Monday, October 23, 2006

Fool Carroll Once …

There is a lot to like about USC head coach Pete Carroll, but there are two things in particular that we have to love. One is that he is smart enough to learn from his mistakes. The other is that he has enough experience and brains not to screw up much in the first place.

Because of his high energy and enthusiasm, sometimes we forget that Carroll is in his 50s and has been coaching for more than 30 years. If any of us does something for that long we tend learn a lot of stuff, if we’re smart. As we know, Carroll is smart. In fact, unbeknownst to almost everyone except for Mike Garrett, he apparently became a genius prior to his hiring at USC. Still, he keeps learning.

We know this because we’ve seen Carroll and his staff make smart changes to what they do over the years. Not just adjustments at half time, but changes in game preparation and mental approach that help ensure certain outcomes … like wins.

One example of this is how USC handles its bye weeks. In 2003, with 14 days to prepare for Cal, Carroll used the extra time to rest starters and evaluate younger players. He still does this, but in ’03 there was apparently less emphasis on intensity and competition, which contributed to USC’s sluggish start in Berkeley and its eventual 34-31 loss to the Bears in OT.

A few days afterward, at a pre-game press conference for the following week’s trip to ASU, Carroll talked about what he learned:
After the game, it was obvious what occurred. It's counting on good preparation and working against each other and playing hard. We have to remember that the game is a full step faster. … Once we played the game and got up to game speed, we were fine. I hate to admit it, but that's what happened. We have to be aware of why that happened. I do think there are some circumstances that I understand why that happened. …The errors are the things we have to make go away.
Part of the circumstances to which Carroll referred was the precise timing of USC’s pre-game routine, which was messed up prior to the Cal game. The Trojans mistakenly arrived at the stadium 45 minutes early, which caused distraction. He said:
It's not the nicest [visitors] locker room in the world [at Cal] and so everybody's leaning on each other. I felt like we kind of lost our focus there. … We just sat around. I found myself standing on top of the stadium looking at Marin County. I'm waving at home and that kind of crazy stuff. I was just killing time. We kind of lost our edge.
Carroll learned from all this, which is why he makes a point of emphasizing intensity and tempo, especially during bye week practices, to maintain the Trojans’ “competitive edge.” And he is obsessive about USC’s pre-game routine, which is choreographed down to the minute, with basic procedures that are rehearsed during fall camp to indoctrinate freshmen.

An important element of this approach is characterizing road games as business travel rather than school field trips. Carroll learned this lesson after his first visit to Notre Dame in 2001, during which he took the team on a tour of South Bend and the College Football Hall of Fame. USC lost 27-16. Said Carroll: "Yeah, we went and did a big tour that we won't ever do again."

We all know smart people learn from their mistakes. Lucky for us, Carroll learns from his. Now, let’s hope his young coaching staff and players have learned enough during their 6-0 start to get them through the next six games unscathed.

UPDATE: Here's a post from Scott Wolf's Inside USC that lists all of USC's wins following a bye, since the Cal loss in '03.
east coast bias

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