I don’t read the transcripts of Carroll’s weekly Tuesday press conferences very often, but several excellent quotes emerged from this week’s conference that provide insight into Carroll’s philosophy and serve as a reminder of how USC has been able to maintain excellence for almost five years now.
USC’s approach to every game is the same:
“I've never even begun to try and pump a game since the first Notre Dame game about it being a special game. I made that mistake in the first year and I knew it was a classic mistake and we haven't done it since and won't do it.”
USC lost that game by 11 points, the only one of Carroll’s 11 losses that was by more than a touchdown.
“Every week, there's something about a game. It's the biggest crowd ever; it's the first time this or that and that's what we've come to expect and that's normal for us in a game. So those factors should not be part of the make up of a game.”
This approach may proscribe the occasional emotion-fuelled victory over a more-talented opponent (which almost got Notre Dame a victory over us last year), but it also helps eliminate the let-downs and poor performances against inferior teams. Hence, beating Stanford 42-0 after the only loss of the year. The key is to establish consistency at an elevated level.
A follow-up question about Carroll’s first game against Notre Dame segued into a great explanation of his philosophy.
“I knew I screwed it up. I knew I blew it. I could tell during the week but I went with it. I just had to learn. It's more fun probably to talk up these kinds of old historic this and that's. And it's fun for everybody but it doesn't serve the preparation of the athletes and the coaches. It doesn't serve you well. You don't need that. We don't need extra incentives. If you understand that every game is a championship game, and you're going to give everything you possibly can in the preparation and in the participation of that game, then when would you ever decide when to, when not to? That's the whole point. It's the same philosophy that goes through everything that we do in football. When are you going to decide that a play is more important than another play; when I need to go full speed or when I need to try my best? So you get out of that mentality – you don't allow for that kind of thinking in any phase. We don't in any phase of our program. We're real hard about any indications of that being displayed by our guys. That's why we try to practice so fast and so hard every single day, every day of the year for six years.”
It’s no surprise then that Carroll was so animated during the instant replay debacle during the Oregon game.
“When the whole instant replay thing happened, if you looked, I think the clock was 13:50 or something left in the game. We were all caught up in the replay thing; we're waiting to see what was going to happen. We were very competitive about not letting them score there. We took them down to fourth down and had a great chance to keep them out of there and not give them a breath of hope and then that whole thing started. It was somewhere in the middle of that, that it clicked in my mind that this is an opportunity that we could lose our edge. If they get this decision, and now it's ten points and there's a whole quarter left to play, that we could really suffer through this, this exchange, momentum and all. And it hit at me and I realized that what I needed to do is I needed to make sure and capture the focus of our players and not let them wander. Sure enough, I walked over and I saw a couple of our red-shirt freshmen offensive linemen kind of sitting on their helmets and they were kind of yucking it up and not really paying attention. And I looked at Dwayne Jarrett and I saw him kind of talking and I realized that I had to capture, I had to attempt to capture what the heck was going on because we might lose the focus and then all of a sudden, this turns into an ESPN game and then they're cheerleading for what the Ducks did at the end of the game as opposed to what we were going to do. So in an effort to try and make sure that we didn't, it was a teachable opportunity as well. That the game isn't over, and that you need to stay focused. I tried to capture them so I was working hard. From the All-American receiver and the quarterback and Ryan Kalil and the oldest guy in Oscar Lua, to the red-shirt freshman, I was trying to send the message of how we need to finish this game and to make sure that if nothing else, they were captured by my craziness down there. What was extraordinary for us in that moment is that the offense went out on the field after they scored, after all the garbage that happened, the offense went out there and went "Bang!" right down the field and scored a touchdown and it was over. We had them. I was fearing that we had the opportunity to lose the momentum over whatever that span was going to be and it was so important to remain competitive throughout that game that whatever it took, I was going to do it. Obviously, whatever it took, took me a little bit too far. But that was a competitors moment right there I thought. I wanted to at least let them know what I was feeling. I was wearing it on my sleeve.”
Methinks he could write a book about this stuff.
“Go back to the Auburn games and the Virginia Tech game, and the Arkansas game. Those are extraordinary bowl game atmospheres that are perfect for you to start your season off because once you've accomplished that win however you do it, you set yourself in motion to handle whatever is going to come up during the course of the season. I think there's a vast difference between that and playing a team that's from a different division or something. Some teams do, and we understand the philosophy there and it's a great philosophy as well but this has really served us well. There's no time when we ever take a breather in the schedule or look at anybody than the opponent because we know that anybody can beat you. That's about learning how to respect the game and respect the match-ups and respect what can happen that can be outside of your control. That's why playing against teams that are struggling is such an issue to play well because now you've gone over the top, you've lived the philosophy, and you've proven that you understand.”
I love the (unintentional, perhaps, but not likely) little dig at teams that schedule Div. 1-AA opponents, and this response to a question about Florida playing Western Carolina this week.
“We couldn't be playing for a Rose Bowl if we were playing Western Carolina. I think the impact of the Pac-10 championship being this week is perfect timing. It's beautiful and we're looking forward to it.”
There’s much more, including Carroll’s opinion of instant replay (he’s against it in any format), a joke about the meaninglessness of statistics, teasing Jeff Tedford about attention from the NFL, and his take on the importance of coaching vs. players’ talent.
Sorry about the length of this post – just trying to live up to the name of the blog!