LOS ANGELES – Southern California is cleaning house in its tarnished athletic department, throwing out much of what got the school in severe NCAA trouble.
Athletic director Mike Garrett and Reggie Bush’s Heisman Trophy are the first two items to go.
In a letter to school supporters Tuesday, incoming USC president Max Nikias said Garrett will be replaced Aug. 3 by Pat Haden, the former Trojans quarterback who became a successful businessman and a member of USC’s board of trustees. The school also will return its copy of Bush’s trophy to the Heisman Trust, among several measures to disassociate itself from the tainted tailback.
The NCAA cited Garrett’s administration for a lack of institutional control while slapping the school with heavy sanctions last month, but Haden believes he can change the culture of a program that has been wildly successful and heavily scrutinized over the past decade.
“We’re going to do better,” said Haden, also the color analyst on NBC’s Notre Dame broadcasts for the past decade. “We have to do better. We don’t have any choices here. We stub our toe, there’s going to be some problems.”
USC was hit with four years of probation, a two-year bowl ban and severe football scholarship restrictions after the NCAA found serious rules violations in the athletic department, primarily around the football and men’s basketball teams. Most involved illegal benefits for Bush and O.J. Mayo, the talented basketball player who spent just one season at USC.
Haden said the school’s plan to get rid of nearly all references to Bush and Mayo — right down to scrubbing their images from school murals and removing Bush’s No. 5 jersey in its place of honor in the lobby of Heritage Hall — are all part of the NCAA’s directive to disassociate the school from the athletes.
Bush’s Heisman has been on display alongside the trophies won by Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer, Charles White and Marcus Allen. It was still in place Tuesday, but will be gone by the time students show up on campus next month.
Nikias also doesn’t start his new job until Aug. 3, but he’s already at work reforming the Trojans’ image.
“The Trojan Family honors and respects the USC sporting careers of those persons whose actions did not compromise their athletic program or the opportunities of future USC student-athletes,” Nikias said.
After pledging support for new football coach Lane Kiffin, Haden said he realizes the enormity of his task in restoring credibility to USC, where the NCAA found numerous violations during the tenures of football coach Pete Carroll and men’s hoops coach Tim Floyd. After twice telling Nikias he didn’t want to be considered for the job, Haden agreed to take it last week.
“We want to compete ferociously and win in every sport, but we want to do it ethically and within the rules,” said Haden, a former Rhodes Scholar who became a venture capitalist after an NFL career with the Los Angeles Rams. “We’re going to have a culture of compliance around here. Every meeting is going to start with the No. 1 item as compliance. … We’re going to try to be perfect. When we make mistakes, we’re going to fess up, and we’re going to try to do better next time.”
The 66-year-old Garrett has been the Trojans’ athletic director for 17 years, but he received caustic criticism for his handling of USC’s scandals. The school didn’t say whether Garrett retired or had been fired.
Both Garrett and Haden are former USC football players. Garrett won the Heisman Trophy in 1965, while Haden was the Trojans’ starting quarterback for three years in the 1970s under coach John McKay.
Haden also said he’ll hire McKay’s son, J.K., as an associate athletic director to serve as his liaison to the football program. McKay and Haden played together at USC and have been best friends for over 40 years.
“It’s a tough job, because you can only do so much, and there are people out there who are trying to get to your guys every day,” said McKay, an attorney who served as general manager with the XFL’s Los Angeles franchise. “We’re going to do our best to make sure nobody can question our effort on compliance.”
A few months after abruptly leaving Tennessee to return to USC, Kiffin’s self-described dream job has changed drastically. He must rebuild the Trojans under probation and scholarship limitations — and now Kiffin is working for a boss who didn’t hire him. Yet Kiffin, whose staff was cited for several minor NCAA violations during his 14 months at Tennessee, looked tanned and relaxed when he walked through Heritage Hall on Tuesday afternoon.
“He is my coach, and I love my coach,” Haden said. “I think he’s going to be successful here. J.K. McKay is committed to doing it right, and I think Lane is, too. I don’t want to say we’re not going to have any issues. We will. We’re going to have guys whispering in our guys’ ears, but we’re going to do our best. I don’t think we’re going to have a problem with compliance with Lane. I think he knows where we’re coming from.”
Garrett has been mostly unapologetic in the face of the Trojans’ NCAA problems, even saying last month that the NCAA’s ruling revealed “a lot of envy” of the Trojans. Two weeks ago, Garrett was forced to send a letter of apology to five schools after falsely accusing them of breaking NCAA rules by contacting star tailback recruit Dillon Baxter about transferring.
While praising Garrett’s work in rebuilding the USC football program and shepherding construction of the Galen Center basketball arena on campus, Nikias said the USC athletic department under his presidency “will seek to excel in the coming years in a manner that is consistent with the highest values” of the school.
Garrett initially received praise for unexpectedly hiring Carroll, who led a dominant decade for the Trojans’ football team, including seven Pac-10 titles and two national championships. Carroll left USC earlier this year to take over the Seattle Seahawks.
“Wish pat haden the very best in taking over as USC AD!” Carroll wrote on his Twitter account. “I’ll support in any way. Congrats!”
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