An Afternoon with Pete Carroll

When the Pacific Institute invited me to attend a seminar with USC Head Coach Pete Carroll, I figured why not. Maybe it would give me some insight as to why the Trojans have so dominated the Pac-10 since the turn of the century. I had worked with the Institute's founder, Lou Tice, early in my coaching career and knew it would at least be interesting from a leadership and motivational standpoint.

They were filming Coach Carroll doing a series of lectures on how he runs his program and his reasons for success. Coach Carroll, like Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham, are both proponents of positive thinking and have both used the institute for their staffs and players. Coach Carroll just completed his seventh season as the head Trojan, where he has won over 85 percent of his games. Quite simply, he has dominated this conference. He is also 6-1 versus the Huskies and has won the last six in a row.

I figured Carroll had to be an excellent recruiter because there is no question USC has the best players. I now believe they also win because they have an excellent coach. I found the man to be a very positive and very organized individual. He has already one of the best coaches ever in the history of his school, as well as the country.

I firmly believe that the Washington program will never really be back until it regularly beats the Trojans. Former Head Coach Don James understood that when he took over the Huskies' program and made it a point of emphasis throughout his career. If I'm not mistaken he ended up 9-8 against arguably the finest football program ever on the west coast. His successor, Jim Lambright, kept that same philosophy and was 2-3-1, even though USC still had the better players.

I want to point out that we recruited the same kids they did but rarely beat them on a single kid. They have always had the best players but many times not very good teams or coaches. Now they have it all. Since Carroll took over at USC they have had more first and second-round draft choices than the Huskies have had total picks. Excuse me, but that pretty much explains the difference in talent right there.

During taping, Coach Carroll was asked from the studio audience what his greatest strength is as a coach and what is the central theme of his program. The answer was competition. He views himself as a competitor first and foremost, and tries to build that within their system. He wants his kids to practice at game speed. I had heard from a number of pro scouts that his practices were the most competitive of any in the nation. Of course you can do that when you have quality depth, and that is slowly returning to Washington. But obviously the quality of depth is still distinctly different. In fact, by using USC as a measuring tool my belief in the Huskies' steady improvement is supported by how they are closing the gap. The last two years the Huskies could have beaten USC. They played well enough to win.

The Huskies lost two years ago in Los Angeles by a score of 26-20 when the always-competitive Carroll made sure the officials started the clock early enough to keep the Huskies from getting off one last play. Last year it was 27-24. This after simply being blown out before - 38-0 and 51-24 - during Willingham's first two years.

Carroll wants his players to have a great practice every day. He teaches them to buy into his culture by claiming "I'm in" on a regular basis. He builds a system so that the players believe in their preparation, in each other, in their coaches, and in their routine. This belief allows them to play in absence of fear and to have fun in what they are doing no matter how tense the situation.

Carroll likewise believes that one of his most important roles as the head coach is to be a constant observer. The two things he is looking for are effort and playing smart. His players are constantly being pushed by his assistants to practice and play at full speed. He further believes that the more prepared his kids think they are the more they have the freedom to improvise and let their natural talents take over. He further stated that this improvisational ability comes out of the discipline of practicing at full speed in everything they do.

He wants his coaches to emphasize the correct way of doing things, rather than chewing kids out when they do something wrong. By doing so he hopes to empower his kids to take the responsibility for their own improvement, thereby allowing them as a team to maintain their competitive edge.

At USC there is a big emphasis on finishing. Finish, finish, finish is constantly hammered in as a part of Trojan football. He preaches this to his kids and they have never lost a game in the month of November as they come down to the end of their season.

Winning is each day, each drill, each play, each possession, each game; each season is now expected and with that comes the expectation of winning each game by winning each play. It is that central theme of competition that creates the intensity of each practice. They meet, they walk through, they do quick drills and then they practice hard with competitive drills and great intensity, with a belief that they are going to win no matter what happens.

After listening for three hours during the taping I came away with the idea that Carroll is indeed one of the finest coaches in the country. I really believe that Willingham has the same sort of approach and has done a good job of rebuilding a program that was so down that they had totally lost their belief system.

I know there are many frustrated Husky fans who just want to point out the win-loss record at Washington over the past four years to justify another coaching change. That is their right, but for me I have watched the development of the Huskies closely under Willingham. The challenge of rebuilding a belief system - not to mention getting better players - has been a daunting process, to say the least.

Hearing Pete Carroll convinced me that the Washington Huskies have the right man in Willingham to turn their program around. He holds the same values and emphasizes the same approach as does his counterpart at USC. It has just taken him longer to restock the cupboard simply because his were empty compared to Carroll's.

A lot of it goes back to recruiting, and each time you fire a staff it takes at least three years to establish your recruiting system. At the same time you need to have your kids buy in to the program. It has taken Willingham longer than Carroll to taste success because he has had to rebuild a complete belief system destroyed by constant turnover in both coaching and administration. The Huskies are closing the gap, and when they finally beat USC they will be back.

Stanford proved this past season that the Trojans are vulnerable on any given Saturday. No doubt the Dawgs will be in contention because that game will be played on November 1st.

Finishing might be the key concept when comparing the two programs. If the Huskies are going to get back on top of this conference they have to finish the job every day, and then in every game. It means believing in what you are doing, who you are doing it with, how you are doing it, and that means every play of every day.

When the taping was over I introduced myself to Coach Carroll. Having coached kids like Lawyer Milloy, Carroll knew about the toughness that used to be associated with the Huskies. He was very genuine and complimentary and it was easy to see he is not only a great coach but also a great recruiter. Beating Carroll's Trojans will certainly be the biggest win in a long time for the Huskies; besides - of course - beating Oregon in their opener. Top Stories