ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting that Pete Carroll is being targeted for the Seattle Seahawks coaching vacancy, and Mortensen would be surprised if Carroll didn't take the job.
It still remains to be seen if Carroll will go to Seattle. He's turned down NFL opportunities in San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta, and Washington in the past. He could be using this report as a way to get a more iron-clad contract from USC in the face of possible sanctions.
Carroll has also made it clear that he needs complete control of a team's football operations in order to leave USC. But the Seattle job would offer exactly that, as the Seahawks are without a general manager.
One has always wondered if Carroll has wanted another shot at the NFL after short stints in New York and New England. I've written several times that Carroll never really had a fair opportunity in the pros, getting fired from the Jets after just one season, and then following Bill Parcells with the Patriots. Still, Carroll has a winning record as an NFL coach with two playoff appearances in four seasons.
In addition to full control, the Seahawks offer Carroll the opportunity to stay on the West Coast, which would be appealing to the Bay Area native. With USC facing potential sanctions, with the team coming off its worst season in eight years, and with impatient fans and short-memory media types stepping up their criticism of the coach, Carroll might feel like this is the right time to leave.
One could make an argument that Carroll is the greatest coach in USC history. He won 7 straight Pac-10 titles, coached in 7 consecutive BCS bowl games, had a record of 6-1 in BCS games, and won two national titles. The great Howard Jones and John McKay never had a streak like Carroll. But if Carroll leaves USC with sanctions then that would certainly sour his legacy. And despite all his accomplishments, critics would say that Carroll's teams under-achieved in recent years, suffering what seemed to a shocking upset loss each season.
So who would replace Carroll if he left?
First off, under normal circumstances the USC job should be about as appealing as any in the country. The Trojans are the de facto NFL team in a major media market, USC has a ton of money, good facilities, and a strong recruiting base. However the program is under investigation, and any coaching hire knows that athletic director Mike Garrett may not stick around long.
There are already rumors that Mike Riley is at the top of Garrett's list. Garrett wanted to hire Riley back in 2001, but he couldn't leave as head coach of the San Diego Chargers during the season. A former USC offensive coordinator, Riley has done about as good a job as anyone can do at Oregon State, seemingly going 9-4 every season. Riley left Oregon State once before and claimed he had returned to a place that he truly loved. That love could truly be tested if Garrett offers him the job.
Garrett and Riley are known to be old friends, but again, would Riley leave knowing that Garrett might not last? Would Riley want to leave his hometown and a lifetime of job security for a job where he'd be under constant scrutiny and constantly be compared Carroll? Does he want to continue going 9-4 at Oregon State every year or does he want a shot a national title with USC? That all remains to be seen.
Another coach who figures to be in the mix is Steve Sarkisian. Once thought to be Carroll's successor, Sarkisian left as USC's offensive coordinator to become the head coach at Washington. Sarkisian has the strongest chance of any coach in the Carroll's coaching tree after upsetting USC and leading the Huskies to a 5-win improvement in his lone season in Washington. But leaving Washington would be a real slap in the face to that program and to Jake Locker, who passed up a chance to be a top draft pick in order to stay in Seattle.
My guess is that Sarkisian will stay and build his own program, but stranger things have happened. If Sarkisian did leave, then expect just-fired Seahawks head coach Jim Mora to be a strong candidate for the Washington job, completing what would be an unusual three-team trade.
Former Trojan offensive coordinator Norm Chow is someone who would win the support of USC boosters and he hasn't always agreed with his new boss Rick Neuheisel at UCLA. But Chow is getting older, he has no head coaching experience, and his UCLA offenses have struggled. It's possible that Chow could come in as an offensive coordinator though under a new coach.
We know that Mike Garrett likes coaches who have pro experience, which we saw with his hires of Paul Hackett and Pete Carroll for the football program and Tim Floyd and Kevin O'Neill with the basketball program. Riley has that pro experience having been the Chargers head coach. But there are two other pro coaches with USC ties who could be contacted.
Jeff Fisher is USC alum and was rumored to be on the hot seat in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans after an 0-6 start this season. But a strong second half kept Fisher employed, and it's unlikely he'd want to leave the NFL where he's been successful for years. Still, it would be surprise if Garrett didn't contact him.
Jack Del Rio is a USC alum who has had some good years as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Del Rio is rumored to be on the hot seat after missing the playoffs for two straight years, and he might find the idea of coaching at his alma mater to be appealing. That being said, Del Rio has never even been an assistant on the college level, so moving to USC would be quite an adjustment.
Other coaches with West Coast ties include Brian Billick, Jim Fassel, Dennis Green, Jon Gruden. All of those coaches might sound like NFL retreads, but so was Pete Carroll when he was first hired. And quite frankly, all of those names have had far more pro success than Carroll ever did.
Billick is a Redlands native and won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. Fassel is an Orange County native who attended USC for a year before playing at Long Beach State. He reached a Super Bowl as a head coach and turned down the Stanford job a few years ago. Green coached well enough at Stanford to earn an NFL head coaching job with the Vikings where he had good years before failing with the Arizona Cardinals. Gruden was successful as the Oakland Raiders head coach, but he may not want to be in the college game.
Since USC is a premier job, several other top college coaches could be mentioned. The names Chris Petersen at Boise State, Gary Patterson at TCU, Kyle Whittingham at Utah, and Bronco Mendenhall at BYU come to mind. It's also known that Garrett offered the USC job once to former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti who might want to coach again.
I don't see any of those guys being the right fit though. My guess is that if Carroll leaves, Garrett will first reach out to Riley and Sarkisian, and then look to the coaches with NFL ties next.