Just when the annual chaos known unofficially as the "football coaches carousel" appeared to have ended, Southern Cal's Pete Carroll breaks the profession's recent trend by abandoning his lofty perch — which includes "owning" a large chunk of the fast-moving Los Angeles celebrity sports scene — for the Seattle Seahawks.
Whenever a position as prominent as USC head coach turns over, especially with Carroll having been so totally secure, you have to wonder if other factors had an influence.
Could it be that Carroll is leaping off the Titanic before it hits an NCAA iceberg, with possibly severe sanctions and/or player suspensions to come? (That's already being denied, of course.) Or did Carroll simply grow weary of the constant, year-round burdens that come with recruiting high-level talent, then maintaining sufficient discipline amid all the glitz and other distractions in and around L.A.?
My guess is, it's a combination of those two, along with Carroll losing top assistants year after year.
Funny, but when Carroll jumped from the NFL to such a prominent college job in 2000, he started a trend. Al Groh left the New York Jets for the University of Virginia. Dave Wannstedt bolted the NFL for the University of Pittsburgh. Butch Davis, after an opportunity in the pros, came back to North Carolina. Bill Callahan went from the Oakland Raiders to, of all places, Nebraska. Mike Riley departed the San Diego Chargers for his former Oregon State job. Charlie Weis, perhaps the most marketable (at the time) NFL assistant, got hired at Notre Dame.
The fad also hit the peerless Southeastern Conference: Nick Saban jumped from Louisiana State to the Miami Dolphins, then quickly back to Alabama. Rich Brooks, after faltering with the St. Louis Rams, succeeded at Kentucky. Bobby Petrino escaped the Atlanta Falcons for Arkansas. Lane Kiffin, after being fired by the Raiders, was quickly revitalizing Tennessee — until his stunning jump to Southern Cal this week.
It happened enough times during the past decade that you had to figure the college game simply had its own special appeal, especially as salaries quickly escalated. That took away one of the NFL's advantages, a huge difference in pay.
Now, though, you wonder if Carroll might start another trend back toward the NFL and away from the elite college football factories. Stanford's Jim Harbaugh, himself a former NFL quarterback and brother of Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, could follow that route.
And even though Air Force coach Troy Calhoun looks to be totally happy and challenged, he still has great connections in the NFL from his years as an assistant with the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans. Similarly, Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild (like Calhoun, back at his alma mater) at some point could return to the NFL, where he is highly regarded as well.
Most likely, though, we'll simply see more hopscotching back and forth — not a one-sided stampede, but an indication that the high-profile college jobs have an attraction comparable to most NFL challenges.
You could tell that from the first rumors after Carroll's decision to leave Southern Cal. The list of possible replacements started with two very familiar NFL names who happen to be USC alumni: head coaches Jeff Fisher of the Tennessee Titans and Jack Del Rio of the Jacksonville Jaguars. But with a number of prized recruits on the verge of bolting, Southern Cal jumped for the younger Kiffin (a USC assistant from 2001-2006). Fisher could stay in the same state and step in for Kiffin at UT, but the whispers I've heard still have Fisher replacing Wade Phillips as the Dallas Cowboys' next head coach, unless Dallas wins this Super Bowl.
There will be others, going in one direction or another, every year when that coaching carousel starts turning again.
For that matter, if you ask me, at times the Denver Broncos' excitable boy, Josh McDaniels, looks more like a Big Ten head coach in the making.
He is, after all, from Ohio.