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January 3, 2006

Pete Carroll


Q. Can you talk a little bit about how this is Matt Leinart's last game and dealing with the emotions of that and possibly Reggie's last game, as well, this generation of Trojans?
COACH PETE CARROLL: Well, the practice last night was our last practice on the practice field, and it was time to take note of that for the seniors. They've been through a lot. They've created a tremendous momentum for us in the program over the years they've been here with all of the winning, and Matt has been the leader of all of that. We made note of it, had some fun with it on the practice field, kind of dedicated the night's work to it, and Matt went on and lit it up and had a great practice and hit every ball he threw and had a terrific practice and did it with a flare. It was noticeable to the players, and we had some fun with that.
This has been a great fun led by Matt and all the guys that will be going on. As far as the emotional side of it, we've come to a number of opportunities to kind of live in that moment. In the last few weeks I hope it was the most emotional game Matt will play and one he'll leave behind, also. This is not the same kind of a feeling at all. It's a championship game. This is different than that.
We took note of the fact that it was the last opportunity for these guys to be together an the practice field and we'll talk about it tonight in just a bit as we have in the past just to recognize the seniors' last moment.
But it's hard to describe and hard to define the impact that these guys have had on the program. They've been through the whole thing. Some of these guys five years, and all of them at least four years of the philosophy and this opportunity to play on this stage at SC that we've talked about so long, and they've maximized it, done everything they could do with it to this point.
It's really going to be fun to see them go out one more time and to know that they're ready to go and the captain and the leader Matt, he had just a fantastic week of practice. It's kind of the way you would expect a champion to do it. He's been a great role model and a leader for everybody in that regard. It's been fun to get to this point, and I can't wait to watch it happen.
Q. I'm writing a piece on Scott Ware.
COACH PETE CARROLL: That's good. Side by side, nobody realizes Santa Rosa and Marin are right here close together.
Q. What initially attracted you to Scott, and what has he brought to your team?
COACH PETE CARROLL: Scott has got a lot of things that attract. He's a big, big hitter, big physical kid that loves to make plays on the physical side of things, got a great attitude and character about him. He's a terrific student. He's a JCL American, was a punt returner, big interception guy, just did everything you could ask a guy to do. To have a free safety that weighs over 220 pounds that can run like he runs and handle himself on the back end, it's all you can really hope for.
He's been a great player. The only thing that happened in his career that offset it was when he broke his foot in the Cal game but he played the whole game and had a bunch of great hits, and it set him back six weeks in his junior year, but he's had a great two-year run for us. He's going to be a terrific NFL player, too.
Q. As Texas's winning streak kept getting longer, late in the season Mack talked about how it made him appreciate what you guys have done even more. He said you two had some conversations about that late in the season, just about how to manage the streak. Can you recount what that was about?
COACH PETE CARROLL: No, Mack talked about that. I didn't talk about that much at all. He called me late in the year before our last game, I think, before our UCLA game, before his last game, just kind of to check in and kind of set the stage for if we would both have a chance to win and play in this game, it would be a great opportunity for us both.
Mack and I met each other through Nike functions that we've been together over the years, so we have some background. He was commenting about the streak. I really didn't have much to offer about it. The streak thing has never really been a big deal to me. We never talked about it or dwelt on it because it doesn't mean anything unless you win your next game. I really don't have any advice about it and didn't give him any at the time. We were just kind of having fun talking about it was all that was.
Q. You've been involved in a number of big games in your career, especially here at SC. Can you recall the first time you were involved in a big game growing up?
COACH PETE CARROLL: Growing up, yeah, my first big game was the Thanksgiving Day game when I was a Pop Warner player. We played a team from San Diego that came up and played us on Thanksgiving Day. To me it was the Rose Bowl. I was a little kid. I think I was 12 at the time. At the same stadium, if you remember the great Turkey Bowl game that happened back in '63 or something like that, at the same place at College of Marin, that was a huge event in my life, and that was one of the biggest football games I had ever been around as a little kid. And then to have a chance to play a few years later in that same kind of setting, that felt like it's going to be tomorrow.
