Later, it was brought to Pete Carroll’s attention that a certain college governing body seemed to be working against his principles — separating school from community through sanctions that prohibit “non-institutional personnel” from attending football practices.
At this point, the former USC coach launched an all-out verbal blitz against the NCAA.
“Anybody that stood for that thought doesn’t understand. They don’t get it. They’ve never been close enough to our program to know what it’s all about,” Carroll said Monday afternoon after the inaugural Win Forever Academy football and cheerleading camp at The Home Depot Center.
“To not understand that is to not be informed. It’s unfortunate that people from someplace else would make decisions on something that is so powerful, that has been so important and has been such a wonderful exchange.”
It wasn’t the first time Carroll roundly criticized the NCAA for its June 10 ruling against USC, and it probably won’t be the last. But it was the first time Carroll spoke about it publicly in Southern California. Not surprisingly, he didn’t hold back.
Carroll found it particularly galling that the NCAA’s infractions committee was “troubled” by “the general campus environment” at USC during his time there and by “the institution’s failure to regulate access to practices and facilities.” The way Carroll saw it, granting that access to youth groups, Pop Warner teams and others created connections with the community that otherwise would not have been possible.
“That’s a classic example of somebody talking about what they don’t know,” Carroll told a handful of reporters, that “somebody” being the NCAA.
“You guys have been around it. You’ve seen what it’s like. You know what it’s like every day after practice there, the exchange, the hugs, playing catch, high-fives with the kids, taking pictures and all that stuff.
“They don’t get it. It’s just an indication of how far off they are in this whole process.”
Carroll conceded that “one particular situation” was “out of sorts” – the presence of agents on campus during the height of the Reggie Bush-Matt Leinart era. Carroll also allowed that awareness could have been greater, that USC’s compliance office could have been larger, that its reach could have been wider.
But that’s as much ground as Carroll would give. “Always Compete” isn’t just his motto, it’s his lifestyle.
The environment around the football program wasn’t what the NCAA “projected and portrayed it to be,” Carroll said. “They don’t get it because they were never there. To rule on something that they really didn’t understand and be so far off, it’s a misuse of their power.”
Restricting access to practices, sidelines and locker rooms was hardly the harshest of USC’s penalties, of course. The severest sanctions were a two-year bowl ban and a reduction of 30 scholarships over three years. USC is seeking to have both halved through an appeal.
Carroll isn’t without blame; he was, after all, the leader of the football program. And the timing of his departure for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks – just before the NCAA hammer was about to drop – seemed suspicious, to say the least.
But if the perception of Carroll has changed, it was not evident Monday.
Dads wanted to shake his hand. Moms wanted to hug him. Kids wanted his autograph. Families wanted their picture taken with him.
The atmosphere was not unlike any number of USC football practices, before the school imposed restrictions, knowing full well what was coming.
Young football players ran drills on two fields. They hustled from station to station. Hip-hop blared in the background.
Carroll huddled them and sent them on patterns, lofting wobbly spirals into the muggy air. There’s nothing he likes better than playing catch, nothing he does better than rally the troops.
“It’s another opportunity for us to reach out,” Carroll said of the camp. A portion of the proceeds will go to his foundation, A Better LA.
“This one in particular is close to my heart because it connects everything for us. We reach into the community and give and draw people who might not normally get a chance to come to a camp of this stature.”
Many familiar faces were on hand, including former Trojan Ryan Kalil, current Trojan Matt Barkley and the Seahawks’ T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The featured speaker afterward was Jake Olson, the teenager who lost his eyesight to cancer – but gained several friends on the USC football team through Carroll’s open policy.
Carroll considers Olson and Ricky Rosas, another cancer survivor who became close to the program, “gifts of a lifetime.”
Carroll can’t bear a reality in which he couldn’t open those presents and let the world share their wonders.