Wednesday, May 03, 2006

the Poodle's Puddle | by Jay

The thing I wonder about in all this USC mess is how much of it could have been avoided with a stronger hand at the wheel.

Petey finally addressed the burgeoning situation at SC with statements over the last couple of days. (Links here, here and here.)

"We needed to see this coming, and we didn't," Carroll was quoted saying in a column about the recent spate of trouble facing some of the team's current and former players. "It's gone beyond all the heads up, all the alerts, all the education we give these kids. We need to do more."

Carroll said he is ultimately responsible for everything that goes on in his program.

"I'm not going to make any excuses. I'm not going to point the finger at anyone else. I've got to do a better job," he said. "We've got to continue to get the word out. We're trying to do everything right.

"We're trying to inform and educate better than anybody in the country. I'd like to think we do it better than anybody. We're going to continue to bust our tails to make sure everybody understands. We're trying to do this better than anybody else has ever done it."
Is it too late?

USC, in the heart of Los Angeles, surrounded by Hollywood nightlife, "industry" bling and countless hangers-on, provides some unique challenges for steering clear of NCAA violations and staying on the right side of johnny law. This is a place where starlets mingle with starting quarterbacks, rappers are invited to practice and celebrities pack the sidelines for every game. In the absence of an NFL team in town (and the decline of the Showtime Lakers), USC football has been the scene for the who's who set in Tinseltown over the past few years. The lines have blurred; this isn't a merely a college football program anymore, but a major destination on the Hollywood circuit, and the quaint notion of the student-athlete has been flushed down the Trojan toilet.

An ND coach has it easy in comparison. Our sideline celebrities usually amount to Digger Phelps, Rudy Ruettiger and the president of the Scranton alumni club. LA has the Sunset Strip; South Bend has Ramona's Carwash. It's gotta be a tough job at SC keeping your players' heads screwed-on straight, and if you or I were coach down there we'd be drilling the guys on a daily basis on how to fend off distractions and stay out of the fast lane. If someone got out of line, I'd turn into R. Lee Ermey and make a huge example out of the offender. How else to keep your program clean in such a tempting environment?

But that's not Pete Carroll. Nope, goodtime Petey has fostered a party atmosphere at Southern Cal, and he loves it. It's one thing to battle against the tide and sometimes lose, but Pete broke out a surfboard and hit the waves running. "America's Buddy" is just one of the guys. And when disaster strikes he's a bystander watching the wreck. Wha' happened?

I don't know, Pete, but you've been driving this car, and talking tough about discipline at this point is like applying the brake pedal when you've already careened off the cliff.

Sights and Sounds from the Pete Carroll Era at Southern Cal

• "But Carroll is as personable as he is competitive, described by many as a 54-year-old in a 20-year-old body. Some believe he was too friendly with his players in the NFL, but the combination of drive and zest has served him well on the recruiting trail." SC Football Blog.

• "Carroll's energetic style, perceived as too lenient for the pros, works with collegians. Kids take to him, because he remains a big kid. Carroll still acts like a freshman, running as hard as his players on the field and taking dares such as going off a high-dive board in a nearby pool after practice." KVUE.

• "That same sense of boisterous enjoyment has marked Carroll's career over the years. His infectious personality has made life fun for the two-time defending national champions. "Coach Carroll keeps things fun for us," senior defensive end Frostee Rucker said. "You never know what he's going to do next. I can still remember the day that he jumped off the high diving board because he felt like it. Even I wouldn't have done something like that." San Antonio Express.

• "At times the sideline at the Coliseum, USC's home field, has looked like a red-carpet parade at the ESPYs, Emmys, Grammys and Academy Awards rolled into one.

The list includes singers Nick Lachey and Flea; actresses Kirsten Dunst and Alyssa Milano; actors Will Ferrell, LeVar Burton, Wilmer Valderrama, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tiny "Zeus" Lister; rappers and hip-hop artists Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Andre 3000, Warren G and The Game; and directors George Lucas and Spike Lee.

They're standing center stage, right beside the USC bench, during games. They're directing the Trojans Marching Band and ringing the Victory Bell. They're shaking hands and leading chants in the student section. They're attending practice and catching passes from Leinart. They're being tossed balls in the end zone after touchdowns by running back LenDale White. Why, these days in Los Angeles, USC seems to stand for the University of Sideline Celebrities.

