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DEPARTMENT OF RECKLESS SPECULATION: CARROLL, CARROLL, CARROLL.

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Never to early to get the Department of Reckless Speculation humming and busy for the offseason, is it? We're baffled at the acceleration in the learning curve of collegiate coaches over the past two decades or so. Once upon a time, coaching qualifications looked something like this:

1965 Coaching qualifications:

1. Looked good holding clipboard.
2. Could drink boosters under tables, tell at least three dirty jokes with aplomb.
3. Doled out cash to recruits in "tasteful" manner, either through handshakes at games or via mysterious part-time job at chicken plant outside town that yielded $1,000 a month for three hours labor. (Actual case taken from Gator program in '60s.)
4. Could make his way through a Golden Flake Potato Chips/Scooter McShittingsley Dodge Dealership tv ad shoot on a Sunday morning despite blinding, painful hangover.
5. Oozed "folksy."

Certainly met minimum 1965 job reqs.

Now coaching resumes are judged on the three and out rule, which means you've got three years to get something cooking before getting the hatchet and finding yourself coaching Finnish club football, working commentary on ESPN, or, god forbid, taking the D-coordinator's job at Millsaps College. The three-year line seems somewhat arbitrary, of course; the same losers you shed at the three year limit balance out against the Harold Hill scheisters who flood the program with JUCO transfers, bend the rules of recruiting to their limits, and leave for the next ass in a skirt program that tosses them a come-hither glance and a fatter contract. (Cough cough Lou Holtz, Dennis Franchione, cough cough.) You also toss out the Kirk Ferentzes of the world, who struggle mightily through the founding years of their programs before making the quantum leap to national prominence.

(Coming from Florida grads, does it concern it that our own Fearless Leader, the Grand Pointer, Urban Meyer, is a bit of a school-hopper himself? Yes, but only to a limited extent. Meyer runs an offense--and has a discipline-first mindset--constructed for the collegiate environment. Plus we see a similarity between him and his predecessor: the carnivorous world of the NFL and the inevitability of losing more than two or three games a season might kill him, just as it did to Spurrier. As for jumping to another program...that's a source of legitimate doubt. Meyer only had three schools that were penalty-free outs in his Utah contract: Ohio State, Michigan, and Notre Dame. Would any of these be irresistable after exposure to the joys of Gainesville living: the lake house, the beach, the satisfaction of wearing shorts while your coaching cohorts were scraping the ice off of their windshields? And the pain of relocating school-age kids...again? All debatable, but none of these seems like lockdown alternatives to a spell of living in the 352.)

But as Meyer's courtship by ND and Florida last season was the paramount storyline for the coaching carousel, this year's will surely focus on one name and one name alone: Pete Carroll. The reasoning behind this seems to be that winning three national titles, which USC would be tantalizingly close to doing following a victory Saturday against UCLA, would pretty much present the extent of what Pete Carroll can do at the collegiate level. Being a twice-fired pro coach doesn't help quell the rumors, either. There's a plethora--yes, Pepe, a plethora-- of reckless speculation to be had, but we'd think that Carroll's departure would be a done deal in the next month: he's still young enough, has few old-school ties to USC (thus negating warm fuzzies from keeping him there,) and would slide back into the pro environment with few of the growing pains college coaches experience on their way into the bigs. Why not the 49ers, who are dead in the water under Mike Nolan? Carroll, a West Coast guy, could grab GM power he would never have in, say, Oakland, and stay relatively adjacent to family and familar faces. He turned them down last year because they wouldn't give him GM powers, but that was last year, and another year of misery in San Fran might change that.

****STRANKO'S ASIDE**** The Niners suck under Nolan because of a talent gap, but they are playing hard and showing improvement. He's there for a few more years guaranteed. Plus Carroll already turned it down. Oakland is more intriguing, but will the crypt keeper give Carroll enough power??? How's this for speculation... Houston may allow him to keep Reggie Bush and work with great facilities on a building team with an owner that wants to win but doesn't micromanage. If that does look good enough, the Ford family is looking to replace the Mooch too... and GM responsibilities may be available as well.

What's he going to do? Win a FOURTH title? Given USC's talent, we wouldn't rule it out completely, but it's unlikely given the odds and the departure of the mutant duo of Leinart and Bush from Westwood University Park (Damn pre-coffee blogging.) Carroll's probably gone: USC fans, prepare accordingly, safe in the knowledge that Paul Hackett, barring a horrible mistake, will not likely return. If you want the Orgeron back, by the way, there's more than a few people in Mississippi who would be happy to return him back unscratched.

This speculation only intensifies when ESPN has John Clayton--in between promos for Codebreakers and Stuart Scott performing a ten minute spoken word segment on Terrell Owens--telling the world that Carroll is a.) not only actively looking towards the NFL, but b.) waiting for the right spot where he gets the Jimmy Johnson "kit and kaboodle" deal, including GM powers, personnel oversight, and his own totally mellow dojo onsite. Chris Mortensen only added to the speculation by listing Carroll as the number one "get" for NFL teams in need of a new coach this off-season in his on-air segments. Ditto for Pasquarelli, who doesn't go as far as Clayton or Mortensen, but his role as a print journalist forbids him from the sort of on-air, pull-it-out-of-my-worldwide-leading-ass stuff that the talking heads can get away with without incident.

But John Clayton's "insider" tip aside...listen to your inner bullshit meter on this one. Trojan fans, step out of the room, unless you're the "Under Ben Bulben"-reading, cold-hearted sort who could do things like performing appendectomies on your own children without flinching. He's done everything possible at the college level. He's barely over fifty. Unlike other college to pro transfers, he's been there before. An NFL job offers him more money than he can imagine combined with all the power he can handle and a sure ticket back to the college game should everything go bust. He might even be able to go back to USC, given their history of re-hiring an ex-coach. Plus he'd be able to redeem the one glaring failure on his resume: the chance to make himself a successful NFL head coach.

Cast a cold eye, Trojan fans.

As lovable, cuddly, and totally holistically herbally positive Carroll may be, he's also a head coach, which means competitive, egocentric, and addicted to bolstering his pride via new challenges. Black out the name for a second. There's this guy...Meat. Meat Parrell. Yeah, and he's got this college program that's riding like the Mongol Horde through their seasons. He used to be a pro coach, but that didn't work out so well, especially since he was chummy with his players but didn't have control over the personnel decisions. So...Meat goes to the college ranks and whips ass for a few years and gets nice and cozy before the pros call him back and give him everything he wants plus some in a deal.

We're not saying Pete Carroll's leaving for sure--but this guy Meat? Given this situation? Who knows what Pete Carrol would do, but his bizarro doppelganger Meat Parrell would be gone in the spark of a few flashbulbs, we think. Pete, however, has said otherwise. We've heard this before, too.