As I little kid you see it, your eyes are so big and you're floating on the energy and excitement of it. I don't feel a whole lot different about going into this game than I did back then. It's the same kind of feeling, the same kind of buildup and opportunity.
Probably what has attracted me so much and I've loved what I've been doing so much when you get to game day and get to that stadium, it's all of the dreams that you live with as a kid kind of come to the front. I've never dreaded a game. I've never gone to any game where I wished I wasn't there, was worried about the outcome in the sense that I wasn't going to enjoy it, and it's been that way since I was a little kid and it feels exactly the same way now. I look forward to it. I'm glad you brought that up.
Q. Because of the tremendous accomplishments of both teams, this is a game that's heavily hyped, and you're favored because you have such a great role. Do you feel that too much hype can hurt your team?
COACH PETE CARROLL: No, I think the more, the better, I really do. We've grown up in the four or five years here that we've looked forward to creating this hype, to being in this kind of situation. This is what we have really prepared to do and hopefully built ourselves towards this. I've always thought -- go back to two years ago when we opened up back at the Fed Ex against Virginia Tech, which was a Bowl game for us in a sense, we need those kinds of games. We need those experiences, we need to put those in our back pocket so when we have these opportunities we can be at our best and feel comfortable and anticipated, and in that be clear about the moments that you have to enjoy that. You can't get a big enough game for us. I would advocate continuing playing to make it an opportunity to play in this time of year just because it makes each game crescendo into it a little bit more and it's more fun. I think we're in a perfect place for us.
Q. You and Matt have been together all five years at USC. What will be your lasting memory of him and his career at SC?
COACH PETE CARROLL: I've been asked that before, and I have a number of them. But the one memory that was really vivid and that I cherished that it happened the way we did was when we were at Arizona State in his first year, and this was coming off a loss at Cal. Matt got beat up in the first half and he came off the field a couple times, he was limping and all that.
We were in at halftime and we were behind I think 17-10 at the time. The way that was set up in that locker room, Matt was sitting on a training table out in the hallway after he left the locker room and went back to the practice field. We're trying to get jacked up for the second half and trying to get going, not knowing what his status was, and every guy on the football team had to walk by Matt in the little tunnel there, and he was looking bad. His head was hanging. He had ice on his knee and ice on his ankle. He looked horrible.
I'm always the last guy out of the locker room, so I got a chance to walk by him. I called him every name in the book and I challenged him, "You no-good, you let these guys" -- everything I could think of. As I walked away, I kind of chuckled, "I took a shot at him there." I figured it was my last shot because we needed him to play so I tried to challenge him.
I felt kind of bad about myself that I would challenge a little kid like that at a time like that. As we got back on the field and we were warming up Brandon Hanson and I was standing with Steve Sarkisian and we had already played Castle in the first half and he had struggled through it and all that. I looked up and over Sark's shoulder coming out of the tunnel after everybody was out on the field warming up, here comes Matt. He's hobbling and looking like he had just been torn up, and I said look at that, Sark, what are we going to do? He looked at me and he looked at Matt, he said "Shoot, let's go with him." I said, "Okay, let's see what happens."
It was throwing care to the wind. He didn't look like he could even play. He came out and lit it up and he put up about 250 and we ran the ball like crazy and he brought us back. It was one of those defining moments for a guy that he was for real and he was a great competitor and he was going to overcome the odds, and it was a heroic moment and the players realized it and the coaches knew it, and we haven't lost since. This was an enormous moment for us. It told you a bunch about the kid and what he was going to be able to do. That was a long time ago, and a lot of games have come by and a lot of challenges, and Matt has always risen to the occasion. That's my favorite moment.
Q. With all the hype and anticipation about this game, are you and your team tired of waiting now?
COACH PETE CARROLL: No, we're ready. This is what we've been waiting for. You have to simmer through these last couple days because there's so many days since we moved into the hotel. You just have to wait and hold. We've been holding, and we're ready to go now. It's finally the day before.
No, we're not tired in any way. I think as a team we look fresh, we look healthy. They know what's coming. They know what's going on tonight and today's meetings and they know exactly what's going to happen. They're going to maximize this last day and a half as we get ready for this thing, get ready for the big ballgame.
