Quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals
"Coach Carroll is an easy guy to be around. He's got that likeability, and because he loves and cares about the program, it's infectious. He's sure of his abilities, but there is no arrogance or cockiness. Unlike so many coaches, he doesn't just do things because that's how they've always been done. Coach would turn drills into small competitions so they would have more energy than a routine three-hour practice. Carroll and I would run through plays, in a game we called 'football calls.' As a quarterback, he taught me not to give the defense too much credit, not to assume the other side of the ball isn't going to screw up, because that's often when big plays happen. I learned to trust in seeing what I see and reading what I read. I've taken that same approach in the NFL.
"The night before the Notre Dame game my senior season, Carroll loaded the team on the bus. Instead of going to the hotel for the usual meetings, we went to the [Los Angeles] Coliseum where all the lights were on. He had us huddle up at mid-field and hold hands. Coach wanted us to experience the peacefulness and the quiet, and to think about the USC tradition and what a special place it is to play…. 24 hours later the place was rocking with the biggest rivalry in sports. That's what makes it so much fun to play for him.
"The Bengals have had a lot of off-field issues recently, and I try to follow the example Coach Carroll set. He dealt with the guys with bad attitudes and the guys in trouble the same way as everyone else, even though they were giving his program a bad name. I try to lead by example, to let the guys know that football is my job and it's important to me, but to still be there for my teammates. I try to do what I can to help the guys going through tough times, as opposed to shunning them.
"If anything, I wish I had more than two years under Coach Carroll. I feel fortunate that our paths crossed."
Carson Palmer, the #1 overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft and a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback, led the Bengals to the 2005 NFL playoffs after a 15-year drought. Palmer won the 2002 Heisman Trophy, finishing his USC career with a 38-17 victory over the University of Iowa in the Orange Bowl.
USC Fullback 2002-2007
"I had season-ending injuries, twice. Coach Carroll told me that certain people have intangible qualities and asked me to step up and be a leader in the rehab room, to keep guys from getting down on themselves. In football, you can be a hot commodity and then swept under the rug a bit, but Carroll still managed to stop by and let us know that we could come back stronger than before. He sees everything as an opportunity. Even when I was on the sidelines, he encouraged me to be the biggest cheerleader and to help the other fullbacks any way I could. You can't help but get on board.
"Carroll is fiery with enthusiasm, but he's also such a people-person that he always did a great job of keeping the pulse of the team and individual players. If he sensed dissension, he would confront the person one-on-one and see if they could remedy the problem themselves. His philosophy is bigger than the football program. It's not a four-year commitment, it's a forty-year commitment to the USC family. He brought back legends who wore the cardinal-and-gold like Sam Cunningham and Ronnie Lott and embraced the alumni. Some coaches wants to etch out their thing, but Coach Carroll went to the throwback jerseys to rekindle the essence of Trojan football.
"He's a prankster. One Halloween practice, he staged a fight with running back LenDale White, who stormed off the field. A few minutes later, White was on top of a nearby building, screaming, and then a dummy wearing his jersey was thrown from the roof. It caused a big stir. Coach caught some hell in the media for the fake suicide, but it was pretty funny. We loved it. When there's work to be done, Carroll will drop the hammer, but he understands it's about having fun. Some coaches are stoic and distant, but most players call Carroll a cool cat. He's a great communicator and rhetorician, and so passionate…I hope I can inspire people throughout my life as much as Carroll has inspired mine."
Brandon Hancock was the starting fullback on two national championship teams. He carried a 3.91 undergrad GPA, was on track to receive a summer 2007 Masters in Communication Management and Entertainment, and will traveling with the Trojans this fall as a broadcaster for ESPN.