Remember, I never said that "dynasty" word.
OK, Pete, but we did.
|Pete Carroll has become accustomed to lifting trophies. (Getty Images)|
1) USC's coach doesn't want to consider the d-word. It's just another bulls-eye slapped on a program that faces opponents' archery practice on a weekly basis.
2) Even if he did consider USC's current run a dynasty, it is unsettling that his might be the last dinosaur.
"Kind of the vision of this program," the coach said, "is to win forever."
Ain't going to happen. Carroll knows it. Every coach knows it. Still, they try.
USC has bucked immense odds to get this far, as the country's only major-college dynasty with its engine still running. In the last six years, there have been at least a share of six consecutive Pac-10 titles, six straight BCS bowls, three Heisman Trophy winners and two national championships. There is no end in sight but there is one certainty: There will be an end. USC aside, this decade is starting to look like Obama's presidential campaign -- being sucked toward the middle. Traditional powers have faded. It's hard for anyone to dominate.
From 1983 to 2001, Miami won five national championships. Since that last title seven years ago, the Canes have changed coaches, conferences and perceptions. The one-time national power has yet to play in so much as the ACC title game in the three-year existence of the expanded conference. Nebraska won its last conference title nine years ago. Florida State's run of 14 consecutive seasons in the AP top four ended after the 2000 season.
Alabama has spent time, money and several coaching searches in trying to get back to the days of Bear Bryant. The Tide are likely to see more of a bear market before they see anything approximating Bear's winning percentage.
Last season, LSU became the first two-loss team to win a national championship in 47 years. Now we're wondering if that is an anomaly or a trend.
Since 2000, only eight teams have finished the season undefeated. Eight different teams. From 1960-69, there were at least 19 undefeated seasons (We counted only those ranked in the AP poll.) Those undefeated seasons were accomplished by 13 teams.
The only schools with undefeated seasons in both of those decades were Ohio State, Texas and ... USC. As one of college football's old guard, the Trojans are used to this type of thing. Only Notre Dame (nine) has won more national championships in the wire service era (since 1936) than USC (tied for second with seven).
For this purpose, a dynasty is defined as prolonged excellence at the conference and/or national levels. We were liberal, listing eight schools that produced 12 dynastic periods. USC's first run began in 1967 and lasted 13 years during which the Trojans won seven Rose Bowls and four national championships.
Few could have predicted in December 2000 that Carroll's hiring was the dawn of a new USC era. The announcement drew mostly yawns. AD Mike Garrett was perceived to be outmatched because he couldn't land his top choices.
After a 2-5 start, though, Carroll has gone 74-9, reawakening a program that had become mostly Sleeping Ugly under Ted Tollner, Larry Smith, John Robinson and Paul Hackett. Carroll's energy -- both in recruiting and in player relationships -- was perfect for college. His personality and abilities just never clicked in the NFL.
This is the stuff of a dynasty: At Troy, Carroll has coached 30 first-team All-Americans and 11 first-round draft choices -- four of those in 2007 alone. The man has the best winning percentage (.844) among active coaches with at least five years' experience. If USC wins at least 11 this season, it will be the first school to do it six consecutive seasons.
There was that epic 34-game winning streak (tied for sixth-longest ever) that started after a triple-overtime loss to Cal and ended with the BCS title game loss to Texas. That was in the 2006 Rose Bowl when Carroll came within 19 seconds of becoming the first coach to win three consecutive major-poll national championships.
Like any coach at the peak of his career, Carroll wasn't one to wallow in his past glories. It's all about looking forward, whether it's recruiting or the next song.
For example, he was incensed at recent NCAA legislation that kept head coaches off the road during April and May.
"It was a pretty frustrating time," he said. "I was really trying to deal with it. I was so upset about not being able to do the job I was brought here to do. I thought it was really restrictive, and I wasn't comfortable at all."
A caged Carroll is something to behold. On a recent visit, a reporter had to hope that his tape recorder picked up the coaches' comments. The Foo Fighters were blaring from a sound system in his office. Concerned about inner-city violence, Carroll helped found "A Better L.A." A couple of times a month he hops in a van and visits crime-ravaged areas of the city. His involvement was chronicled in perhaps the best profile to date of Carroll by J.R. Moehringer in Los Angeles Magazine.
