RENTON, Wash. – Pete Carroll never lost much when he was at Southern Cal. And on those rare occasions when the Trojans lost, they were competitive.
In his first 110 games at USC, Carroll never suffered a loss by more than 11 points.
But on Halloween night 2009, in the 111th game of Carroll's tenure, the Trojans were handed a 27-point beating by Chip Kelly and Oregon. If not for USC's equally eye-popping blowout loss to Stanford later that season, that loss to Kelly would have been Carroll's worst setback as a collegiate coach.
No wonder Carroll has so much admiration for Kelly's different and successful approach as a head coach — first at Oregon and now in Philadelphia — with the Seahawks (8-4) traveling to face the Eagles (9-3) on Sunday.
"I have tremendous respect for the innovation," Carroll said. "I don't know the history of how this works but I think he has been as much an innovator in the game as anybody in college football. He's brought his approach, his style, his mentality to the league and it's worked out great for him."
Carroll and Kelly, along with San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh, are the most recent examples of coaches making the leap from college to having immediate success in the NFL. Harbaugh reached the NFC championship game three straight years; Kelly won the NFC East in his first season; and Carroll has a Super Bowl ring.
It's just coincidence that all three came from the Pac-12, though Carroll joked on Wednesday that it does have to do with the conference.
"I don't think you can paint a brush and say, 'Because they're from this conference or they're college or pro or whatever.' When you talk about Jim and Pete — two outstanding coaches, I don't care what level they coach at," Kelly said. "Jim Harbaugh was successful at the University of San Diego, Stanford, and the 49ers. Pete was a national champion in college, won a Super Bowl in the NFL, and if Pete were to take over a high school team right now, I think they would be a great team."
Much of Kelly's success at Oregon was because of the high-tempo offense that led to easy touchdowns for the Ducks. That was evident the one time Carroll and Kelly met on the field when the Ducks dominated. USC trailed 24-17 at halftime before getting blitzed 23-3 in the second half of Oregon's 47-20 win. If not for Harbaugh's Stanford team beating the Trojans by 34 points later that season, Kelly would have posted the largest margin of victory over Carroll during his USC tenure.
Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman also played against Kelly's teams with Stanford. He said what made Oregon impressive was the "simplicity of their variety."
"They only run probably eight or nine plays at Oregon, maybe 10. But you don't know when any of them are coming," Sherman said. "You don't know when they're going to throw the screen or when they're going fake the screen and throw it deep or hand off the zone-read, or when the QB is going to keep it or when they're going to fake the zone-read and play action. They're all variations of the same play and I think that's what was unique about that system."
Even though they met only once in college, Kelly visited Carroll and the Seahawks during his time at Oregon.
"When you're a college coach, you take a lot of visits during the spring and you watch people during the spring practice, but I always wanted to visit people in-season because you obviously practice different in the spring than you do in the fall," Kelly said. "I was just fortunate I knew Pete."
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