When reviewing the first year of the Pete Carroll era as head coach of the Trojans it is important to state right away that the glorious 27-0 shutout of the Bruins was enough on it's own to declare this season a success and a step in the right direction. We saw plenty of other things to like about the new coach and the changes he has made in the program but in realistic terms we haven't seen enough positive change of a consistent manner on the field to know with certainty if he is the right man for the job.
At the very least, however, Carroll has temporarily silenced the skeptics who made their feelings known when he was hired to replace Paul Hackett. It wasn't all Carroll's fault but at the time there was a loathing of everything Hackett in USC land and there were enough similarities between the two men to bring about cause for concern. Both came from primarily NFL backgrounds, had excellent reputations as coordinators who knew their X's and O's and had been washouts in their previous experiences as a head coach. What couldn't be seen at that time, and what has proven to be the biggest difference between the two, has been the emotional aspect, the personal touch that makes the college game so special. Whereas Hackett has a personality which fits in the stuffy, corporate environment of the NFL and he chose to stay in a five star hotel during training camp while his players lived in the UCI dorms, Carroll has shown a knack for the spirit of the college game and gained immense respect by not only joining them in off season pickup basketball games but by burying a winning shot over Frank Strong.
The connection that Carroll has made with the players paid off when he was able to keep the team together following yet another extended losing streak amid fears of "here we go again" from players and fans alike. Is there a Trojan fan out there who thinks Hackett could have righted the ship and gone on a 4 game win streak to finish the regular season? Of course not. The turnaround can be attributed directly to Carroll and his positive attitude with the payoff coming in the form of the glow we all experienced on November 17th. Of course, the bowl game and the humbling loss to Utah was a grim reminder of the reality of where we are as a football program and how far we have to go because the performance by the team on Christmas Day was far more representative of how we played this season than what we saw against UCLA.
Carroll should receive high praise for his work with the defense, a unit that lost many experienced seniors from a year ago but with position changes and a game plan designed around his best player he was able to create a inspired group that kept us in many a ballgame. He has shown no hesitation in making moves that some consider daring if he thinks it will help the team (Groots and Strong to LB, Cody at DT, Udeze to DE) and one can only imagine how successful the defense can be when he develops the talent to fit his system. There continues to be a learning curve when it comes to staff management, the decision to redshirt certain players, recruiting strategies and bowl preparation, etc. and that is to be expected and is covered within the grace period for a first year coach but the real test will come next season when that grace period is over and we see just what kind of progress Pete Carroll is making with our program.