The Narcissist

Survey college football’s most prominent pundits about the best head coach in the country, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the consensus choice would be Pete Carroll.

USC’s head man orchestrated an impressive turnaround at the fabled Los Angeles football factory in the early half of the decade, following years of mediocrity near the end of John Robinson’s second tour of duty and continuing into the Paul Hackett era. Year in and year out under Carroll the Trojans boast ungodly amounts of talent all over the field. NFL franchises have taken notice, routinely making Carroll disciples top draft picks. On top of all that, Carroll’s teams have rung up blowout wins over respected competition on the biggest stages, during both the regular and bowl seasons.
You’d think the Trojans would need to move up to the NFC East to find a decent game. Yet, all that dominance and talent only serve to make USC’s penchant for dropping games to the Stanfords and Oregon States of the Pac-10 all the more befuddling. How can a team look so unbeatable while rolling to a 30-point win over the Buckeyes one week and then get manhandled by the Beavers the next?
Now, Homerism has never met Carroll. I’ve never attended one of the Trojans’ practices, which are supposedly more competitive than the action on Saturdays. My knowledge of the Carroll way consists almost entirely of what the casual fan has seen or read. But I’ve developed my own theory, and last week’s upset loss in Corvallis only served to reinforce it.
Carroll’s humanistic coaching philosophy revolves around an intense drive to put his players in position to flourish. He views his team’s success as a function of getting the most talented players on the field–the ones who offer the potential not to win, but to thrive. Carroll’s practices and workouts are famous for being intensely competitive, as mega-recruits and future bonus babies constantly vie for touches and playing time.
When it comes to game planning, Carroll counts on his team and players being better than yours. And he plans to show you how great they are, utilizing aggressive offensive and defensive schemes to showcase the boatloads of talent that dot the USC roster.
Considering just how talented the Trojans usually are, that sounds like a great plan. Judging by Carroll’s winning percentage, it has served him well. So what’s missing? How about the opponent.
Watching Oregon State victimize the middle of the Trojans’ defense time and again last weekend with draw plays and cutback runs, I kept wondering if USC had even bothered to study the Beavers’ game film. Offensively, with all the success OSU’s defense had pressuring Trojan quarterback Mark Sanchez and stuffing USC’s run game, did the staff take any measures to change up blocking schemes and protections in the second half? Sure didn’t look like it.
When your players are constantly told that the name of the game is competing with each other, what’s the point in concentrating on a scouting report? When your coaching staff becomes so wrapped up in who you’re recruiting and what your team is doing, how much thought are you giving to the schemes and personnel you’ll see in the next game? Can your coaches adjust to what the other team is doing, instead of just relying on your guys to be better and make plays?
Carroll’s high-octane, star-centric coaching philosophy clearly breeds sustained success. What’s more, the Trojans are built and mentally conditioned for the kind of big games in which USC has made its mark under Carroll. But, until Carroll learns to respect his opponents and realizes that the play of both teams determines a game’s outcome, expect Southern Cal to continue to lose games they shouldn’t.

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