Syracuse AD Daryl Gross, who has worked with Pete Carroll twice, says Carroll is a good coach at any level
Anyone who thinks Pete Carroll is suited only to coach college football is making a mistake, says Daryl Gross, who worked with Carroll with the New York Jets and later at USC.
Seattle Times staff reporter
It was supposed to be a compliment when people remarked how well-suited Pete Carroll was for USC, a pairing that appeared as perfect as it was unexpected.
Carroll was the coach twice fired in the cold and corporate world of the NFL, and USC was the once-proud program that went coachless for 18 days before getting down to Door No. 4 and tabbing Carroll to replace Paul Hackett.
The result: An accidental dynasty. The Trojans won two national titles, seven straight Pac-10 championships and everyone talked about how nice it was to see that Carroll had finally found where he fit. They meant it in the nicest possible way of course. Carroll, the nice-guy coach, was glowing in the Southern Cal sun.
But Daryl Gross would shudder each time he heard someone praise Carroll as a college coach. He couldn't help it. He was USC's associate athletic director at the time, the bridge that brought Carroll to USC and he had a warning for anyone who thought Carroll's talents were uniquely suited to the college ranks.
"Don't make that mistake," Gross said. "Because this guy is going to have success if he's given the right opportunity. He will be unbelievable as a pro coach or a college coach."
Gross is a former NFL wide receiver who worked for the Jets as a scout and then in the front office. He was with the franchise when Carroll came aboard in 1990 as defensive coordinator under coach Bruce Coslet on a staff that also included Monte Kiffin and Ed Donatell.
With the Jets, Gross saw Carroll glisten.
"I thought that guy was the cat's meow," said Gross, now the athletic director at Syracuse. "Just how he interacted with the players, how he communicated with these guys.
"It was just so different than anything else you would ever see."
Carroll left the Jets in 1994, fired after one season as head coach. From there, he went to San Francisco and was so successful in two years as defensive coordinator he had his choice of coaching jobs two years later. He chose New England, which was coming off a Super Bowl appearance.
Gross said the Trojans talked to Carroll after the 1998 season, dangling a million-a-year offer to come coach USC. Carroll stuck it out in New England, getting fired after he went 8-8 the following season.
The year 2000 is the one blank spot on Carroll's coaching resume, the only time in the past 26 seasons that he did not coach football. He wrote NFL columns for CNNSI.com, served as a football consultant at both the college and pro levels and did the sort of soul-searching exercises you'd expect from someone searching for the best avenue of redemption.
"I had an epiphany of what was most important to me as a football coach," Carroll said Tuesday, of that year. "In that process of putting those thoughts together, it kind of just solidified a mentality and an approach that now has been put in practice for 10 years."
Carroll wasn't USC's first choice the following year. He wasn't the second, either. Only after the Trojans struck out with Dennis Erickson, Mike Bellotti and Mike Riley did they wind up with Carroll.
And then the fourth-choice fallback went and resuscitated one of the cornerstones of college football and redeemed his coaching career in the process.
But whenever someone would say that Carroll had found his home in college football, Gross would just shake his head. After watching Carroll first with the Jets and then in USC, he knew better.
"He just had this force," Gross said. "He was outstanding that way, and I could take that microcosm of an observation, I could apply it to college, I could apply it to pros, I could apply it to Pop Warner."
Gross was the bridge that brought Carroll to USC, but he never thought of Carroll as just a college coach. Not when Carroll was hired by the Trojans in December 2000 and certainly not now that he's returning to the NFL after a 10-year absence.
Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.