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Carroll, Trojans having plenty of fun

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Football coaches in general would make excellent CIA operatives.

They are secretive, paranoid and fond of covert operations. Most practices are guarded like Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay: wind screens obscure the view from the outside, and support staff is on constant alert for intruders. Game plans are discussed only in the most vague and veiled terms.

And then there's Pete Carroll's little party at USC. Show up at an average Trojans practice and you will see mothers, brothers and other relatives of the players. You will see former USC players. You will see coaches' kids. You will even see the scheming, conniving, secret-spilling members of the media.

And on occasion you will see Hollywood types having their own USC fantasy camp. Snoop Dogg ran routes this season, and Will Ferrell actually suited up and caught passes last season.

"He'll be here (for the game)," Carroll said of Ferrell. "You'll see him."

You can see just about everything with USC. Even its practices here for the Orange Bowl national championship game are open to the media. (Although, it must be noted, not the Oklahoma media. Even Mr. Inclusive has his furtive side.) Oklahoma's are closed to everyone.

Clearly, this is no way to run a top-secret paramilitary operation. If Carroll keeps this up, he's going to have his American Football Coaches Association decoder ring revoked.

Pete, don't you know how horrified many of your colleagues would be with this ... openness?

"I'm not horrified by that," Carroll said. "I want players to always feel the energy around them. We don't play games when it's quiet. We play them in front of people."

They do, and the people who watch USC see a coach having more fun than anyone else in his profession. Everything about him on game day says, "Wow, this is great!" Everything about him the other six days of the week suggests that he can allow a little levity into the deadly serious business of coaching football.

"He's a great coach to be around," defensive tackle Shaun Cody said. "When it's time to work, he's going to work. And when it's time to have fun, he'll have fun."

The pressure of spending all season ranked No. 1 in America and trying to repeat as national champion would be enough to suck the joy from scads of other coaches, but not Carroll.

"It hasn't really affected us at all," he said. "I'm real proud of that. ...

"I worked really hard not to lay that burden on them. I think we maintained a pretty level head about it throughout as a football team. We really tried to enjoy the wins and have a great time in the locker room and in the buildup and enjoy the accomplishments. Didn't look at it as a big sigh of relief after every game, until the last game. ... As far as we were concerned, it really wasn't that difficult in that regard. I thought it would be more of a burden, and it wasn't. We tried to enjoy it for the fact that we had that opportunity as much as anything."

Look at the permafrost faces that permeate the sidelines. Nick Saban can go an entire season without cracking a smile. Jim Tressel acts like his wages will be garnished if he shows emotion. Lloyd Carr's scowl is as recognizable as Michigan's uniforms.

Then look at Carroll. He's part strategist, part spirit-leader: first pumps here, handclaps there, pats on the helmet all around.

"In every game, he's always out there jumping around, coaching his heart out, really enthusiastic," said defensive tackle Mike Patterson. "We love him as players because he's the type of coach you want to play hard for every time. You'd hate to let him down."

Rarely, if ever, has there been such a vivid example of a guy who was undistinguished as a pro coach finding his true calling on campus. Carroll plays basketball at noon. He has been known to ride a bike around USC. He'll show up at the occasional volleyball game or hang out with some of the track coaches.

"All the stuff that goes with a university setting is really fun," he said. "In the NFL, you're kind of sequestered."

Carroll was 27-21 in the NFL. After a struggling first season at USC -- "we stunk," he said of that 6-6 team -- he's been 35-3. Of all the great runs in school history, this ranks near the top -- and he's loving every minute of it.

"I thought I had it nailed," Carroll said of his approach to college coaching. "But I didn't know how much I'd enjoy it."

The joy is on daily display. Even the one thing a lot of coaches say is the worst thing about college football -- recruiting -- Carroll adores.

"Some people say recruiting is a grind, it's a pain, it's a drag -- it isn't any of those things," he said. "It's just a competition for me."

Carroll did acknowledge that not all recruiting is created equally.

"Recruiting for USC is awesome," he said. "They love seeing USC come to their schools. ... When you're at U of P (Pacific, his alma mater and first coaching stop), nobody will talk to you. That's hard. That's like selling a product nobody wants."

And that's the great thing about being Pete Carroll these days. Everybody's buying what he's selling, and everybody's welcome at his party.

Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.