- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009

Pete Carroll is accustomed to walking into the homes of overgrown adolescents and persuading them that USC is the place to live, learn and audition for NFL personnel gurus.

Carroll, the football coach at USC, is not accustomed to being overruled, which perhaps explains his low-grade hissy fit at the news conference in which quarterback Mark Sanchez announced he would be leaving the school with one year of eligibility left in order to begin his NFL career.

Carroll made it clear he did not agree with the decision while questioning the quarterback’s readiness to play in the NFL.

That concern is fair enough. Most college quarterbacks are not ready for the faster-paced NFL game. Most college football programs stick their fastest and most talented athletes on offense and wind up with step-slow defenses that are vulnerable to the pass.

NFL defenses, meanwhile, are stocked with speedy cornerbacks and safeties who can expose a quarterback with average arm strength or one who has trouble processing a whole lot of information in several seconds.

But Sanchez would not necessarily be better prepared for the demands of the NFL if he had another college season of preparation.

There is no defense in the Pac-10 that can emulate the defenses of the Ravens and Steelers. There is no bowl game that can approximate the primal element of the NFL playoffs.

A quarterback in the NFL is not validated until he has demonstrated an ability to perform at his highest in the postseason, as Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is discovering.

The problem with Carroll making an evaluation of Sanchez is that he has the agenda of trying to win the national championship next season. The Trojans are coming off a 12-1 season and a No. 3 national ranking and return the majority of their starters on offense.

No wonder a coach, given the circumstances, just might have an objection to a quarterback tromping off to the NFL.

Not that it was fair to Sanchez, who had to evaluate the benefit of playing another college season against the drawback of an injury or poor season hurting his draft stock.

His stock might not get any higher than what it is now after his masterpiece in the Rose Bowl, where he completed 28 of 35 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns in what turned out to be his farewell performance.

And it is not as if Sanchez is leaving USC without a degree. He will graduate from USC in May with a degree in communications.

Yet Carroll could not accept the quarterback’s decision. He could not even sit next to Sanchez at the press conference. It was not until later in the day that Carroll softened his stance, no doubt after being alerted that his act was not playing well in Peoria by way of ESPN.

Carroll is hardly the first big-time college coach to be disappointed with a young man’s decision to leave school early in pursuit of employment in the NFL or NBA.

The goodbye press conference has become a staple in college basketball. Plenty of college basketball players leave school far too early from a physical and maturity standpoint, but whether the coach is Mike Krzyzewski or Roy Williams, the departure is handled with class and professionalism.

And that is as it should be.

It is laughable to imagine a history professor having a snit if a prized student dropped out of school to pursue a full-time job. That is because a history professor’s competence, brain power and reputation are not based on a prized student.

Carroll has no such luxury. His welfare is tied to gifted athletes. His financial compensation and job security are predicated on nothing more complex than what the scoreboard shows at the end of a game.

That is the system.

And no one, starting with a highly paid coach, should have a problem with an athlete, ready or not, seeking his piece of the financial pie from the sports system.

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