Despite a lackluster, defensively oriented game, Sunday afternoon was an electric return for the Los Angeles Rams in their first game in L.A. since 1994. With a rowdy crowd, an energetic Red Hot Chili Peppers pre-game concert and a much-needed home victory for the Rams, lost in the shuffle was a major storyline: Former USC head coach Pete Carroll’s first appearance at the Coliseum since leaving the school in 2009.
The coach wasn’t sure how he would be received when asked before the game.
“No idea,” Carroll said. “I don’t think there’s going to be an actual reception, I think we’re just going to start the game.”
It turns out he was largely correct. Most of the crowd’s attention seemed to be directed at the pure excitement of seeing their Rams back in Los Angeles or urging for rookie quarterback Jared Goff to replace starter Case Keenum. Goff did not play.
Carroll’s return to the Coliseum was an appealing narrative largely because of his controversial exit from USC. After amassing 83 wins, four Rose Bowl victories and two national championships during his nine seasons with the Trojans, he left abruptly following the 2009 Emerald Bowl to fill the Seattle Seahawks’ head coaching vacancy.
Six months later, the USC athletic department was hit with crippling sanctions stemming from improper benefits received by running back Reggie Bush and basketball player O.J. Mayo. The football program faced a two-season bowl ban and the reduction of 30 scholarships. Some felt that Carroll knew about the severe penalties and that his departure was a calculated measure to avoid any punishment from the NCAA.
“I regret that anybody had to go through all of that, and I’m as remorseful as I can be about that,” Carroll said of the circumstances surrounding his exit. “I think it was really off-base and out of line the way they handled it, and I felt like it was a miserable thing to do to a great university. I’ve always felt really kind of upset about that. I wish I could have done something once we realized that it was a problem, but I was already gone by the time all of that stuff came out, and I felt bad about that.”
The Trojans have not been able to replicate Carroll’s successes following his departure. Since 2010, the football program has had three head coaches, three athletic directors and a series of mediocre seasons. USC has failed to maintain national prominence since the NCAA investigations.
Carroll, on the other hand, continued his success, leading Seattle to five postseason appearances in six years and a Super Bowl championship in 2013.
However, Carroll experienced much less success in his Coliseum return than he was accustomed to when leading the Trojans. The Seahawks were stifled by the Ram’s defensive front, mustering just 67 rushing yards in a miserable 9-3 loss. After the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, Seattle began to drive into Rams territory, but a potential game winning drive was spoiled when Alec Ogletree forced a Christine Michael fumble at the 32-yard line. The Seahawks have now lost four out of five of their last games to the Rams. Both the Rams and Seahawks have experienced little offensive success so far in their respective 2016 campaigns.
Former USC All-American and current Rams safety T.J. McDonald also made his return to the Coliseum. He recorded one tackle during his defense’s dominant performance.
Next up for Carroll and the Seahawks is a divisional matchup against the 49ers, who defeated the Rams in a 28-0 opening weekend clobbering. This Sunday, the Rams will aim to score their first touchdown since relocating in an away game at Tampa Bay.