For coach Pete Carroll, watching the NFL draft on Saturday was a bit of a reprieve from the bad news that has engulfed his University of Southern California team recently. The four top prospects were drafted below -- in some cases, far below -- expectations. And yet, that was still the best part of Carroll's week.
"We had a lot of stuff going on," Carroll said in a telephone interview on Sunday. "I don't stress about the draft at all. That's the best part -- we had all those guys drafted."
Eleven USC players were drafted over the weekend, but the football program has probably not had such a bad week in quite a while.
Four months ago, the Trojans were playing for their third consecutive national championship, they had a player who had won the team's third Heisman Trophy in four years, and they were the toast of Los Angeles.
The downturn began April 22, when the nation's top-ranked high school quarterback, Jimmy Clausen, who lives in Southern California, rejected USC and committed to play at Notre Dame.
That was bad, but the news that could really wreck USC's future broke the next day, when it was reported that Reggie Bush's parents had been living rent-free in a house that was owned by a man who had hoped to help market Bush and steer him to an agent. The Pacific-10 Conference said it would investigate, and the NFL alerted several teams Friday that Bush and his family might have been on the receiving end of an extortion attempt.
Carroll said he told a Los Angeles-area reporter two weeks ago that, with all the success the Trojans had had in the past few years, they had done it scandal-free.
Carroll said he still did not know the entire story behind Bush's troubles, but that the people who surround successful college players, hoping to ingratiate themselves before the money starts pouring in, would not go away. He said he was particularly disturbed by the timing of the Bush articles, which seemed to him intended to inflict maximum damage on Bush. He called it "an ugly thing."
"When you have guys of this magnitude, people want a piece of them," Carroll said. "Look at Reggie's deal, that's a classic case. We talked about this years ago, that if we were successful, we would position ourselves where everybody would be scrutinizing us. We tried everything we have to be the most outstanding and the most upfront program."
He added, "There are things we have to do better."
That will undoubtedly include warning players to stay out of trouble. On Wednesday, quarterback Mark Sanchez, a candidate to start next season, was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault. No charges have been filed, but Sanchez has been suspended.
The arrest prompted Carroll to say that it was his worst week since going to USC in 2001. "One of our players got in trouble, that's a difficult situation for everybody involved," he said.
A little after 8pm Friday, USC was shaken again when the Houston Texans announced that they were passing on Bush as the first overall pick and had signed North Carolina State's Mario Williams. Saturday dawned with Bush still on the board and a published report that running back LenDale White had failed a drug test; the report was quickly denied by White's agent. After the Titans selected White in the second round, Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher told reporters that the story was false.