Pete Carroll spoke, and everyone heard the same thing. Everyone was listening, too, because this was a major press conference -- USC quarterback Mark Sanchez was announcing his decision to turn pro after his junior season.
|Everything was fine between Pete Carroll and Mark Sanchez before a shortsighted jerk got involved. (AP)|
Like I said, Pete Carroll spoke -- and everyone heard the same thing.
Everyone but me.
And listen to me. I am wired, by nature, to not like Pete Carroll or the Southern California football team. They're too hip, too cool. Too good. I'm wired to hear the same thing everyone else heard, and everyone else heard Carroll being a selfish jerk.
Me, I heard something different. I heard Carroll being fed up with Sanchez, and with the people around Sanchez.
Understand something. Yes, for the 2008 season, Sanchez was a superstar. I get that. But for the three previous years, he was a major pain in the ass. You have to take that into consideration, or you can't fairly judge how Carroll acted, and what he said, at that press conference. What he said was startling. He said, "We don't see this decision the same. Mark's going against the grain, and he knows that." And he said, "I am disappointed the information we have wasn't compelling enough to make it clear to him (to stay)."
How Carroll acted was an even bigger shock. He basically declined to sit next to his player at the podium. He gave Sanchez a half-hearted handshake goodbye. He then left the press conference while Sanchez was still speaking.
That's the headline, and everyone wrote it: Pete Carroll's a jerk!
But here's the back story.
In April of his freshman season, Sanchez was arrested after a female USC student accused him of sexual assault. I'm not accusing Sanchez of anything. Guilty, innocent, I don't know. The charges were eventually dropped, but Sanchez's arrest was one in a long line of negative off-field stories Carroll and the USC program had to endure.
Carroll stood by Sanchez during that whole ordeal, and stood by him over the next two seasons as Sanchez battled a broken thumb in 2007 and a dislocated kneecap in '08. Sanchez spent just one season as the Trojans' starter, this season. Along the way his father has been there in the background, even the foreground, attending not just games but practices, micromanaging his son's college career.
Now, Sanchez is turning pro, and he is doing it against the advice of his coach. This is a coach with a history of blessing his players' decision to leave early for the NFL. In 2006 five non-seniors from USC entered the draft, including Heisman winner Reggie Bush. Carroll seemed fine with that.
He's not fine with this, and for a time after the Rose Bowl, Sanchez himself wasn't fine with it. After the Rose Bowl he said he was leaning toward staying, saying of turning pro early, "I don't think I can do it."
And then he did it, even after Carroll advised him not to. So Carroll spoke about that at the press conference, and everyone heard one thing. They heard Carroll making an ass of himself.
Me, I heard something else. I heard Carroll being fed up. Carroll knew Sanchez had initially been leaning toward staying. Carroll knew that he then told Sanchez, based on conversations with NFL people -- and Carroll knows NFL people; he once was head coach of the Jets and Patriots -- that Sanchez's pro career would be better served with one more year of college. And still Sanchez turned pro early.
So who got to Sanchez? Between the lines of that awkward press conference, that's the question I heard. I heard Carroll wondering who it was that got to his player. Carroll has seen it before, with scumbags getting close to Reggie Bush and even O.J. Mayo on the basketball side of campus. Carroll knows the scumbags are still out there. So was it a scumbag this time? Or was it a family member? An agent? A girl? It was someone, and Carroll's mad as hell at that person, as well as being mad as hell at Sanchez for listening.
So Carroll went into the press conference and delivered a message.
Here's the thing. Carroll is one of the smoothest coaches in college sports. He knows how to act, and he knows what to say. He knows that everything he says and does will be dissected. And still he walked into that press conference, with plenty of time to prepare, and did what he did, and said what he said.
You think that was an accident? You think he lost control? You think his entire performance wasn't planned?
I think it was intentional. I think it was premeditated. So I didn't hear Pete Carroll being a shortsighted jerk. I heard Pete Carroll being fed up with the real shortsighted jerk in this scenario. I just wish I knew who that shortsighted jerk is.
Mark Sanchez knows who it is. Maybe someday, if his NFL career isn't everything it could have been, he'll get mad at that shortsighted jerk himself. Even if that shortsighted jerk is someone in his own family, maybe even himself.