Commentary

Carroll was the perfect fit for L.A.

Updated: January 8, 2010, 9:38 PM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

He always looked best in a Tommy Bahama shirt and shorts. And very few people ever made a gray hoodie look as cool.

A suit was just forced. He didn't need it.

Pete Carroll just fit here. Effortlessly.

Better than anyone could've dreamed when USC first hired him in 2000. Better than anyone probably will in the future.

The perfect guy at the perfect school in the absolute perfect town for him.

We might like our actors and actresses to be mysterious here, but we like our sports stars to come with personality, and Carroll oozed coolness out of every pore.

He somehow managed to be both: dashing and down to earth, arrogant and adored.

There are other coaches who have become legends in Los Angeles, but few have had as much popular appeal as Carroll did at the peak of USC's football dynasty.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson comes close, but he rarely interacts with fans the way Carroll does.

Tommy Lasorda is in the same conversation, but you don't get the feeling he could walk into an Oscars after-party the way Carroll could.

No, Pete Carroll was unique. A bright comet that flashed across our skies for nearly a decade but maybe too bright to stay forever.

If he does indeed leave USC to become coach of the Seattle Seahawks, it will leave a gaping hole in the Los Angeles skyline.

USC might still be good, but it's hard to believe it'll be as cool.

Every year, Carroll's teams competed at the highest level but still acted as if practice were a flag-football game at the park.

I remember going to USC's walk-through before the Ohio State game in Columbus in September when about 50 local media showed up to see how the Trojans were preparing for one of the biggest games of the season.

USC came dancing onto the field in its travel sweats, Carroll at the front of the pack, and played a game of touch football.

The Midwest media were stunned.

"Are they always this loose?"' a local TV reporter asked me.

Actually, I had seen them looser.

When it rained, they would have slip-and-slide contests.

Carroll bragged about pulling all-nighters at the office in the final week before signing day, signed autographs for random fans who approached him in Heritage Hall and hung out at volleyball tournaments in Manhattan Beach.

There was character behind the coolness, too. Carroll's foundation, A Better LA, became one of his missions over the years. As he did on the football field, he led the charge on that, too, regularly driving into the worst neighborhoods of Los Angeles to talk with gang members and criminals about how they could change their lives.

"Oh man, that guy was just cool,'' said defensive end Malik Jackson. "Everything about him was cool. "I remember he came to my high school to recruit me. He and [former assistant coach Steve Sarkisian] rolled up in this nice Mercedes looking all 'Miami Vice' with their polo shirts and shades on. Just as cool as can be.

"I was busy at first, so he goes into the gym and starts playing basketball with some of the kids. Just shooting around, messing around. I couldn't believe it.

"He just made everything fun. If he leaves, that's what we're going to miss the most about him.''

Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com.