The League

Michael Kun
Author

Michael Kun

Co-author of The Football Uncyclopedia. He is also the author of six other books and is a practicing attorney.

No Trojan Horse

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Sports fans have awfully short memories.

A decade ago, when USC first hired Pete Carroll, there was an uproar. Living here in Los Angeles, I can tell you that there was very little support for Carroll's hiring.

"It's a mistake," commentators and fans cried. "He's a pro coach!" "He can't succeed at the college level!"

And now that he's going back to the NFL to coach the Seahawks, we're already hearing the same comments, with the words "pros" and "college" conveniently switched.

The simple truth is that Carroll has already succeeded in the pros, at least to an extent. As the head coach of a woeful Jets team and a so-so Patriots team back in the 90s, he led his teams to a 33-31 record.

Considered in a vacuum, that's a respectable record for a pro coach. Just above average. It's the kind of record that would have put Carroll in line for any number of other NFL head coaching jobs in the early 2000s.

That Carroll accepted the USC job instead, and that he had tremendous success there, doesn't change the fact that he always would have been considered a legitimate NFL coaching candidate, the type who could have success with the right team. And aren't those the key words -- "the right team"?

Many a coach has attempted the transition from the college ranks to the pros. Some have failed. Some have succeeded. A few, like Steve Spurrier and John McKay, just never seemed to have the right mindset for the pro game. But for most, whether they failed or succeeded hinged more on whether they had "the right team" than anything else.

Barry Switzer coached the Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory. Does that make Switzer a better coach, or a better pro coach, than others? Of course not. I'll bet even Switzer would admit that he lucked into "the right team," a very talented, well-rounded (albeit out-of-control) squad that fell into his lap after Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson couldn't figure out how to divide up the glory of their championships.

Bud Wilkinson went from Oklahoma to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he 9-20. Was he a bad pro coach, or did he just not have "the right team"? Could someone else have done better with that same Cardinals team? I don't know, but I would suspect that if Wilkinson had been given that Cowboys job instead of Switzer, he might have won a Super Bowl, too.

The same goes for a lot of other college coaches who did not find success in the NFL. They weren't fortunate enough to be handed great teams. Instead, the reason their jobs were even available in the first place was because the teams were mediocre, or worse.

It's not profound to say that the pro game is different than the college game. Players are bigger, faster and more talented, demanding different schemes and creating different pressures. But when it comes to coaching, perhaps the biggest difference between college and the pros is the composition of the team itself.

If you don't have "the right team" in college, you can recruit "the right team." You go out, you talk to kids and their parents, and you use your scholarships as best you can to remake your team. A college coach who is an excellent recruiter -- like Carroll -- can turn around a team in a couple years with some strong recruiting classes. In two years, he can bring in a couple dozen strong, contributing players.

Of course, you can't do that in the pros. Your roster is your roster. You draft who you can draft, and you fill in with free agents. If you get lucky, a great player falls into your lap because other teams undervalued him in the draft (Brian Cushing), or because he was injured a bit in college (Adrian Peterson), or he had personal issues (Randy Moss), or he just kept falling in the draft because no one else had a need at that position that year (Aaron Rodgers).

As we've seen the past decade, an NFL team can turn around very quickly with a good draft and good free agents. If you don't have "the right team," you can build "the right team," assuming you have some strong building blocks.

So, can Carroll succeed with the Seahawks? Of course. He doesn't have "the right team" yet. If they were, they would have made the playoffs. But he does have the building blocks. In fact, there should be more questions about whether USC can succeed without him than whether he can succeed in the pros.

By Michael Kun  |  January 11, 2010; 1:10 PM ET  | Category:  College Football , Seattle Seahawks Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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