How does USC move forward?

USC fans will want to move on quickly from Pete Carroll's expected departure, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, to the good news of a big-name replacement.

It may not be that easy.

First of all, the early scuttlebutt points to three candidates: Oregon State's Mike Riley, Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher and Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio.

To those names, reporters will line up the usual suspects: Boise State's Chris Petersen, TCU's Gary Patterson, Stanford's Jim Harbaugh and Utah Kyle Whittingham. Or maybe Herm Edwards? Or Tony Dungy? Or Mike Leach!

So there are some names. An impressive list, yes?

Ah, but there's a big issue in advance of pursuing candidates: Who's in charge of the search?

Will USC -- and its powerful boosters -- entrust this search to embattled athletic director Mike Garrett?

Early indications are Garrett will be in charge, but that might -- or should -- make Trojans fans nervous.

Let's first recall that Garrett's hire of Carroll, for which he has always enjoyed taking credit, wasn't entirely about a prescient and savvy evaluation of a man's character and a skill set. It was more like hitting a number on the roulette wheel or winning the lottery.

It was lucky.

Carroll was far from the first choice -- most accounts list him at No. 4 behind Riley, Dennis Erickson and Mike Bellotti -- and the hire was greeted with derision by many pundits, who saw the decision as a sign of desperation.

Obviously, the pundits were wrong, and Garrett deserves some credit for his desperation call hitting the jackpot.

But is there confidence that Garrett can hit the winning number twice, particularly when his own job is in jeopardy, as Michael Lev of the Orange County Register pointed out?

Sure, his hire of Carroll helped an athletic department that was hemorrhaging money balanced the books due to a boom in football revenue, but little else has gone well in the Trojans athletic department under his watch. Both the basketball and football programs are presently the subject of NCAA investigations, and the NCAA might look favorably on Garrett being held accountable for the questionable oversight in recent years.

(Just as the NCAA will look favorably on the next coach having impeccable character and, if he's a college coach, a clean sheet on NCAA compliance issues).

Moreover, with school president Steven Sample retiring in August, the new president might want to hire his own guy to oversee an athletic department in transition.

It's not unfair, therefore, to wonder if this critical hire is going to be made by a lame duck athletic director. And to question the wisdom of that course of action.

Still, the need to make a quick, decisive move is critical. There's less than a month until national signing day, and a new staff needs to be in place to fight for what appears at this point to be a good -- if not great -- recruiting class.

Know that Pac-10 and other coaches are eagerly dialing up players presently committed to USC, seeing if perhaps Carroll's departure will inspire a wandering eye.

Know that UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, in particular, senses that, hey, the football monopoly in LA might actually be over.

What's the ideal scenario for USC?

Identify a top candidate that will be met with widespread approval and will generate positive momentum for the program. Quickly ascertain if he wants the job in order to avoid the embarrassing rejections that preceded Carroll's hire.

Hire him.

Easier said than done.