To say that Pete Carroll is a bad college coach is preposterous. Sure, he had his own share of scandals and controversies, but Carroll is still one of the best coaches there is in the nation. He single-handily rebuilt the Trojans' football program, and the success and dominance the team had since 2002 can be largely attributed to his leadership.
But good coaching alone cannot set the course for a sports dynasty, especially in college football. After all, even the best players you ever had can't stay for more than five or six years. How did Carroll succeed in pumping out one good season after another? The answer lies in his recruiting ability.
See, success in college football is all about recruiting. I attribute this to the phrase "you're only as strong as your weakest link" - how good is your backup QB because the All-American in the huddle right now is leaving next year for the big leagues, or how many quality DEs do you have left on the team when 2-3 guys transfer to another school? With recruiting comes depth, but in USC's case, it also came talent. By recruiting top-ranked high school players when you have the best offense and defense in college, you simply could afford replacing talent and churning out the best out of the team.
So when Carroll resigned from USC to take over the Seahawks two years ago, many were concerned, if not skeptical, of how he will translate his philosophy of taking the cream of the crop to the NFL, where every team has fair game. He quickly silenced the critics with plenty of FA bargains, signings and Draft picks that quickly turned a old, worn out franchise into a young, improving team. Along with the work of John Schneider, Carroll is becoming one of the league's best talent evaluators and scouters - and this key influence was brought over to Seattle.
When Carroll was first hired in 2010 many thought that he would try and bring in a lot of Trojans draftees to his team to build his "foundation" for the Seahawks. After all, with 53 rookies being drafted out of USC since Carroll's tenure, it's hard not to say that such players were highly regarded and experience their own success. Likewise, many would think that the players Carroll personally recruited (or tried to recruit) would be possible targets in that offseason - yet Carroll also clearly restrains himself from overbearing the USC connection. In the cases of LenDale White (released), Lawrence Jackson (traded), Taylor Mays (skipped in draft) and Mark Sanchez (publicly called out his decision to leave school early), Carrol constantly reiterates the fact that talent and work ethic speaks and that he won't go out of his way to solely to draft a guy he knows.
Ironically, with the obvious exception Anthony McCoy and Malcolm Smith, none of the draftees in the 2010-2011 class were recruited once by USC - a fact that I think will change this year based on two reasons:
The first and most important reason is the fact that this was one of the last classes Carroll recruited before he left USC in 2009. One of the best advantages Carroll had over the last two years wast the fact that he was a college coach in a top recruitment program, and in turn this led to an asset in the draft, which Carroll has aced since taking over. It might be in his favor to make the best out of a good thing before it runs out. Also, a lot of players he took in the previous two years were mainly dictated by needs and holes, which limited the amount of flexibility Carroll had in the draft. With many of the positions secured on this team right now, Carroll has more room to trust his instincts and take the players he believe can make an impact and scouted well.
The second reason is the players themselves. Here's a list I compiled of the 2012 Draft Class (not from USC of course) that Carroll once showed interested in back when they were still in high school (courtesy of scout.com):
- RB Chris Polk, Washington (Previously had a verbal commitment with USC until he turned to the light side and signed with the Huskies)
-WR Joe Adams, Arkansas (See Above)
-WR Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina (See Above Above)
-WR Reuben Randle, LSU
-TE Orson Charles, Georgia (Charles was interested in the Trojans but wanted to avoid all the Barkley-Charles jokes. USC would wound up signing Blake Ayers, one of the top TE in the class who subsequently busted, and Anthony McCoy instead)
-T/G Ryan Miller, Colorado (Did I mention that he's 6'7, 321 pounds, and he plays inside?)
-C Michael Brewster, Ohio State
-DE Malik Jackson, Tennessee (Interestingly, Jackson played for Carroll until he left, which he subsequently transferred to the Vols to avoid the post-season ban implanted on USC)
-DT Alameda Ta'amu, Washington
-OLB Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
-ILB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State (Again, he was split over between the Sun Devils and USC)
-DB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
From a casual glance, it seems that a lot of players (barring Burfict or Jeffery?) can be considered sleepers in the upcoming draft. Once we look at it deeper however, note where those targets are predicted to be drafted. Aside from Kirkpatrick, many of those players seemed to delve between the lower rounds - the hotspot in the PC/JS drafting philosophy. My guess is that we should research them sooner rather than later, because we just might be seeing them in blue and green real soon...