before Wednesday, including a 34-game winning streak that ended in the final seconds of the Rose Bowl against Texas.

In the Rose Bowl, USC did not seem at its best but still was in the drivers seat to beat an exceptional Texas team. The key play came on a 4th and two. Carroll, consistent if anything chose to go for it. When asked about his aggressive coaching decisions, Carroll remarked, “The last thing I want to do is sit back and see what happens. I want to get it and make opportunities.” (read the entire interview).  That is great leadership and over the past three years had proven wildly successful for Carroll and USC – every time. His data indicated it was a safe decision.

Above all, Pete Carroll has done much more than restore winning to SC. As the Trojans have made this journey, Carroll has been quietly leading, building and inspiring character in his team. In a day of 15-minutes of fame, over-exposure of athletes and then being stuck in the middle of tinsel-town, Carroll seems unfazed. Coaches and players alike refuse to be distracted by the pressure, the hype, the expectations, the celebrity.

As the streak lengthened, everyone expected a let-down. Over confidence. Lost focus. But Carroll led with a steady hand. Players talking to the media rarely strayed from terms like “work hard”, “take nothing for granted”, “play like you practice” and “stick to the game plan.” All well worn phrases in the sports world. We had heard it all before but you could see, these players believed it. As their coach led, they followed. There was a unity of purpose and resolve in this team. Carroll had instilled a perspective in his team that kept them close to the things that mattered most.

And that was proven out in the aftermath of the Rose Bowl, as the mighty Trojans had to come face to face with defeat for the first time in three seasons. But Carroll had trained and taught his team somehow not only know how to win but surprisingly also how to lose. It should not go unnoticed.

LyAnnB adds her perspective
“the class act after the game came from Reggie Bush. He knew he'd been outplayed. He knew his mistake in the first quarter cost them at least one score. And he knew Young deserved the MVP …..rather than shy away after the game, or talk his game with the media, after all was said and done, he walked in to the Texas locker room, he shook hands with his chief competitor, and congratulated all of the Texas Longhorns."

More from lacethemup

“Pete Carroll is such a gracious guy, waiting forever it seemed to shake Texas coach Mack Brown's hand after the game. Matt Leinart and Bush going to the Texas locker room to congratulate the new National Champions. Class stuff….”

Carroll empowered his players to reach their potential but to abdicate to the higher cause of the team. He stressed preparation, attracted and incubated talent, surrounded himself with qualified and hungry staff and coaches. He replaced a culture of whining with winning. From the Orange County Register, “Pete Carroll’s greatest gift is to find wisdom under his nose, in its simplest form.”  That is an essence of leadership.

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