A lot of things that happen in sports are unpredictable and unforeseeable.
It comes with the territory, I guess. We are trained to believe anything’s possible in the world of sports — on or off the field.
And that’s exactly what happened this weekend when Taylor Mays lashed out at his former coach, Pete Carroll.
See, for four years Mays was Carroll’s protégé. If you asked the 58-year-old coach about his star safety, his eyes would literally light up.
He would say things like: “He’s done exactly what we wanted — there’s a lot that goes on in his position that you don’t see that he deserves credit for.”
Or: “If you think about the last two seasons or the last three seasons, how many times somebody’s taken the ball, thrown it over our heads down the middle of the field — you can’t remember because it hasn’t happened.”
And so Mays believed the hype that his coach helped spark. Believed it so much he felt compelled to return for his senior season even though he was a projected top-20 pick in the 2009 draft.
Carroll praised him incessantly during offseason, especially in the wake of the departure of quarterback Mark Sanchez, who passed up a final year at USC to head to the NFL.
But, of course, things didn’t go as planned. Teams were watching Mays closer and saw some of his weaknesses. They saw a lack of ball-hawking ability, and a tendency to go for late hits, instincts that weren’t as good as they remembered and, consequently, Mays’ stock dropped significantly. And the Trojans had a mediocre season.
So when it came to last weekend, when Mays had hopes of going in the first round of the draft, forgive him if he got a little upset at his coach who essentially cost him millions and millions of dollars when he fell to the bottom half of the second round.
Of course, Carroll — now the coach of the Seattle Seahawks — had an opportunity to select Mays at the No. 14 spot in the first round. Instead, he chose Texas safety Earl Thomas. But that’s not what Mays was upset about. He was upset because Carroll constantly assuaged any concerns he had relating to his play instead of telling him the truth.
“[Pete] kept saying, ‘Taylor, you’ll be fine. You’re fine,’” Mays told ESPN Friday. “Obviously that wasn’t the case.”
It’s a tough situation, one almost unheard of in the hard-knocks world of professional sports. Mock him if you will, but you have to feel for Mays in a situation that had to — aside from taking away literally life-altering cash — have hurt his pride tremendously.
“He is someone I’ve trusted for a long time, been very close to,” he told reporters about Carroll. “I put my future in his hands when he told me to come back to school. I just feel like we weren’t on the same page for what I needed to do to get drafted where I wanted to be drafted.”
Perhaps the most telling aspect of this lash out by Mays is that he is one of the Trojans in recent years who have been most averse to opening up to the media, turning everything into a yes or no question. But not this weekend.
“I wish I would have known why I wouldn’t be taken in the first round,” he said Friday. “At least have been shown what I needed work on. Here’s my head coach, the person I trust most, telling me I had nothing to worry about and then I’m worrying about it [when it’s too late] because I’m not getting picked.”
Carroll responded, of course, with diplomacy. It’s hard to place all of the blame on him in this situation, because all he did wrong was try to assure his player that NFL teams would like him. And take another — better — player at the same position over him Thursday.
“We really were looking forward to picking Taylor,” Carroll said Saturday. “We thought we would get the chance to do that in the first round. And so when we made the pick, we felt fortunate to get Earl, but we were really hoping that we were gonna get a chance to get [Taylor], but unfortunately we didn’t.”
Whether or not you believe that Carroll’s Seahawks were really hoping to get Mays with their second-round selection, as he seemed to indicate, does not really matter. Any of the other 31 teams could have taken him too. But what does matter is that one of Carroll’s players, one of his favorite players of the past several years, didn’t know how to best prepare himself for the NFL draft because the coach was unaware of his weaknesses — or afraid to tell him.
“It was interesting,” Mays said when questioned more on the issue by reporters. “I thought from the relationship that we have, the things he had told me about, what I needed to be aware of through the draft process, things I needed to do, I felt like he told me the complete opposite of the actions that he took, which was alarming.”
Alarming? Yes. Unfortunate? Even more so.
“Looking Past the X’s and O’s” ran Mondays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Pedro at firstname.lastname@example.org.