USC Trojans Athletic Director Pat Haden Has Program on the Right Track

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

There are many concerns swirling around the USC Trojans football program after the 2012 season veered off track, but one thing is certain: athletic director Pat Haden is the guy you want in charge.

Haden was hired as part of the wave of changes at USC in 2010. University president Steven Sample retired and was succeeded by C.L. Max Nikias (above, with Lane Kiffin and Haden). Haden replaced former athletic director and Heisman Trophy-winner Mike Garrett as head of the athletic department. And controversial Kiffin took over as football coach when Pete Carroll left for the NFL

As if those changes weren’t significant enough, they came at the same time the NCAA was hitting the Trojans with harsh sanctions.

In light of all that, the big surprise shouldn’t be that the Trojans went 7-6 this season, but that they’d had such good records prior to that.

As Haden told CBSSports.com’s Dennis Dodd in an interview published this week: “The NCAA doesn’t penalize you with the most severe penalties since the SMU case hoping that you’re going to win 10 games. There’s a purpose given the sanctions they gave us.”

Haden is the ideal person to guide the program through those sanctions. He played for USC and for the Los Angeles Rams in the 1970s, winning two National Championships and a Super Bowl, but he’s not just a jock; Haden was a Rhodes scholar who had a successful carer in business, with a broadcasting gig on the side, before accepting the role of athletic director.

He is, by all accounts, a stand-up guy, a person who’s going to do the right thing. Under Haden, there won’t be shady payments from agents that bring the NCAA back to the Trojans’ doorstep; things will be done the right way, the Trojan way.

All of that sounds good, but it is at odds with the reputation of the team’s head coach, Lane Kiffin. Kiffin was an assistant during the Carroll era, and he left a trail of destruction in his wake when he blazed out of Knoxville to take the head coaching job at USC.

Kiffin is considered by many to be the opposite of Haden – immature, petty, and willing to win at all costs.

He was hand-picked by Mike Garrett in an attempt to extend the success of the Carroll years, and a few months later, when Haden was hired, he found himself with a young, relatively untested and unimpressive head coach. Often, when new athletic directors come on board, the coaches are quickly booted off, but that’s not Haden’s style.

The AD has supported Kiffin, mentored him, kept him in line, and gotten him back on track. USC fans thought, and many hoped, that the Trojans’ epic collapse in the Hyundai Sun Bowl would be Kiffin’s last stand, but Haden had already pledged his allegiance to The Visor, at least for one more season.

Haden isn’t afraid to pull the plug when it’s time. He recently fired men’s head basketball coach Kevin O’Neill after a 7-10 start to the season, following last year’s 6-26 record.

“I’m trying to give some coaches the benefit of the doubt,” Haden told Dodd. “[O'Neill] inherited a mess, OK? So I felt this was the first year we could really evaluate.”

With the other big-money coach out, Haden will be watching Kiffin closely in 2013. The team is, after all, just one year removed from a 10-2 finish that would’ve given them the Pac-12 South division title, had they been eligible.

Haden exercises prudence when the rest of Trojan Nation would’ve had Kiffin following his dad, Monte, out the door, but he’s not afraid to take action when necessary, and he understands that winning games isn’t always the goal.

“At the end of the day all of our coaches are in the winning business, but it’s not entirely, entirely, entirely tied to numbers on the scoreboard. It has to be something bigger or else we’re kidding ourselves,” he told Dodd.

It’s about rebuilding a once proud program, the right way, and Haden’s the right man to make it happen.

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