Carroll: NCAA off base with sanctions

RENTON, Wash. -- Days after the NCAA trampled his former Southern California Trojans, coach Pete Carroll's mindset remains the same from afar.

Fight on!

Carroll says the NCAA had no basis for unfair and "really, really harsh" sanctions on USC.

"There's nothing there," he said Tuesday of the investigation into his program's knowledge of former Trojans running back Reggie Bush's improper benefits and relationship with an agent.

"Now the word's out. You can do this," he said. "One person can do this, go after a university and a kid. And nothing has to be true. Nothing has to be true. They just have to make claims, and then the investigations and all that are under way.

"I just hate the thought that that can take place and we can do nothing about it."

Carroll says he didn't leave USC six months ago to escape imminent NCAA penalties.

"Why wouldn't I have left some other time [during the NCAA's five-year probe]?" the Seahawks' powerful new coach asked.

Carroll was facing questions for the first time since the governing body for college sports on Thursday banned USC from bowls for two years and took away 30 scholarships over three years, mainly for what Bush received during Carroll's tenure.

"I thought I would never leave USC, but this is just too good an opportunity to pass up," he said, reiterating what he said in January.

He says his notoriously open program at USC had nothing to do with an agent reaching Bush, that "99 percent" of those who came to practices were community-conscious people -- such as youth and church groups and friends of the Trojans -- and that USC cleared their access. He said the atmosphere made USC unique and fun and was part of its rampant success.

Carroll also railed against the NCAA ruling that current Trojans are now free to leave the national power, calling it a potentially devastating "fire sale" akin to NFL free agency.

USC's pending appeal of the sanctions will drag through his first season in Seattle, his first in the NFL since 1999. Yet Carroll says it will not distract him because he won't be that involved in it.

"I've already told them everything I can tell them," he said of the NCAA. "It will just be rooting from the sidelines.

"There isn't any precedent in this exact situation, so they are going to try and reconstruct the reasoning. I think you will see transcripts that come out eventually, so you will see all the questions that were asked. ... And you'll understand that from the start of the investigation years ago -- I've said this all along -- there is no information that backs the claims."

Carroll was 97-19 and won seven consecutive Pac-10 titles plus two national championships at USC from 2000 to 2009.

He said that as head coach he was responsible for all that happened there but that there was no way for him to know Bush was being wooed by an off-campus agent.

"We couldn't do anything about it -- because we didn't know," he said.

The NCAA found that in itself an inexcusable lack of institutional oversight.

"Unfortunately, I was probably more surprised than most people, and I was at the hearings," Carroll said of the penalties. "I felt the tenor of the hearings. Never would have thought that they would have come to as harsh sanctions and conclusions as this."

He hears skeptics who scoff at hearing that he didn't know about Bush's improprieties.

"It looks like, 'Why would you not know?' Well, Reggie Bush became Reggie Bush in a matter of a few months, weeks," Carroll said, mentioning that Bush wasn't a starter until his junior season. "LenDale White scored 54 touchdowns in the same time that Reggie was there. ... And Matt Leinart was the quarterback -- and he was the Heisman Trophy winner. So there was a lot of stuff going on, a lot of acclaim.

"We were in the midst of an undefeated year. ... When you look back in hindsight, it's a much different view than when you are in the middle of trying to win games."

Carroll also offered this rebuttal, without being asked: "The question comes up why I left and all. My coming to Seattle was for one reason: This was an extraordinary opportunity. It's an NFL dream opportunity for me, and it had nothing to do with anything that was going on at that time. The ongoing investigation was five years in the making, anyway."

He says he hasn't talked to Bush recently. But he has talked often to current Trojans coach Lane Kiffin.

"These are very tough times for him," Carroll said of one of his former USC assistants. "The hardest thing about it is schools can come after his players; they can take juniors and seniors right now. It's like free agency, it became like the NFL. There's a fire sale on his players right now."

He called on the NCAA to join universities and even high schools to have a national promotional campaign to stop outsiders from influencing college athletes.

"Unfortunately, it's about awareness," Carroll said. "This issue in particular is not like any of the other cases that's come along. It is about one person in a community where a kid came from who decided to take advantage of his potential good fortune. And he found a way in to make that happen -- outside of any of the university issues and setting and all that.

"They didn't want anyone else to know. And we didn't know."