Pete Carroll popularized the philosophies of “win forever” and “always compete” at USC.
But the mantras that made him a college football legend also became the driving force behind his decision to coach in the NFL.
The 58-year-old agreed Monday to become the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, confirming reports that persisted throughout the weekend that he would leave USC after nine years to return to the NFL. Carroll cited his view that his new position was “a challenge too good to pass up” as the determining factor in his decision.
He signed a five-year contract reportedly worth almost $33 million and will also be the team’s vice president of football operations.
A reflective Carroll used his last press conference at the university to thank USC players, coaches and fans for their support. Carroll said he would wait until today, when he is to be introduced in Seattle, to speak about what lies ahead in his new job.
“These are the most cherished times of my life,” Carroll said. “I do not expect to be able to top what we did in terms of these years together.”
Although the NFL provided a constant allure for Carroll, he said he believed he would remain at USC “forever.” It was not until Seahawks owner Paul Allen and chief executive operator Tod Leiweke presented him with what he called “the challenge of a lifetime” that he shifted his focus toward coaching in the professional ranks.
“It hurts to separate right now,” Carroll said. “I know that our fans want to know why it can’t keep on going. It can’t keep on going because of this opportunity that just came up.”
Carroll brushed aside claims that his departure was related to the NCAA’s investigation of USC’s athletic department or a rumored fractured relationship with Athletic Director Mike Garrett.
“It has nothing to do with anything that’s happened or taken place here,” Carroll said. “Mike Garrett and I have gone shoulder-to-shoulder on this thing for years.”
Despite finalizing a deal on Sunday night, Carroll still had to meet with players on Monday afternoon to confirm what many of them already knew. The room went “dead silent” upon Carroll’s entrance, freshman quarterback Matt Barkley said.
“There’s mixed feelings,” Barkley said. “But overall, I think he left us on a good note.”
Redshirt junior running back Allen Bradford said that he originally planned not to attend the meeting but changed his mind and held a players-only meeting. Bradford said he didn’t begrudge Carroll for leaving.
“It’s business, so you do what you have to do,” he said. “But we’re going to miss him a lot.”
Carroll refused to verify which assistant coaches he would bring with him to Seattle, but offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. and offensive line coach Pat Ruel are all expected to join his NFL staff.
Carroll’s sudden exit leaves the Trojans scrambling to find a new head coach. With less than three weeks before high school seniors commit on national signing day, USC’s next coach will have to salvage what remains of a once-promising recruiting class.
With Carroll officially gone, USC is already on the clock to find its new leader.
Oregon State coach Mike Riley signed a three-year extension Sunday to keep him in Corvallis, Ore. through 2019. The former USC offensive coordinator was reportedly one of the school’s leading candidates to take over for Carroll.
Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio is among the candidates believed to be on the short list of possible replacements.
USC President Steven B. Sample expressed both his regret for Carroll leaving and his gratitude to the coach for his work at USC.
“I had hoped this day would not come; this is a big loss to all of us,” Sample said in a press release. “But we are proud of Pete Carroll — and proud that the Seattle Seahawks recognize his talents and his accomplishments — and are offering him this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Seattle will be Carroll’s third stop as an NFL coach. He went 33-31 over four years — one with the New York Jets and three with the New England Patriots.
Carroll’s departure ends a nearly decade-long run that was one of the most prosperous stretches in the school’s athletic history. In his nine years at USC, Carroll went 97-19 and won two national championships and seven Pac-10 conference championships.
Carroll also became synonymous with USC and Los Angeles for his work off the field. He said his philanthropic work with A Better L.A., a non-profit group focused on helping reduce gang violence within the city, would be uninterrupted by his new job.