CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Coaches
Who were the top 20 coaches since CFN started in 1998? No. 4 Pete Carroll, USC
CFN Era Top 20 Coaches: No. 4 Pete Carroll, USC
CollegeFootballNews.com is turning 20 this season, so we’re looking back on the greatest players, games, coaches and more since we first kicked things off back in 1998.
Wins and losses are certainly a part of it all – okay, a massive part of this – but it’s also about who came up with the biggest coaching performances over the long haul. Consistency matters, championships matter, and personality plays a role, too.
Who are the 20 coaches who defined college football since 1998?
One note, accomplishments before 1998 don’t count, other than when it comes to a coach’s legacy and overall status.
Pete Carroll, USC (2001-2009)
As it turned out, there was talent behind all that madness.
Along with turning USC back into one of the superpowers of college football superpowers, Carroll did the nearly impossible – he went from being a college legend to one of the best coaches in the NFL.
Ask Nick Saban how hard that is to do. Or Steve Spurrier. Or Bobby Petrino.
And for a long while in the 2000s, he coached a few juggernauts in Los Angeles that had every bit the hype of attention of any professional team.
Of course, the Carroll era will forever be marked by the way the party ended, with the program being hit way, way, way too hard by the NCAA for the sins of Reggie Bush and his involvement with a marketing company. But it was more than that.
There’s a myth that college football coaches and programs have a constant grip on all the players all the time. Part of Carroll’s appeal was that he let his players embrace all that LA had to offer, and he made his team one of the biggest things in sports because of it.
And that made the NCAA very, very curious.
In the end, the USC sanctions might be the last major punishment of that kind the NCAA will give to a big-time program for dealing with a marketing agency or agent. It wasn’t fair then, and the punishment seems even sillier now in the post-Penn State scandal world.
But on the field, the results were amazing and the success undeniable.
Carroll wasn’t exactly a fan favorite when he was hired at USC, but he quickly changed around the culture and the attitude. He took the program from a losing one in 2000 to a 6-6 record and a bowl appearance in 2001. USC lost to Utah 10-6 – it would lose just one more bowl game in the Carroll era.
And then the rocket took off.
Led by Carson Palmer, the 2002 Trojans got on a roll to win the Pac-10 title, closing out with a blowout win over Notre Dame – orchestrated perfectly by the USC athletic department, pumping up Palmer’s Heisman campaign just in time for him rock on national TV in a 44-13 blasting – and a 38-17 stomping of Iowa to win the Orange.
That started a run of seven straight Pac-10 championships with two national titles four Rose Bowls, and with the only bowl loss after his first year coming to Vince Young and Texas in the epic 2005 Rose Bowl for the BCS Championship.
During the seven years when USC was among college football’s dominant forces, Carroll went a ridiculous 82-9.
Not bad for a guy the Trojan nation didn’t want.
Biggest Moment: 2005 Orange Bowl vs. Oklahoma
And no, NCAA. You can’t just vacate this. We all saw it happen.
Yeah, USC won a share of the 2003 national title in the BCS era – leading the AP to take its ball and go home – but it was really LSU’s national championship season. Like it or not, the BCS was the law of the land, and USC lost to Aaron Rodgers and Cal early in season.
This time around, the Trojans didn’t leave it in the hands of the voters or the computers.
They squared off against the 12-0 Oklahoma team that came into the game red hot, winning its final three games – including the Big 12 Championship – by a combined score of 107-6.
USC only had that margin against the Sooners in the first half.
Matt Leinart threw five touchdown passes, LenDale White ran for two scores, and the Trojans put on a show, getting up 38-10 at halftime.
It was a coronation for Carroll and the Trojans, keeping the pressure on going up 48-10 after three quarters and cruising from there.
It seemed like Carroll and USC were just getting started in the coach’s fourth year at the helm. Little did anyone know that it would be the last national title in his run.
Pete Carroll’s Best Season: 2004
It all ended with the blowout over Oklahoma, but it wasn’t always a smooth ride to get there.
The Trojans got past a strong Virginia Tech team that ended up playing in the Sugar Bowl, and it ripped through Colorado State and BYU. But it took everything the bag to get by a mediocre Stanford, giving up 21 second quarter points and getting down 28-24 going into the fourth quarter. USC dominated the second half and got out alive.
After destroying Arizona State, Washington and Washington State by a combined score of 85-19, USC inexplicably had another brain-cramp.
Granted, the weather was an issue at Oregon State, but it took a late rally to get by the mediocre Beavers, needing a Reggie Bush punt return for a score in the fourth quarter to get by 28-20.
Again, the Trojans started dominating after a close call with blowout wins over Arizona and Notre Dame, but they struggled to get by UCLA, with the offense settling for too many field goals and needing Bush to save the day again.
But USC got out with a 29-24 win – another victory that can’t just be vacated, NCAA – and it on to Miami for the national championship.
Pete Carroll’s Worst Season: 2009
It was a decent season by any reasonable standards, but after the run of championships USC went on, it was a disaster.
It was also the end. With the stormclouds looming over the Reggie Bush situation, and with Carroll leaving for Seattle at the end of the year, USC wasn’t quite the same after closing out the 2008 season with a dominant Rose Bowl win over Penn State.
The Trojans beat a fantastic Ohio State team in Columbus, but lost the next week to a lousy Washington team that would finish the season 5-7.
Everything seemed okay again with a 6-1 start, but in a Pac-10 passing-of-the-torch sort of way, Oregon came out and dominated at home in a 47-20 blowout. An ugly loss to Stanford at home and a regular season finale loss to Arizona spoiled an otherwise nice win over rival UCLA, sending the Trojans to the Emerald Bowl.
USC won 24-13 for Carroll’s seventh bowl victory, and then he was off to the Seahawks.
CFN Era Coaching Record: 97-19 in nine seasons
2004 BCS Championship
2003 AP National Championship
2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 Pac-10 champion
2003, 2005, 2006 Pac-10 Coach of the Year
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell
Photo Credit: USC Athletic Department