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BOB RYAN

Carroll enjoying the ride

MIAMI -- You are who you are, and so when the awesome deed was done -- no one foresaw 55-19, either way -- and his second national championship was in the books, Pete Carroll knew it was time to party hearty.

"We had a beautiful night," the Southern Cal coach reported at yesterday's bright-and-early Orange Bowl media post-mortem. "It was Mardi Gras right there at the Diplomat. We had a beautiful time, families and kids and coaches all dancing together and having a wonderful dinner together, the kind of a celebration that this kind of event game warrants. I challenged them not to go to sleep until the sun came up, and I made sure that was the way it happened. So we get to sleep on the way home."

It is so nice to see Pete Carroll in his element. He hates to hear this, but the cold and cruel world of the NFL was really not for him, and if he answers the phone when the 49ers call, his wife should take out the commitment papers. It's amazing that he spent 16 of his 53 years on this earth resisting his true calling, which is to be with kids, counsel kids, be there for kids, and, as they say, to coach 'em up with all the vast football knowledge and feel that Pete Carroll possesses.

The very first sentence of his biography in the 388-page Southern Cal media guide sums up the Pete Carroll/USC marriage perfectly: "It took energetic and enthusiastic USC head football coach Pete Carroll only three years to return the glory of the Trojan football program and return Troy to national prominence."

Next season they'll have to adjust this to reflect back-to-back national titles in years 3 and 4 of the Pete Carroll Trojan era, after Tuesday night's romp over No. 2 Oklahoma. And there may be more coming. Our boy Pete really has it going at SC.

Carroll's NFL "problem," if you want to call it that, was never football. This guy knows his football. He's an X's and O's man of the highest degree, and he was a very good defensive coordinator for both the Jets and 49ers.

No, his "problem" was his personality. His failing is an essential decency and enthusiasm package that just doesn't have the same effect with guys drawing paychecks as it does with college players, and that includes those who assume they will be drawing paychecks in the near future. Perhaps this is a vague and inadequate presentation of the Pete Carroll personality "problem," but I believe it to be real and I think it is nothing to be ashamed of. To the contrary, it is something that he should be proud of. Is it more important to be remembered as an effective take-no-prisoners coach or as a tremendous human being who also happens to have a lot of football knowledge to impart?

Carroll may have been perceived to be "soft" with his NFL players, but he is anything but with his college players. He has the capacity to be demanding and humane at the same time. His basic approach is anything but fuzzy-wuzzy or sentimental. You know, for example, how some college coaches structure the entire program around paying homage, tribute, and respect for the upperclassmen? That is not the Pete Carroll way. His way is the best Trojan plays, be he fifth-year senior with 30 career starts or true freshman with none.

If you wish to be a Pete Carroll Trojan, you'd better be prepared for some spirited survival-of-the-fittest competition, and that means everybody.

"Our program is built on competition, and it's part of the way we think," he explained. "There's another guy just champing at the bit to take your spot, and if you don't perform well . . . I made it a big deal last spring that John David Booty was going to challenge Matt [Leinart] for his spot at quarterback, and I meant every word of it, and we gave him 50/50 reps throughout the springtime to see if he could do it, and Matt held him off."

This Rooney kid must be pretty good if Carroll was even remotely thinking about making a change. Leinart went on to win the Heisman Trophy, and in what may have been his final game as a Trojan he threw for 332 yards and five touchdowns in the national championship game, all this without even throwing a pass in the fourth quarter. At one point the southpaw from Santa Ana, Calif., threw for TDs on three consecutive completions.

Carroll firmly believes in the need to keep things churning in an effort to forestall any complacency on the part of those who have already achieved. "We need to continue to bring in some kids that will push," he said. "The way we do it, the younger you are, the more opportunity you get, and we want to find out which kid can be a championship player for us as soon as we can possibly find it out. Spring football will be extremely important to the guys that are in the program, because we come back to fall camp and the new guys are going to get thrown in front of the lines. Our team knows how that works, and they have to compete around the clock just to maintain their position on the team, and without that constant competition, I don't think we can achieve this kind of level, and we're going to continue to do that."

And Pete Carroll is going to continue to be Pete Carroll, a man whose personal cruise ship has come in. "I have people tell me, `Just relax,' " he said. "Don't tell me to relax. I'm having a freakin' ball. We get to do this for six months, be on top of the college football world. We likely have a chance at being the No. 1 team coming into next year. Shoot, that's awesome, awesome stuff. I don't want anything different than that. That's fine. I'll play some hoops and do a little boogie boarding and all that kind of stuff, but I don't want to get very far away from it. It's too much fun."

A lot of guys in his business know how to win. Very few know how to enjoy winning. They need to spend some time with Pete Carroll.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com. 

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