People could easily call on “the ‘80s” or “the ‘90s” to sum up an entire decade of culture and history in a few short words. Just hearing the words “the ‘60s” immediately makes me think of hippies, free love and a lot of pot being smoked.
So the first decade of the year 2000 presented an obvious problem. You can give a numeric name to just about every other decade but the first one. So with this nameless decade nearing its close, it’s necessary to find a description that both captures and exemplifies the unique history of the last 10 years.
Call it “Pete’s Decade.” As in Pete Carroll’s.
While it may take some time for this expression to enter our everyday lingo — Florida fans are probably already flooding the comment board in protest — it is difficult to come up with a more applicable name if your scope is college football and your measuring stick dominance.
Throughout the better part of Pete’s Decade, the USC football coach rejuvenated a once-proud program from the dregs of its national perception. Gone are the 6-6 seasons, the extended losing streaks to UCLA and the crummy bowl games. Here to stay are the double-digit winning seasons, dominance over the Bruins and one Rose Bowl after another.
To look back on the last 10 years in college football is to reflect on a remarkable run of dominance, week in and week out. Carroll’s resumé reads more like a laundry list of accolades and accomplishments. From the seven 11-win seasons to the seven straight Pac-10 titles, the Trojans’ domination is simply unrivaled in the modern era.
Yes, Florida has won two out of the last three national titles and no one is taking that away from them. But since Carroll arrived at USC, the Trojans have won 88 games compared to the Gators’ 77. Plus, Florida gets the opportunity to play one more game a season if they make it to the SEC championship. To me, that settles the “Team of the Decade” debate.
While USC has not played in a national championship since 2005, no other school has consistently gotten as hot as USC has in the latter parts of the season.
If this is Pete’s Decade, November would be his holy month. Carroll has never lost a game in November, leading his team to a perfect 27-0 record.
Getting ready to do it all over again in his ninth year at USC, Carroll reflected back on the run he has been instrumental in orchestrating.
“It doesn’t really feel that much different, I pretty much feel the same as I’ve felt for a number of years,” he said. “As I’ve said it’s kind of like Groundhog’s day in a sense, but [USC is] a good place to be.”
The climb to the peak of college football glory was difficult, but staying there has been even harder. As the Bushes, the Leinarts and the Maualugas move on to the NFL and his staff is plucked away by needy programs around the country, Pete always seems to find a way of reloading without really misfiring.
Like this year, with an inexperienced starting quarterback (whether it be Matt Barkley or Aaron Corp), a new offensive and defensive coordinator and only three starters returning on defense, the Trojans will still likely be favored to win every one of their games.
The secret behind Carroll’s success is to never look beyond the day at hand, instilling his players to “maximize their potential” on every play. It is a tactic that is easy to preach but much harder to get players to buy into. Like the fruitless pursuit of perfection, it is also unending.
“We’re developing our mentality and our attitude and the personality we want to project as a staff to the players and to our football team,” Carroll said. “And that’s ongoing, that’s a work in progress.”
Someone who can offer some of the best insight into the transition from the lowly ‘90s to Pete’s Decade is defensive coordinator Rocky Seto. He was a USC linebacker from 1997-98 and came on as a graduate assistant in 2000. He is entering his ninth year as a full-time assistant, where he primarily handles the secondary.
Seto said the Trojans worked just as hard before Carroll but did not hone the same level of concentration.
“What coach [Carroll] has brought in is a level of focus to help everyone maintain their level of focus to perform as well as they can,” Seto said.
When asked if he felt the target kept growing on USC as it continued to succeed year after year, Seto answered perfectly in-tune with the Carroll philosophy.
“It’s not a target,” Seto said. “When you think about a target you allow others to enter the focus, when really the focus is about us. Really, we’re our own hardest critic.”
Carroll has made his mark by treating every season the same and every day like the one previous. He jogs onto the practice field with the same bounce in his step as when he trots through the LA Coliseum tunnel. So it’s no wonder he does not approach this season any differently than he did when he arrived in 2001.
“It doesn’t seem that much different. It seems very much the same,” he said. “Faces change and the issues that you address change, and of course, even the guys on the staff.”
But the common denominator has always been Carroll and his uncanny ability to get jacked up for the same challenges every season.
“Staying at a high level for a long time, to be in the middle of it all, it’s just been the time of my life,” Carroll said. “It’s been so great that I want to create the fun for everyone around us.”
Whether he can continue to spread the joy around Southern California this season or the next 10 seasons is anyone’s guess. One thing you can bank on is that Carroll is sincere in his excitement for the new season, and is never one to rest on his laurels.
Still, it should be said that his record of the past eight years speaks for itself. No coach’s claim to the decade is greater than his, marking the last 10 years as his alone in the history of college football.
“Middle Ground” runs Mondays. To comment on this article, visit cquartz.info or e-mail Josh at [email protected]