Commentary

This buzz doesn't sound like the rest

Rumors of Carroll's departure are a yearly rite around USC, but this one seems different

Updated: January 9, 2010, 4:14 PM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

It was surreally quiet around Heritage Hall on Friday afternoon.

The students were still on winter break, so the campus didn't have its usual bustle. Most of the coaches had the day off. A lot of the players were still back in their hometowns with their families.

The quiet and the winter shadows gave the old glass-and-brick building a funereal feel.

That may be perfectly appropriate for a program that could soon be in mourning if Pete Carroll chooses to take another run at the NFL. And while rumors of Carroll's departure are a yearly rite around here, this one felt different from when the Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons were courting Carroll in years past.

Even athletic director Mike Garrett's no-comment had a different feel. When the Dolphins were after Carroll two years ago, Garrett professed to no concern whatsoever.

On Friday, Garrett sounded as if he was still in fact-gathering mode. It was apparent he hadn't talked to Carroll since word leaked to ESPN's Chris Mortensen that the Seattle Seahawks were hot on his trail.

"We're just trying to figure out what's what," Garrett said.

Something clearly is going on, and you've got to wonder if the stresses of this season might have convinced Carroll he didn't, in fact, have football's greatest job. I think back to a conversation with Carroll a few weeks ago in San Francisco as his team prepared for the Emerald Bowl against Boston College.

Carroll was having a bad week imagewise. The local papers were taking him to task for not monitoring his players' activities more closely. The latest bombshell was news that junior running back Joe McKnight had been driving an SUV owned by a Santa Monica businessman. Three more players were ruled academically ineligible for the game.

Carroll called it a "great challenge," keeping track of so many players' off-field activities. If you have teenage sons, you might have a feel for how hard it is to pry into their personal lives. Now imagine you have 85 of them.

"The issue is there are so many factors of the monitoring. You think about what one person does," Carroll said. "It's the whole mechanism of it. It's most challenging because there are a lot of moving parts. It's not tiresome so much, but it's a big job."

In the NFL, nobody will care what his players are driving as long as their blood-alcohol levels are inside legal limits. Not that the NFL isn't with its own set of headaches. Just ask Jim Mora.

Mark Saxon covers USC football for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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