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LOS ANGELES - It was almost 30 years ago when a young and ambitious football coach sat in his broom closet of an office on the Ohio State campus and maybe was just daydreaming about where all the 18-hour days and the late meals of cold pizza might lead.
As this unseasoned assistant gazed out the window, there appeared one of the greatest of all time. A 28-year-old Pete Carroll, Ohio State's secondary coach who was just a few years out of the college classroom at the time, saw Woody Hayes walking down the sidewalk across the parking lot.
"That's one of my favorite memories," said Carroll, now head coach of No. 1-ranked Southern California. "I'm sitting up in St. John Arena, the old basketball place. I was looking out the window and I saw coach Hayes. I'd never seen him before."
Hayes was the legendary coach of the Buckeyes from 1951-1978. He brought five national championships to Columbus and 13 Big Ten titles but he was fired after the Gator Bowl loss to Clemson in 1978 after hitting a Clemson player. Carroll, who had been on Earle Bruce's staff at Iowa State, came along with Bruce when Bruce was hired to replace Hayes.
"I just dropped everything and took off, ran across the parking lot and met him about halfway," Carroll said about his chance encounter with Hayes.
"He was walking home from teaching a class, I think. I introduced myself, and we walked for about 10 minutes. And he knew who I was so I was all thrilled. You know, he even knew that I was one of the new coaches. We talked football. That was my one chance I had to visit with him."
Carroll must have listened well to what Hayes had to say. And he must have listened as an assistant under Lou Holtz and Bruce, and as an NFL assistant with the Minnesota Vikings under Bud Grant, and as the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator under George Seifert. Carroll moved on to be head coach of the New England Patriots for three seasons (1997-99) before taking the job at USC.
Ohio State was just a one-year whistle stop in a coaching career that has spanned 35 seasons, but Carroll still cherishes the scarlet and gray imprint on his resume.
"It was an extraordinary experience," Carroll said this week as his team prepared to host the No. 5 Buckeyes at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday. "We had come from Iowa State with coach Bruce and we went in there with really high hopes and expectations and felt like we had kind of an insider's view because Bruce had been there, coached with Woody for so long, played there and all that."
In that 1979 season, Bruce led the Buckeyes to a win over rival Michigan, a Big Ten championship, an 11-0 regular season and the No. 1 ranking.
"Coach Bruce really conveyed to us that he had a sense for what it took to win at Ohio State. He was on it," Carroll said. "We had a great year. We won every game against a lot of great players that played in the NFL for years. We had good match-ups in the conference. It was a really historic year. We won big, a lot, with great offensive players, defensive players. He just orchestrated it beautifully."
Ohio State lost the Rose Bowl game that followed that season by a 17-16 score - to USC - the same storied program the Buckeyes face this weekend. USC tailback and Heisman Trophy winner Charles White rushed for a Rose Bowl-record 247 yards, including 71 on a scoring drive in the closing minutes.
"Save the last four minutes of the last game, you know, when Charlie White goes to town and kicks butt, then they [Ohio State] win the Rose Bowl," Carroll said. "We were all but perfect. It was really an extraordinary year."
Carroll, who did a long coaching stint in the NFL before returning to college football, got the top job at USC the same year the Buckeyes hired Jim Tressel to lead their program (2001). Despite the obvious differences in geographic location and style, Tressel said his Buckeyes and Carroll's Trojans are not all that different in their approach.
"Nearly everyone that's ever coached at Ohio State and Southern California has been pretty successful," Tressel said. "I know this, Pete Carroll in what he teaches and what he demands and all those kinds of - what he expects - is not dissimilar to what we teach and expect."
Carroll said he also sees a lot more the two have in common than any stark differences.
"The history of that program is obvious. The great heritage that they have that lives through those players and those famous names that we grew up watching and stuff, those guys still love their program, just like USC, they hold very dear to their heart," Carroll said.
"There's a lot of similarities in it. The great historic match-ups that you have, the great stadiums. There's a lot of similarities. I love being part of it, again, because I saw it for the first time at Ohio State."
Contact Matt Markey at
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