Q. Yesterday Mack Brown referred to Reggie Bush in high school as a three-play guy, meaning that if you saw him play three plays and you don't see that he's a great player, you shouldn't even be a coach. Was that phrase in the SC coaching vocabulary, three-play guy?
COACH PETE CARROLL: No, I don't know what that means. Even after you explained it, I don't know. That's not unusual for us to have a problem communicating between Boston and me anyway (laughter).
Q. Just elaborate on Reggie a little bit.
COACH PETE CARROLL: I hear you. Reggie is an extraordinary player. Honestly when we looked at Reggie coming out of high school, I had to look at his highlight film, I bet I looked at it 20 times and looked at -- memorized the plays, which we've done with a lot of guys over the years as we've recruited them because we couldn't quite figure out what he was because he was so flashy and so unusual. I couldn't tell if he was going to be a hard-nosed runner, if he was going to bring the ball downfield or downhill. You just couldn't tell because he did so many crazy things.
After a while, we started really to put together that he had run 10.5 in the 100 meters and all the numbers, and as we got to know Reggie and saw how serious he was, you started to put together that he could be a really extraordinary football player because he was so rare and so unusual in his broken field ability. But not until we actually got him on the practice field, a couple days into it, it was like the second day or third day, it was like, this guy is really special, really unique.
It comes from a couple things. He's got great speed that carries over to the football field. It's not -- he plays really fast, but what he does that's most extraordinary is he can change direction at such unbelievable speed just in one step. He can go from one side to the other and not break any kind of momentum at all. That's what makes him so unique as an athlete. You couple that together with he's got great hands and he's got this extraordinary competitive will, it just has the makeup of a great, great football player and just a great kid.
I'm not sure what the "three" thing is, I've always been confused by those "three" things. The whole idea about this guy is you don't know where he's going or what he's going to do. We have learned to appreciate when you see Reggie start to do something outside the normal lines of the play, we start to get excited because we've seen so many great things happen. He may start here, wind up over here and be over there again. All this adds to the dynamic football player that he is and the weapon that he is on the football team.
Q. Two questions: First, what position were you playing that Pop Warner game?
COACH PETE CARROLL: I'm glad you asked that. I was the single wing tailback, backed up McCurio, Kenny Johnson at the time and played defense and safety.
Q. And the second question is you were talking earlier about that situation and feeling the same hopes and dreams going into that game as you do this game. When you're involved in a game like this and get on the field, does it feel the same as maybe when you were a kid or do you tell the players once you step on the field it is just a game again?
COACH PETE CARROLL: It's always been a game, yeah. It's not just a game, it's always been a game. By the time we get to game time, our guys are playing like they're kids. I don't care how old you get, I think you should play it that way.
I think this is an extraordinary gift that we've been given as football guys, to have a chance to play. Whether you're playing the Junior Giants or UOP or the NFL playoffs or here at the Rose Bowl, it should be what it is. It's a game. That's the only name we've ever put on it, and to forget that is wrong in my opinion.
Yeah, it is a game. I've thought about it a lot. I've been through a lot of games, and to come to this game at this time, to me the fun thing is and the thing I like the most is it is a game. It goes right back to all the rest of it. I'm not going to approach this one any different than any game I've ever been involved in, and I hope our team doesn't, either. Every time we ever get the chance to go to the game, we're bringing everything we have every step of the way everything we play until the quarter is over. That's the way we've lived this experience in the five years we've been here is to try and capture that sense and that feeling about the opportunity, no matter who we're playing and when we're playing.
I always think when I say that, it makes the statement that maybe minimizes what this is. That's the other way around to me. It's that we understand that every chance we get, and there's so few, we only played 12 games this year, it's not like we play 100 or 162 like in baseball. We have to get up every single time we go, no matter who we're playing or what the situation or who we're going against. If you think you can only get up for a game two or three times or four or five times a year, you're copping out. That ain't the way it is. You can get up every single time every game for years if you approach it that way. That's what we've been doing and that's what we endeavor to do and will continue to do that. As long as we understand that, we'll maximize every one of these opportunities and make it just a cherished moment in our fortunate lives that we get.
It's a big deal, man, it's a real big deal. But it's the game that makes it so special, the fact that you remember that it's a game that makes it so special.
