The Great Untold Story Of Tim Tebow, Pete Carroll And How A Mailbox Changed College Football’s Future

Over the last few weeks football fans have had no choice but to get acquainted with America’s new bible-thumping, side-arm tossing, game-win driving quarterback, Tim Tebow. They’ve gotten to know his smile. They’ve gotten to his perseverance. And they’ve gotten to know about his ability to overcome double-digit fourth quarter deficits in a single bound. It’s something that we as college football fans knew plenty about already, after watching him do the same for four years at Florida. At this point, nothing Tebow does on the football field really surprises us anymore.

Meanwhile in coaching circles, NFL fans have gotten the chance to get reacquainted with a former friend, and the best college coach of his generation, Pete Carroll as well.

After flaming out with the Patriots and Jets in the 1990’s, Carroll came to USC in 2001 and turned the Trojans into a college football super-power. The man who created “Win Forever,” pretty much did exactly that in nine years as Trojans head coach, combining his style and pizzazz with the insane talent base in Southern California, in the process turning USC into the premiere program in the sport over the last decade. Since leaving USC two years ago, Carroll has returned to the NFL, where he has once again proven that, well, maybe the college game is where belongs after all. The Seahawks did make the playoffs last year, but at 5-7 in 2011, it’s safe to say they won’t be making a repeat trip to the postseason. So much for “Win Forever,” huh?

Either way, with college football’s most successful player and coach of the last generation now cashing pro paychecks, it’s easy to forget that the National Football League isn’t the first time these two have crossed paths.

Quite the opposite actually. It was just six years ago that Tebow was a highly ranked quarterback recruit out of Florida, and Carroll was trying to get him to come out West and be part of the Trojan dynasty. Tebow even took a trip out to California in the fall of 2005, and saw USC lay the beat down on UCLA. By all reports, the young quarterback came away impressed, and enamored with Carroll’s program.

Carroll however wasn’t nearly as optimistic about landing the quarterback.  He and former assistants Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian went to the Tebow residence that fall, and before they even got to the front door, knew they had their backs against the wall in the Tebow’s recruitment.

Carroll told Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Farmer about that exact moment in a piece that ran in the newspaper this past Saturday.

“Everything was going great, and we were real excited about the home visit,” Carroll said. “The family lives way out in the country. We’re driving down this long dirt road, you can’t see the numbers on the boxes. Houses are all spread out, and these big open fields.”

“As we’re coming down the road there’s this huge Gator helmet mailbox. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, no, I hope this isn’t the house.’ Sure enough, that was. I was thinking, ‘This is not a great chance for us right here.’”

So there ya have it: Apparently a goofy mailbox was all it took to shake the most confident recruiter of the last decade. I can only imagine what would’ve happened if the Tebow family also had a Florida Gators welcome mat on their front porch.

But back to Tebow for a second, because if you’ve read his book ‘Through My Eyes,’ you know that despite both his parents attending Florida (and apparently, purchasing a lovely Gators-themed mailbox too), he never actually favored Florida in his recruitment until the very end. He took five official visits during his senior year, with stops at Florida, Alabama, LSU, USC and Michigan respectively, and on the day of his actual announcement, almost elected on going to Tuscaloosa over Gainesville. According to Tebow’s book that actually happened, and if he’d ended up at Alabama, it would’ve ended up as a great “what if” in its own right.

More importantly though, it’s curious to think about what would’ve happened if the mailbox hadn’t been there, and Tebow went to school in Los Angeles. Upon what would’ve been his arrival for the fall of 2006, USC was transitioning out of the Matt Leinart era, and into the John David Booty era (gag!) for the next two years. They also had a redshirt freshman named Mark Sanchez, who was just a year ahead of Tebow in school, and coincidentally, hosted him on his visit according to Farmer’s article.

So with that, we’ve got to ask, how differently could the Tim Tebow legacy have turned out had he become a Trojan? There seems to be a pretty good chance that had Tebow chosen USC, not only would he have not gotten on the field as a freshman, but that he wouldn’t have gotten onto the field at all until quite possibly his fourth year on campus. Given his style, and what USC was doing at the time offensively, it isn’t totally infeasible that Tebow wouldn’t have seen the field until after Sanchez left in the spring of 2009.

Looking at it from the opposite perspective, knowing Tebow’s will and work ethic, what are the chances that he would’ve jumped Sanchez? How would Sanchez’s career have played out? Would he have transferred? What about the Matt Barkley era, which overlapped by a year with Tebow’s (and potentially could’ve been two years if Tebow had redshirted)? Would he have had the chance to start at USC as a freshman? Probably not.

On and on it goes.

Now granted, all the questions listed above are probably the best reasons to believe that Tebow didn’t end up at USC to begin with. His playing style fit much better in Urban Meyer’s spread scheme, and outside of Chris Leak, the depth chart wasn’t nearly as bloated in Gainesville as it was at USC.

Still, it’s always fun to wonder what-if.

And how a mailbox changed it all.

For all his articles, opinions and insights on college football, be sure to follow Aaron Torres on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.

About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.