"USC football is the biggest show in town," says Pro Football Hall of Famer Marcus Allen." USA Today.

• Fall, '02. OJ Simpson visits Pete and the team.
"I love this team. They're so aggressive, beating up teams, taking over the game in the fourth quarter. That's the way we used to play. And it just disappeared for the last 15-to-20 years," Simpson said. "It was tough to take and turned some of us off. "But whatever Pete Carroll has done, they're playing much more aggressively on both sides of the ball. I admit I wasn't the biggest Pete Carroll fan when he was hired, but now I'm his biggest fan."
March, '04. Winston Justice arrested on felony assault.
"It's a very difficult situation that he's put himself in," USC Coach Pete Carroll said. "I don't know what it's all going to mean until later. We'll just have to wait and see."

"We don't really comment about what we're doing or how we do that kind of stuff," Carroll said. "We just keep our stuff in house and take care of business as we need to hopefully."
August, '04. Hershel Dennis and others investigated for sexual assault.
"It's very, very early for us. I don't know what's going on with it," Carroll said. "We'll fully cooperate and help out in every way. I don't have any information at this time."

Asked whether Dennis was suspended, Carroll said, "We'll let you know more later. We keep our issues in-house."
Fall, '04. Snoop Doggy Dogg visits SC.
"Filming a segment for "Stand In," an MTV celebrity surprise show, which has included former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry teaching an American foreign policy class, Snoop walked into the team's pre-practice meeting and joined in on a rap with USC cornerback Eric Wright."

USC quarterback Matt Leinart said Snoop was "funny" and said that these types of celebrity visits gives an indication of the team's status.

"It shows we're working hard in L.A., where there's Hollywood, and it shows the respect we're getting," Leinart said.

"Good uplifting day out here and on a normal game week it wouldn't have happened. He did a great job," Carroll said. "He was fun and gracious."
March, '05. Eric Wright arrested on suspicion of rape; ecstasy pills found in his apartment. Wright eventually transfers out of SC.
Wright was arrested March 26 at a campus apartment by officers investigating reports of an assault. He was booked for investigation of rape and posted $100,000 bail.

"Eric came to the conclusion that it would be in his best interests to withdraw from school," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "We agreed and support his decision."
April '05. Steve Smith breaks Dominique Byrd's jaw in a fight over a video game.
USC tight end Dominique Byrd fractured his jaw during an alleged altercation with receiver Steve Smith last week, although few know about the incident because Byrd is academically ineligible for spring practice.

Byrd's jaw was wired shut following the altercation, which took place when the pair argued while playing a video game, according to sources.

"I don't have any comment on that," Smith said following Thursday's practice.

USC coach Pete Carroll also declined comment, although sources said he spoke to Smith about the incident. Smith was not punished and has not missed any practices.
Fall, '05: Matt Leinart, taking a single dance class to maintain academic eligibility, pals around with Nick Lachey and lives it up in the Hollywood nightlife. Subject of numerous magazine profiles, including here, here and here.

Fall, '05. Lendale White fakes suicide in a practical joke orchestrated by Carroll. Links here and here.
The “body” wearing jersey No. 21 was, of course, a dummy. By the time it hit the ground, many of White’s teammates knew they’d been duped by a prank.

But there were some who watched the surreal scene in horror. “That was horrible,” one player said. “What was that about? I think Rey is still on the field dead.”

Rey would be freshman linebacker Rey Maualuga. Silly kid. He thought he saw LenDale White leap from a ledge, and it scared the hell out of him.

Carroll nevertheless pronounced the lighten-the-mood mission a rousing success. He got unanticipated yucks by the reaction of assistant coaches such as Jethro Franklin, who followed White to the rooftop and, according to Carroll, “was so sucked in, he put his arm around him and was talking to him, trying to get him back in.”

Carroll: “The coaches were the funniest because they didn’t believe stuff could go like that.”

Hee-hee. Ho-ho. The joke’s on Jethro, whose courageous response to what he presumed to be a life-or-death incident became the source of giggles and guffaws. As troubling as the stunt was, the reaction to it was even more chilling. Nobody had a problem with it.