Q. Is there a match-up, any significant match-up in this game?
COACH PETE CARROLL: Yeah, they're across the board. They're all over the place. There's not any one other than I think as the defensive coach, I'm looking at our match-ups and our ability to tackle the quarterback as one of the issues in the open field situations. I think that will come down to a number of guys on our team. But I think one of the key match-ups is our defensive ends against the quarterback. They're going to have to do a really good job. Our offensive attack calls for that. Lawrence Jackson, Frostee Rucker, Kyle Moore, the guys that are coming in are going to have to do a really nice job taking care of their duties in this ballgame. We'll see what happens. They're well prepared, we just have to see what happens when we get to game time.
Q. When you say that you don't know what Reggie is going to do and what he's going to come up with, how does that factor into developing plays for him? I mean, do you just try to clear out space for him and let him do what he's going to do?
COACH PETE CARROLL: It's not quite that easy, but it's -- you run designed plays, you design concepts and tactical things that put him on read to do certain things, and the reads allow him the freedom -- he has the freedom to go where the opportunity has allowed. If the defense flows fast he'll bring it back against the grain or if the defense flows slower, he might bounce the football out. We're a big zone running football team, which means there's a design to how the play should be read, and Reggie knows exactly how to do that.
Every once in a while he sees something nobody else sees and he can get to places nobody else can get to. You can watch our players. He has generated this tremendous level of effort by our linemen and our receivers because they don't know where he's going to wind up, and they're convinced when he's running the football it might be right where they are. Nobody wants to be embarrassed by that not having a full effort on the play. You watched Deuce Lutui, the biggest guy on the football team will scream on down the field play after play after play in hopes Reggie is going to cut off of him and make a big run. You watch Matt, when plays starts he senses that Reggie may start one of those plays where he comes all the way back behind the play, Matt will take off out the back door and be a lead blocker, which he's done numerous times before.
Reggie has kind of trained us in that regard that everybody has to go every step because if you don't, you may miss an opportunity to lay a key block for him.
As a coach, there's a time when I used to look at his film, gee, I don't know if I'm going to be able to control this guy because he's got this vision that takes him all over the place outside of the normal flow of plays. We've come to learn him and appreciate him and try to maximize him. You just keep running real fast and looking for somebody to block and he may show up. We've had plenty of those kinds of plays and they've been thrilling to watch. That's why it's so much fun to watch a great running back because you anticipate a play every time he gets the ball.
I know playing great runners in the past as a defensive coach, you're tense the whole time. You know, you just don't know when it's going to happen. That's what the great running backs bring to this game, a real sense of excitement and anticipation that something is going to happen, and Reggie is awesome at doing it.
Q. So you have the mainframe of playing plays, and obviously guys like Leinart and Bush have earned some leeway. Just your gut feeling, how much of your performance is playing and how much of it is given to creativity?
COACH PETE CARROLL: That's a great question. The better you get at your skills, whether you're a piano player or a horn player or an athlete or basketball player shooting hoops, whatever it is, the better you get and the more confidence that you acquire through your experiences, the more freedom and the more free-flowing and the room there is for improvisation. You just think of a person that plays the piano plays a regular tune and then they play it like they're playing a jazz tune and they find freedoms. That's exactly what happens in this performance of football if you get to that level.
The whole idea -- and it's a great question that you've asked. The whole idea of our football team and the way we perform is to get to the point where we can absolutely flow freely and allow ourselves to trust our preparation, to trust the people around us, to trust the scheme, to trust all of the buildup that gets us to the point where we aren't worried about making a mistake by doing what we're going to do that comes naturally to us. We're going to go and go with it. That's why at this point of the buildup of the game for us, it's really important that we get to that mental state that we achieve hopefully each week when we play that allows us and frees us up to go. I totally trust our team. The preparation has been perfect up to this time.
We'll go into tonight, we'll walk into that locker room. We'll be off the ground a little bit when we get in that locker room because it is that time again to express all of that confidence and all of that trust in our performance at the Rose Bowl. That's what my job is, is to orchestrate that. That's what I've been doing is to try to orchestrate that mentality that lets these guys fly on game day. I'm really glad you asked that.

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