When Pat Haden assumed the throne of a crumbling Trojan empire, he promised to guide the athletic programs in ways of integrity, and to run a “no-nonsense” ship. Gone were the days of arrogant, party first-practice later attitudes in favor of a more humble, play-by-the-rules atmosphere.
Haden’s inherited Lane Kiffin, who was hired by Mike Garrett to lead the football team, a decision that was faced with skepticism. That uncertainty faded after Kiffin lead the team to a 10-2 record in 2011, and returned with a vengeance after the 2012 debacle. Over the course of five months, a series of unfortunate events transpired that were everything but “no-nonsense”, and called into question Haden’s logic behind being fiercely loyal to Kiffin. And then, after posting a 7-6 record and losing a slew of recruits in its wake, many called for Kiffin’s head on a platter and Haden refused to budge.
Since then, a number of coaching changes have been made that would further suggest the program is in shambles, but upon further consideration, it appears that Haden was serious about accepting only the best from his Trojans.
On the football front, the first head to roll was that of Monte Kiffin, and his resignation was welcomed. The mark he has left on football cannot be understated, but this 72-year old legend was more of wasted space than anything in 2012. He is a great man, but with the age gap between he and his players, he wasn’t the best at building player relationships and that disconnect was seen frequently on Saturdays. Kiffin stepped down and Clancy Pendergast stepped in, a younger coach with a fresh scheme that the players are really excited about.
Then there was the letting go of Marvin Sanders, the defensive backs coach that was very popular with his players. But popularity was about the only positive thing you could attribute to Sanders; on his watch, USC’s cornerbacks and safeties hardly improved, and routinely got destroyed by the spread offenses in the Pac-12. He got bounced, and for now, Pendergast will be working with the defensive backs to make them significantly more useful in 2013.
And most recently, former Trojan and one of the most popular coaches on staff, Offensive Coordinator Kennedy Polamalu left the program for unspecified reasons. This was perceivably the most egregious of the post-season firings, but sources close to the Trojan athletic personnel told Reign of Troy that Polamalu essentially left of his own accord. Kiffin has always maintained that he wants to be the play-caller at USC, but in evaluating the 2012 effort, that stance is likely to change going forward, as influenced by Haden. In short, Polamalu was not deemed the guy to actually carry OC responsibilities, and he chose to return to the NFL in favor of staying on as just the running backs coach. The search for a new offensive coordinator will go on, and the Trojans can expect to land someone with proven in-game decision making skills.
Though the changes have been jarring and unpopular, it is hard to argue that they have not been made for the betterment of the program.
In hoops, head coach Kevin O’Neill was let go after 17 games, the Trojans having limped to a lifeless, lethargic intro to the 2012 campaign. Assistant coach Bob Cantu has been holding the reigns since Jan. 14, and the Trojans have been playing the type of ball that was expected from the beginning of the season. They are loose, they’re more active, and most importantly, they appear to be having fun. Haden had said going into the season that O’Neill was “his guy”, so when he let O’Neill go, it was a bit of a shock. However, the improved play of the Men of Troy would suggest that Haden knows exactly what he is doing.
Lastly, Haden has most recently come down on the baseball program, firing Frank Cruz after news surfaced that he broke NCAA CARA rules.
“Those who knowingly break NCAA rules are subject to termination,” Haden said in his official statement on Wednesday.
Since the new year, Haden has demonstrated that running a “no-nonsense” ship does not always mean making what would appear to be the obvious decision, but making the smart decision, the one that leads to the improvement of USC athletics as a whole. He could have fired Lane Kiffin, but all that would have only pacified fans; it would not have been in the best interest of the program.
Fans are often critical of Haden for appearing “soft”, but in looking at the recent coaching changes that have gone down at Troy, it is evident that he is anything but. Letting go of beloved coaches who aren’t producing is not easy, nor is influencing your head coach that giving up some of his responsibilities is what the football team needs.