Not that Carroll’s self-esteem is a concern. When LenDale White’s practice-field fit and dummy dive were complete, he was congratulated by his coach for executing the shrewd plan. “Well done,” Carroll assured White. “We killed them.”
Fall, '05. Lack of discipline starting to show on the field.
"That's not how we do things," Carroll said after the game as he kept returning to the theme of how surprised he was by the lack of discipline USC players exhibited -- and how much he hated it.

They did it when they were looking good -- and bad.

Dwayne Jarrett so enjoyed the first of his three touchdown catches that he just couldn't stop mugging for the crowd. Defensive linemen Lawrence Jackson and LaJuan Ramsey so enjoyed their rare proximity to the Hawaii quarterback that they couldn't keep their hands off him even though the ball was gone. Dominique Byrd was so upset with the way he was wrestled down that he responded with a football to the helmet of a loud Hawaii defender. Flag, flag, flag, flag -- a total of 57 yards right there.
November, '05. Rey Maualaga arrested for assault.
One account said the victim's head hit the side of a house after Maualuga hit him. There was blood. When a woman said she was going to call the police, the Los Angeles Times quoted a witness saying that Maualuga replied: "I own the police." Then he fled into the night. A few hours and $20,000 in bail money later, Maualuga was free after turning himself in, booked on suspicion of misdemeanor battery.

Since then Maualuga has been rewarded with the most playing time of his short career. In Saturday's 35-10 victory over California, he was arguably the best defensive player on the field with six tackles, an interception and a sack.

"I've been told not to comment, I can't really say anything," Maualuga said after Tuesday's practice. "I'm just going to leave it in God's hands."
April, '06. Mark Sanchez arrested for sexual assault.
"We're just hearing about this," Carroll said in a statement released by the university Wednesday evening. "We'll cooperate fully and do whatever we can to assist. At this point, this is being handled by the university's student affairs office and we'll follow along with whatever action the university takes."
April, '06. Reggie Bush story breaks.
The parents of Southern California football star Reggie Bush received $100,000 in cash from investors in a sports marketing company that hoped to sign the running back, an attorney for the investors said in a letter obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reported that when Bush signed with an agent who was not connected with the marketing company Bush’s family was asked to return the money, and Bush himself sat in on a tense settlement meeting between his parents and company officials.

(Another piece on Bush from the Philly Inquirer.)

Bush's mother and stepfather had agreed to pay landlord Michael Michaels $4,500 in monthly rent when they moved into the Spring Valley house Michaels bought for $757,000 in March 2005. Michaels said the parents told him they eventually would pay him rent from Bush's earnings when he went pro. Watkins, who represents Lake and Michaels, said Bush's family defrauded his clients of $300,000 over 11/2 years using "the carrot" of Bush's future football career as an enticement.
April, '06. Dwayne Jarrett found to be living in apartment paid for by Leinart's dad; investigation continues.
The financial arrangement by which USC receiver Dwayne Jarrett shared an apartment with former quarterback Matt Leinart last season might constitute an NCAA violation and force him to sit out a portion of next season.

Leinart's father told The Times on Saturday that Jarrett paid only $650 of the $3,866-a-month lease on the upscale apartment. Bob Leinart said his son also paid $650, and he picked up the rest.

On Sunday, Coach Pete Carroll said: "One guy had resources, the other guy didn't. [Jarrett] gave what he could. Matt needed somebody to live with him, and [Jarrett] got a good deal."

Last weekend, LA Times commentary:

Has the program become so player-friendly that its players have stopped worrying about consequences? Did the 34-game winning streak make them feel bulletproof, not just on the field, but off it?

After five years here, is it time for Carroll to tighten his grip?

"We needed to see this coming, and we didn't," Carroll admitted. "It's gone beyond all the heads up, all the alerts, all the education we give these kids. We need to do more."

Carroll said the program needs to focus more on educating the players about outsiders.

"Our guys are marked guys, they have had success and there's people trying to get in on that, and we need to do a better job of making them understand the problems there," he said.

Carroll said he was not going to change the embraceable style that has made him possibly college football's best coach. But he vowed to be tougher on those who would stand between him and his players.

"We have moved into very different territory now, all the hype, all the distractions, all the people who want to influence us, and we will be more aware of that," he said. "We will work harder to control that."