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Seahawks throw big challenge at successful USC coach

Pete Carroll said goodbye as USC coach on Monday, and will say hello to the Seattle Seahawks today. (Associated Press)
Pete Carroll said goodbye as USC coach on Monday, and will say hello to the Seattle Seahawks today. (Associated Press)

SEATTLE – Pete Carroll is coming to Seattle as more than the eighth head coach in 34 years, but not the general manager.

He will be the vice president of football operations, he’ll have control over who does and doesn’t make the 53-man roster, and he’ll have a forum for his opinion in regard to personnel while working alongside a general manager.

He won’t be working for that general manager, though, and that general manager won’t be working for Carroll. It will be what Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke characterized as a shoulder-to-shoulder relationship.

So who’s at the head? That would be Leiweke, who clarified the terms of Carroll’s hiring and the process that led to it.

Carroll ended his nine-year tenure as coach at USC on Monday, leaving behind a program facing multiple woes for a lucrative deal to coach the Seahawks – reportedly worth more than $30 million the next five years.

“If you know anything about me, you know I can’t pass up this challenge,” Carroll said.

Carroll won 97 games, seven Pac-10 titles and two national championships at USC, but the school is under the cloud of an NCAA investigation and other scandals after its worst season since Carroll’s first year.

Although the charismatic 58-year-old coach spoke glowingly of his “gorgeous” tenure in Los Angeles, he jumped at the best – and timeliest – of many offers he’s received over the years to return to the NFL, which he reveres as “the highest level of competition.”

“I do not expect to ever be able to top what we just did,” Carroll said. “I think it’s just been a beautiful time together. It hurts to separate right now … but it can’t keep on going, because I can’t pass up this opportunity.”

Carroll insisted his decision had nothing to do with the NCAA’s lengthy look into his program, denouncing rumors of a rift between him and athletic director Mike Garrett. Carroll said he thought he “would be (there) forever.”

But Seahawks owner Paul Allen pried the 58-year-old coach out of a comfortable oceanside life as one of the most popular sports figures in the nation’s second-largest media market.

Carroll is taking along USC quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, a longtime NFL assistant who replaced Steve Sarkisian this past season as the leader of the Trojans’ offense. Sarkisian just completed his first season as head coach at Washington.

Carroll also is reportedly bringing with him offensive line coach Pat Ruel and linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr.

Discussing the working relationship within the organization, Leiweke said, “My job is to take the football organization and make sure that there’s fantastic collaboration. And what that means is you have to have people who are predisposed to that.

“So Pete is absolutely ready to do that,” Leiweke added. “He does not want to be the general manager, and I think our hand is strengthened with general manager candidates where we can now go get somebody who is focused on that draft board and personnel.”

Leiweke says Carroll’s additional duties will include the franchise’s calendar and travel, among other things.

It is far more say in football operations than Carroll had in his one season as coach of the New York Jets in 1994 and as coach of the New England Patriots from 1997-99.

“Pete will control his 53-man roster,” Leiweke said. “We’re going to have collaboration on the draft. Our general manager will hear from Pete, and that’s a really important thing. And that’s really how we wanted to set this up.

“There’s two kinds of tension, good tension and bad tension. We’re going to set this up where there’s good tension where people are weighing in and we’re talking and communicating.

“No one person will sit in judgment of sweeping issues.”

Monday’s announcement was the culmination of two years of dysfunction that started when Mike Holmgren came back for one final season to work for a president who didn’t hire him, with the appointed heir on his coaching staff.

The franchise then closed its eyes, crossed its fingers and hoped, only to have its run of five consecutive playoff appearances and four division titles go tumbling off the cliff of relevancy.

Two years later, Holmgren is in Cleveland after a failed attempt at a Seahawks reunion, former president Tim Ruskell is reduced to sending Jim Mora a blistering text message over Mora’s support of Holmgren’s return, and Mora was fired by his hometown franchise after going 5-11 with a roster full of players picked by Ruskell, whom Seattle decided wasn’t up to the job.

By hiring Carroll, Seattle effectively hit the reset button, ending two years of awkward attempts to conceal the increasing dysfunction of the franchise.