GREG JAYNE: Seahawks’ job opening sets off permutations

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

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There are so many questions, so much intrigue, like a Jason Bourne movie come to life.

Does Pete Carroll’s interest in the Seahawks mean USC is headed for probation? Is he abandoning a sinking ship, leading fans around the Pac-10 to prance around bellowing, “The King is dead”?

Will Mike Riley leave Oregon State for Southern Cal, ignoring his previous declarations that Corvallis is his last stop? Who, pray tell, could ever fill Riley’s shoes at OSU?

And finally, why in the name of Dennis Erickson haven’t the Seahawks learned their lesson? They’ve been down this road before, you know, hiring a successful college coach only to watch him go 31-33 in four playoff-less seasons.

That’s what Erickson did in Seattle, proving that two national championships at the college level are no guarantee of NFL success.

That might be the most interesting part of this labyrinth — how NFL teams continue to be seduced by coaches from the college ranks.

Yes, Jimmy Johnson made the switch and won two Super Bowls. But the list of failures — Steve Spurrier, Rich Brooks, Butch Davis, Nick Saban, Ray Perkins, Lou Holtz, and even Riley himself — is much, much longer.

It’s not that coaching in the NFL is more difficult. It’s just that it’s different, and it requires a separate skill set. The need to recruit players changes the equation. So does dealing with 22- to 35-year-old professionals rather than 20- and 21-year-olds.

It’s still football, but it’s a much different game.

Some people can successfully make this transition. But in the ultra-competitive world of the NFL, where everybody is extremely skilled at their jobs, it’s a difficult one. Just ask Spurrier, who went from genius to 12-20 in the span of two seasons.

Carroll wasn’t a disaster as an NFL coach. He went 33-31 in four seasons, twice reaching the playoffs. On the other hand, he was fired by the Jets after one season, and fired by the Patriots after three.

Shouldn’t that be a red flag for the Seahawks? Shouldn’t that lead somebody in the organization to say, “Wait a minute, let’s think about this”?

Yet as we have learned from watching the Blazers over the years, Paul Allen is easily distracted by shiny baubles, and there’s nothing shinier than Carroll’s 97-19 record and two national championships at USC.

Then again, Allen once thought Darius Miles was a wise investment.

Which brings us to Riley, whose name came up about two nanoseconds after Carroll was mentioned for the Seahawks job.

I don’t know whether Riley would go to USC; I’m guessing that he doesn’t know right now, either. But in the long run, I think he’ll stay at Oregon State. Just a hunch, nothing more.

It’s like a guy who has a great girlfriend, and the knockout from the gym starts texting him. His friends think he should go for it, but he realizes he’s got a great situation and decides to stick with it, knowing he has been burned before.

It’s an epiphany of self-realization. While everybody thinks the knockout would be worth it, he knows she wouldn’t be the best fit for him. That’s Riley at Oregon State — a perfect fit. And it’s a much more comfortable one than the awe-shucks coach would have at USC, where he would be deficient in Southern California cool.

Mike Bellotti, on the other hand, would be a good fit for USC. His hiring would make a lot of sense, in addition to causing an untold number of Duck fans to burst a blood vessel.

See? The permutations of all this are endless, like a spy story brought to life. All we need is Matt Damon to play Carroll in the movie.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne