Pete Carroll usually gets what he wants. He has a higher winning percentage than any active coach in college football. He probably lands a higher percentage of the players he recruits than anyone in the country. And recently, he's compiled an impressive track record convincing underclassmen to stay at USC instead of entering the NFL draft.
This is why you mostly see Carroll smiling, laughing and jumping up and down during games and practices like an overzealous freshman stepping onto the field for the first time. Life is generally good when things go your way.
When they don't, however, you get the type of embarrassment that occurred during Mark Sanchez's press conference on Thursday when he announced he would forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
It should have been a happy occasion for Sanchez, who has spent four years at USC, will graduate in the spring with a degree in communications and set a Rose Bowl record by passing for 413 yards and four touchdowns in his last collegiate game.
Instead, Carroll used the occasion to rain on Sanchez's parade and tell everyone that Sanchez leaving USC early is a big mistake.
"We don't see this decision the same," Carroll said. "Mark's going against the grain on this decision and he knows that. He knows coming out early is a tremendous challenge for a quarterback and the statistics don't back up that it will be easy the way he's going about it."
Sanchez, who made up his mind to leave school early on Tuesday, waited until Carroll returned from a Hawaiian vacation to make his decision official on Thursday. He wanted to tell Carroll in person and have him there when he announced the most important decision of his life. Judging from the way the tense press conference unfolded, he would have been better off simply issuing a statement and staying as far away from USC as possible.
It was easily one of the most awkward press conferences to announce a player's decision to go pro. After Sanchez, dressed in a suit, announced he would be entering the NFL draft to a silent Heritage Hall crowd, Carroll took the microphone and proceeded list the reasons Sanchez made the wrong decision for five or so minutes.
"I am disappointed in that the information that we have wasn't compelling enough to make it clear to him," Carroll said. "Our view of it is, and as you guys will see as you dig into this a little bit more, you'll see that these early entry quarterbacks are less than 50-50 successful."
All the while, Sanchez sat five feet to Carroll's left, awkwardly smiling as his coach failed to fully support his decision. Watching Carroll list the statistics Sanchez had to overcome was like watching a best man giving a toast at a wedding and listing the reasons the marriage was doomed to fail instead of simply offering congratulations and well wishes.
After he spoke, Carroll, who also put a story on his Web site outlining why Sanchez made a bad decision, stood up and walked into the crowd as Sanchez took questions from reporters, apparently unable to standby his former quarterback in a physical sense as he had done with other players holding similar press conferences. Carroll then walked out the back of the room before Sanchez was finished with his press conference. Carroll may have just returned from Hawaii, but in that moment Sanchez was the one suddenly on an island, with no supporters outside of his father, Nick, standing nearby.
It was a sad display for the usually gregarious Carroll, who spoke of Sanchez as a statistic rather than a person and a player he's known for five years. If that's what Carroll has to say about Sanchez in front of the cameras, I'd hate to hear what he's going to say about him behind closed doors when NFL scouts and general managers start calling him.
It was understandable for Carroll to say whatever it took to get Sanchez to come back to school. Whatever he said to Taylor Mays amazingly kept him on campus for another year. But once Sanchez made his decision to go pro, Carroll should have respected his decision and saved his "50-50 failure" talk for another underclassman down the road. The fact that he couldn't resist taking one last public shot at Sanchez's decision before leaving the press conference early says a lot about the kind of man Carroll is when things don't go his way. Luckily for him, those moments are few and far between.