(Those of you with a Nexis account will have to look it up that way. The Internet links have been removed.)
When the term "best coach" came up, Carroll demurred.
"I don't even know how you do that, really," he said. "If you're really trying to evaluate a good coach, you listen to what he says and you look at his players and see if they're doing what he says. ... If you're a really good coach then you're coaching really good stuff. If you're a great coach, you're coaching great players."
There were great players on the field the night of Oct. 6. Amid all that USC talent, though, the 24-23 loss to Stanford remains the ultimate head-scratcher of the Carroll era. The result promptly took its place in history, for some, as the biggest upset in the sport's history.
After it was suggested rather strongly in this space later that month that the USC dynasty was over, the Trojans won their last five in a row by an average of 19.4 points.
"To me, it's a good thing," Carroll said of the Stanford loss. "We grow from that. After it's over you look back at it and it can help you."
...it can help you?
Remember, he's looking forward. That's Pete. His peers would kill for 76 wins in seven years. But would they take that loss to a 41-point underdog and bounce right back? Remember, Carroll never said the "dynasty" word.
"Clearly to me that's kind of what we're shooting," he said, "to see how long we can stay up."
Seven others to consider:
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech: There are only a handful of coaches who are the program at their school -- Paterno and Bowden come to mind. Counting his time as a player, Beamer is entering his 26th season as a Hokie. If not for him, most folks wouldn't know Virginia Tech from DeVry Tech. With him, the program became an annual top-25 inhabitant and played for a national championship in 1999. Beamer revolutionized special teams play by putting an emphasis on it and using his starters on the special units.
Urban Meyer, Florida: Urban Inc. is the complete package. A master at media relations, recruiting and coaching, Meyer's best years are still ahead of him. Since 2003, Meyer's teams have won three conference titles and a national championship. If it's possible, he is approaching Steve Spurrier's revered status at Florida. Meyer is also one of three coaches on this list -- all from Ohio -- who won a national championship in their second year at their school. Can you name the others?
Les Miles, LSU: You keep waiting for Crazy Les to self combust. The man looks like he is about to burst at any given moment. But there's something to be said for a Michigan Man assimilating into a culture, making all the right calls and winning a national championship in his third season in the SEC. Thanks in part to Pittsburgh, Miles was able to say no to his alma mater. If he ever leaves now it will be for the NFL.
Rich Rodriguez, Michigan: Please, try to keep your attention on the field. That's where Rich Rod should be judged. One of the fathers of the modern spread option, Rodriguez used his offense to win four out of the last five Big East titles. Upsets of Georgia and Oklahoma in BCS bowls helped prop up a conference that was on the brink of collapse. He will use 2008 to reshape Michigan before the Wolverines take off again.
Nick Saban, Alabama: Bow before his greatness. Kiss his national championship ring. Watch him turn around Alabama. That about it? Well, there was that hiccup with the Dolphins but look what it got The Sabanator -- the biggest paycheck in the college game. Saban is about the surest thing going. He will recruit his ass off. He will demand superhuman efforts from his coaches and players. He will win. Big. Just wait, 'Bama.
Bob Stoops, Oklahoma: Stoops was the fourth of four coaches OU employed in the '90s. He is the only one in the new millennium. Something clicked when AD Joe Castiglione took a chance on the hard-working Florida defensive coordinator in 1999. The Stoops brothers are all about defense. Bob, though, has produced one Heisman winner (Jason White) and one runner-up (Adrian Peterson). The result has been a national championship and five Big 12 titles this decade.
Jim Tressel, Ohio State: Tress brought sexy back with the sweater vest, then he kept Michigan down for most of this decade. For that alone, they could build statues of the man in Columbus. The once unknown I-AA coach from Youngstown State has delivered big time: Three national championship berths (one win) since 2002. A recruiting mastermind who has developed a Heisman winner (Troy Smith) and landed his clone (Terrelle Pryor). Until the Big Ten decides to fight back, the Large Eleven is Tress' to dominate.