Players not surprised if Carroll leaves

Updated: January 9, 2010, 11:10 PM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

Many people who spent time around Pete Carroll were pretty sure he eventually would bolt for the NFL. That included his players at USC, some of whom wondered every winter whether they'd see Carroll when practices resumed in the spring.

Carroll's current players probably won't have to wonder for very long. Carroll reportedly has agreed to terms with the Seattle Seahawks and could be introduced as their coach as early as Monday.

"I know he always wanted to go back and give it another shot after learning what he learned," said former USC offensive lineman Sam Baker, coming off his second season with the Atlanta Falcons. "Before the Rose Bowl one year, the captains were driving with him down to Disneyland and he was talking about if he had another shot, he'd do it a little differently. He'd use a different formula. I think he was waiting for the right situation."

It would be a stretch to say Carroll's former players were stunned to learn he seems headed back to the NFL. If anything, many of them wondered whether it would happen sooner. Baker said he didn't think Carroll would last through his four seasons at USC.

Others echoed the thought. Acceptance was more common than shock, at least during the second day of developments.

"Growing up in an NFL family, I know it's a business. People do what's best for their families," said USC junior tailback Marc Tyler, son of former NFL player Wendell Tyler. "I really don't care. I know we're going to get a new coach and it will be a fresh start for everyone."

Said sophomore defensive end Malik Jackson, "Whoever comes in, I'm sure is going to keep us up there at the high level we play at."

Maybe, but Carroll would be leaving USC at a slightly awkward time, with national signing day less than four weeks away. Carroll's potential departure, combined with the loss of whatever position coaches move on, could cost the Trojans recruiting commitments. Among the players who had committed to USC were highly touted running back Dillon Baxter from San Diego, wide receiver Kyle Prater from Illinois and defensive back Robert Woods of Gardena.

On Saturday, Prater backed off his committment to the Trojans. The 6-foot-6, 210-pounder was an early enrollee and was a couple of days away from heading to Los Angeles to start college.

"I really don't know what to say. I'm pretty shocked. I'm just trying to get with my family and my head right," Prater said. "I'm not going to be in Los Angeles on Monday. It just hurts. I really don't know what to say. I wasn't told of anything. I just need to sit down with my family."

Woods, on the other hand, says he is sticking with USC despite the potential of Carroll's departure.

"It's pretty shocking, pretty much out of nowhere. Whatever Pete [Carroll] does is a great decision for him. It doesn't change much for me," said Woods, who is No. 23 in the ESPNU 150. "USC is the school I chose and I think I'm going to stick with it. "

Most other recruits are in a holding pattern while they wait to see what happens with the coaching staff. Many of them have been in communication with Carroll's assistants at USC, but the coaches have little idea what their own future holds. Further coaching departures could lead to lost recruits.

"Eventually, some of them will probably decommit," Tyler said. "A lot of other coaches from other schools are probably going to start talking to them now."

Pressure to sign a highly ranked class could push USC athletic director Mike Garrett to shorten the search for Carroll's successor. None of the names commonly linked to the search so far -- Mike Riley at Oregon State, Jeff Fisher of the Tennessee Titans and Jack Del Rio of the Jacksonville Jaguars -- would represent a cataclysmic transition from Carroll's style. They all share NFL ties.

A more intriguing question might be how Carroll's style will be greeted in Seattle. Some people have questioned whether 10-year veterans will embrace his high-energy style as readily as the teenagers and 22-year-olds Carroll coached at USC.

"I think that's a valid point. Most of the guys in the NFL just go about their business like pros and don't need the stuff coach Carroll brings to the table," Baker said. "But I think if he doesn't overplay it too much, they could definitely benefit from playing for him."

Carroll brought a fun, upbeat style to USC's practice field the players soaked up. But the coaching change also means fresh opportunities for players who were stuck on the bench. As usual, there will be some players excited to see a new coach arrive. Tyler admitted he's one of them.

"I think he was a coach who kind of had his favorites and stuck with those people," Tyler said. "We'll see who comes in and who has a fresh start."

Mark Saxon is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. JC Shurbutt and Gerry Hamilton of Scouts Inc. contributed to this report.

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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