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Bush Meets College Coach On Sunday

Courtesy—Nakia Hogan/Times-Picayune

Reggie Bush and Pete Carroll might forever be joined at the hip — an All-American running back whose college career was tarnished by controversy, and the big-time coach who somehow failed to keep his players on the straight and narrow.

At least that’s the perception of many who witnessed the saga of the former Southern California star athlete and his coach.

The two will have a reunion of sorts at the Superdome on Sunday when Bush and the New Orleans Saints host the Carroll-coached Seattle Seahawks.

Bush knows questions about his past at USC will follow for some time, but he said he and Carroll are focusing on Sunday’s game, when Bush is expected to play for the first time since breaking his fibula at San Francisco on Sept. 20.

Whether the two will continue to be infamously linked as the pair who sent Southern Cal crumbling from the national college limelight into probation will ultimately be up to the fans, Bush said.

“I think it is for the fans to make their minds up about that,” Bush said. “I know we both have done our best to move on and try to focus on the now, and that’s kind of it.

“But as far as all the stuff that happened with that, it’s unfortunate and something that obviously nobody wanted to happen. And it is unfortunate that it did happen. All we could do is kind of manage it when it did happen and try to learn from it.”

In June, the NCAA concluded that Bush and his family accepted improper benefits from marketing agents while he was playing for Carroll at USC. The NCAA ruled that the Trojans would have to vacate victories from late 2004 through the 2005 season, a period that included the Trojans’ BCS championship game win over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl in January 2005.

USC also was banned from bowl games for two years and lost 30 scholarships over a three-year period. A few months later, Bush became the first Heisman Trophy winner in the 75 years of the award to return the trophy.

Carroll stepped down at USC to take the job in Seattle before the NCAA’s ruling.

“Perceptions are oftentimes skewed, and perceptions are oftentimes wrong,” said Saints defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, who played at USC with Bush under Carroll. “I think fans might (forever lump Bush and Carroll together) because of the situation, but I’ve known both of them for a very long time — and they are both stand-up guys as far as I am concerned.”

Ellis added that Carroll shouldn’t be blamed for the NCAA sanctions at USC.

“With everything that happened there, it is unfortunate, but what people have to understand is that a coach can’t always control those situations,” Ellis said. “There are a lot of outside elements that come in this whole thing. What is he supposed to do? Take his guys and lock them up?

“It’s kind of tough because it comes off looking like he might be somewhat involved or responsible. So personally, if anything was actually done wrong, I don’t think he had any knowledge or anything like that because he is not that kind of guy.”

Bush and Carroll’s troubles have done little damage to their professional careers.

Bush remains an ultra-talented runner and a huge matchup problem for opponents when he is healthy. His pending return to the lineup will add another dimension to the Saints (6-3), who has sputtered on offense with him sidelined.

Carroll is helping change the culture in Seattle, where the Seahawks won a combined nine games in the two seasons before he arrived. Carroll has guided the Seahawks (5-4) to first place in the NFC West.

Bush said it’s easy to see why Carroll is having success in Seattle.

“He has a great personality,” Bush said. “The guy is a players’ coach. He’s a coach you would like to play for because he makes it a fun environment, but at the same time he is going to work you, too. With guys like him, it’s going to be a positive, fun environment, and guys are going to have a great time. That’s where usually the chemistry comes in.

“He’s just great coach and a great all-around guy. … Any time you see coaches like that, and I think (New Orleans) Coach (Sean) Payton is one of those guys, guys like to play for them. When you see the teams that year in and year out competing for the top spot, a lot of times it has to do with the coach.”

Ellis agreed.

“The success he is having doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “Even when he first got up there in Seattle, people were asking me how I felt he would do — and I always said if he got the key guys to buy into his system that he would be just fine. I wish him luck except when he is playing us. I think he’s been doing pretty good so far.”

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