Part 1: Vintage Pete Carroll
After the Pac-10 Media Day Press Conference, coaches and their players had a luncheon with the media. During the lunch, coaches sat down with the media for a question and answer period. As would be expected in Los Angeles, Coaches Pete Carroll and Rick Neuheisel drew the most attention.
Pete Carroll, ever enthusiastic to speak about USC football, fielded all the questions posed and didn't bother to have lunch, opting instead to have a soft drink and spend the whole time talking to the press. Clay de Leon brings you the highlights of that luncheon:
Understanding Carroll's philosophy of trying to win the conference vs. the national title
"We know that if we start winning games, we're in pretty good shape. If we win a lot of games we probably can win our conference. We just go about that one-week at a time. The reason I even talk about the Rose Bowl and the Pac-10 conference is if you contrast that with the national championship, we can't talk about that, we have nothing to do with that until somebody anoints us. They say ‘okay you get to go play in the game or something,' so we don't even talk about it. They like to talk about it when it's time."
"We do that all the time. John Morton (when he was with the New Orleans Saints) took all the film of Reggie Bush for the last two years to figure out how they could use Reggie. Now he's with us and here's Joe. We're trying to fit him into that role, because when you can fit him into that role, you create the most versatile player on the football field. That causes problems for your opponents. I don't mind telling people that we're doing it. We just have to figure out how we're going to do it."
"He's capable of doing it. Is he as good as Reggie? I don't know. We have to wait a couple years. Reggie won his Heisman in his third year. But he had a huge sophomore year. Compare Reggie's numbers to Joe's numbers as freshmen. It's almost identical. Almost identical. Reggie's got a little edge here; Joe's got a little edge there. It's ‘spooky' to see how identical they are. What becomes of it this year (may be tell-tale), I don't know. Maybe nobody can be like Reggie. I won't be surprised if no one can do what he did. We'll see."
The USC Secondary
"I think it's a really good group. Rocky (Seto) has these guys understanding our system and the principles and the style of play. They're physical, they're fast, they're good, and they know what we're doing. They're responsible guys, which is really important in the secondary. Now when you bring back Kevin (Thomas), who's a really good prospect to play and Josh (Pinkard), who can play anything – we're going to play Josh at the ‘nickel' spot, we'll blitz him and do some special things with him. We'll utilize his talents and the special things he can do. Now T.J. Bryant is coming in. It's a cool group."
"We're going to expect them to really be physical, really be aggressive, and be ‘on it' now. We have no reason to hold back on our expectations on what they are capable of doing. I think Shareece Wright was maybe the most spectacular corner we had last year in the rotation, he had maybe the most big plays. I know Terrell (Thomas) had a great year, but I think Shareece had some ‘big time plays;' hitting and tackling and making plays on the ball. I don't think we lose any ground at all – from last year to this year – I think we're better."
"Cary Harris is hard-nosed, tough as they get, he's a fierce competitor. I think it was in the Arizona game last year; he dislocated his shoulder, and comes back to practice on Monday and wants to practice. His shoulder was out and he did not even bat an eye, he was going to play. The doctors were appalled that he wanted to play. He said, ‘it's okay, I'm ready,' his mentality is so tough. We love what he brings, his experience is really important, his physical nature is what separates him from other corners."
Can you have too many defensive leaders?
"NO…they'll pick their spots, they'll fit together. Rey (Maualuga) doesn't say a whole lot, he's not going to be very outspoken, I don't think, he never has, and Kevin Ellison doesn't say a whole lot either, they're just ‘hard as nails' and tough competitors. (Brian) Cushing going to speak up, he's going to say something and Fili (Moala) will be a little outspoken and Kyle Moore, a little bit. So I'm not worried about it at all."
"They're battling to be the toughest, though, they'll have arguments and battles about who's tougher, but will be okay."
On the development of Rey Maualuga
"He had one problem and we dealt with it. He had one event after his dad passed away (after a battle with cancer). It was a serious, serious issue, we've dealt with it throughout, but I wouldn't say he's had problems. He's done a marvelous job of putting his world in order, he's been a very good student, he works out like crazy, he's diligent, and he's a wonderful kid to play with."
"There's been a necessity to build a relationship with him and Ken Norton's done a really good job with him. We just were real close with Rey. We just struggled with the passing of his father with him and the sickness of his father. He took the whole thing so seriously and he just needed us so we've just been close throughout. And we just worked with him throughout. It's life, stuff happens and he needed some support, and he was away from his family. He just found a really good rhythm to really excel."
"I'm really excited to see his emergence and growth and maturity. He's got a serious girlfriend, he's got his world in order now."
On why this year's seniors didn't step up last year to take leadership
"It wasn't their time, other guys had earned their way. I asked Coach Wooden once, something I regretted even before the words came out of my mouth, ‘How much would you change your philosophy from one year to the next?' He looked at me and he said, ‘Aww, coach, you don't change your philosophy, players change, they bring about the adjustments of leadership to your program.' And that typifies what I'm talking about."
"I can feel that there's a difference in the make up of our team. I don't know how this translates. It's going to be a real fun group to coach and I can't wait to get to camp and see how it goes. When you hear Brian Cushing and he's so well versed in what we believe in. He has absorbed the mentality that we have and it's really, really cool to see that."
"A year ago he wouldn't have presented himself like that, it wasn't his time…these guys know that they have to raise the younger guys up like they're their little brothers. The have to bring them up and care about them and respect them and help them. It's a very cool part of the culture."
How Kevin Ellison and Taylor Mays are on the field and how they complement each other
"Kevin has this great nature about him that I know it comes from his upbringing with his brothers. I know that they are great competitors and great athletes as well. He brought a seriousness to the game that's like this seriousness and focus that a great pro has. Rocky (Seto) took off on that and really helped him, kind of molded him and nurtured him and made him a symbol for what we want."
"He (Ellison) took Taylor under his arm and Rocky kind of made that happen and those two guys (Ellison and Mays) just kind of ‘hit it off.' Those two guys are always on the mark, they're always talking about what's going on, they're always looking for an edge, they're always studying, they're helping one-another, they're like ‘long-time pros.' I would hope that they'll be like when Ronnie Lott and Dennis Smith played together."
"I don't know if you guys are aware of it, but it was an extraordinary relationship that Ronnie and Dennis had together. It went all the way through their NFL careers where they still competed and battled to out do each other. This is one of those type of relationships. Not to say that it's like theirs, but it's very unique in that way. The point of this is to pass it on to Drew McAllister and all the guys that come on after them."
What Carroll is looking for from Mark Sanchez
"We're looking for him to be very comfortable with this responsibility and not be ‘outside of himself' and caught up in any way. I totally trust him and believe that he can be a really good player in our program. He doesn't need to anything different to do that. He just needs to practice really well. Get rest, eat well, take care of classes and get the ball to the guys."
"We talked to Carson (Palmer) and Matt (Leinart) and John David Booty. We just told them to get the ball to these guys and you'll be successful. You don't ever have to carry the load, you don't have to be the star, if you just do that, then everything will work out."
"It's exactly the same with Mark. He doesn't have to prove to me that he's unique or special or whatever. He just needs to play the game the way we've designed this position to play. In that, he has to be very disciplined about it, that's what we're looking for from him. Really, it's nothing that he can't handle. He can really handle this."
"The challenge is, can he hold off Mitch (Mustain) by his performance and his play. That's the challenge. He'll do that, just by doing what I said."
On Mark Sanchez being named starter
"He's accepted it, he's excited about it. He knew it was coming, he's been waiting for it, he's been counting on it, he's been waiting for it and he's been dreaming about it. Until it actually happens, when it did, he was jumping with joy about it. He's handled it very well. He came in last year and dealt with it beautifully."
Who's been Carroll's best team?
"At the end of the year, Carson's team was good. That was a good team. The year that Matt Leinart won his Heisman, Lofa Tatupu's year, that team was so well rounded. The defense was so spectacular at taking the ball away. I don't know that anyone could beat us, we just had too many weapons, too much firepower, too many issues for opponents to deal with."
What about Carson Palmer comments about the Buckeyes?
"I didn't see it. Obviously, he's been away from me for too long. I don't know what he said. But whatever he said, he's just having fun with it. The locker room chatter in the NFL is as much fun as anything that happens playing there. The rivalries and the ‘yapping' and all that, it's really for the locker rooms, it's not for the media and all that, but when it does escape, it's awesome stuff."
"Those guys will have a great time, the fact that he's in Ohio, he could have been more careful. I don't even know what he said, but he's just been away from us too long."
On looking forward to Ohio State
"I'm competing against all you all on this. I have been on point, (I don't want to go there). I want to enjoy the preparation of camp and enjoy the whole Virginia challenge and going out there and all. Then we come back and get to start all over again. There's tons of time to get into the home opener."
"They're an extraordinarily storied program, this is why it's carrying all the following, because Ohio State's a great program forever. ‘SC's been a great program forever and so when you match that up, it's rare, it's unique. So, when the time comes, it'll be a fun time for you guys (media)."
"It's not any different at all. It's not going to change anything that we do. We would only fall prey to the hype if we would change (preparation for the game). I understand it; I hope you guys have a blast with it. We'll have a heck of a ‘Competition Tuesday' when we get there. That's how we do it."
TO BE CONTINUED...
SCPlaybook will bring you the remainder of this discussion in an upcoming article.