LOS ANGELES - Christian Tupou messed up, and he knew it.
Tupou, Southern Cal's sophomore nose tackle, had the misfortune of taking a swing at a teammate during training camp while the cameras of
were rolling. This was ideal fodder for the newsmagazine, which was collecting anecdotal footage for a piece on Trojans coach Pete Carroll.
Carroll's reaction to Tupou's misdeed was telling. Carroll chastised Tupou, but not in a demeaning way. Carroll raised his voice, but he didn't scream. The coach was authoritative, but also constructive.
"Come on, Christian, we don't ever do stuff like that," Carroll told him. "Never."
Carroll sent Tupou to the bench, but followed him there soon after. Carroll then counseled Tupou - again, without rancor - about the ills of fighting.
The incident could have left Tupou frustrated and embarrassed. Instead, it made him wiser. He had Carroll to thank for that.
"I just saw it as, 'Christian, you've got to get this right,' " Tupou said. "He straightened me out."
"He's more of a teacher in a classroom," Tupou said. "That's exactly what he did to me. He taught me a lesson."
Carroll would classify the incident as a "teachable moment." Nearly eight full seasons into his tenure at USC, Professor Pete has all but perfected his lesson plan.
Seven consecutive BCS bowl appearances, Pacific Ten championships, and seasons with at least 11 victories have even the winningest coach in college football history in awe.
"There are two or three young coaches out there who have changed the whole game of football," said Joe Paterno, whose Penn State Nittany Lions face Carroll's Trojans in the Rose Bowl on Thursday.
"Pete's right there at the top of it."
More interesting than the fact that Carroll sits atop the college football world is how he got there.
Carroll was merely two games above .500 in four seasons as an NFL head coach, never sniffed a Super Bowl, and got fired twice. His bosses with the New England Patriots, where he coached from 1997 to '99, wanted him to change his rah-rah ways. Carroll resisted.
"I had to fight the fight," he said. "I had really important people in my life continue to support me: 'Do what you know how to do. If they don't like it, too bad.' "
Carroll's influences include his high school coach, Bob Troppman; former Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant; and Monte Kiffin, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' retiring defensive coordinator. Their personalities aren't necessarily the same, or similar to Carroll's. But they share a common trait.
"They told players stuff that helped them," Carroll said, "so the players listened."
The essence of Carroll's "Win Forever" philosophy is "being the best you can possibly be and realizing your potential," he said. "I try to help along the way."
He does that by stressing competition at every turn, transforming practices into heated but fun battles between the offense and the defense, the first team and the second.
Southern Cal's practices are fast, but their overseer is seldom furious. Assistant coaches' voices are audible above the din, their messages sometimes conveyed with R-rated language. Carroll?
"He never gets into anybody's face. Never, ever," fifth-year senior guard Jeff Byers said.
"If you make a mistake and he wants to talk about it, he'll pull you aside: 'Jeff, we need you do to better. We know you can do it.'
"Coach Carroll is very supportive. He's always very positive. It's more like, 'Give your best effort. Keep working.' "
Kaluka Maiava is explaining what he likes about Carroll, and why his methods have worked so well in college. The senior linebacker has his fingers extended, his palms facing down, one hand at shoulder level, the other thigh high.
"Most programs, they have the coach up here and the players down here," Maiava said. "He's a players' coach. He's like one of the boys. Guys love to play for him. It's like going out there and having fun with your friends."
Carroll, who turned 57 in December, said he didn't run around at practice as much as he used to.
Then again, it's all relative. Good luck finding a coach who's more vigorous.
"We're doing O-line drills, and you look over and Coach Carroll's covering kickoffs," Byers said. "That shows a lot about him, how much he truly loves the game."
Ask Carroll's players and assistants to describe his demeanor and the adjectives most often used are
Besides running alongside the kickoff-coverage men, Carroll sprints from drill to drill, throws passes for the defensive backs to knock down, and plays catch every chance he can get. ("The best part of being a coach," he said.)
Age might catch up with Carroll eventually, but he has 25 years on Paterno, who agreed to a contract extension this month.
Carroll said he couldn't imagine coaching at 82.