If Pat Haden Knows What’s Best for Him and USC, It’s Time to Step Down


Pat Haden’s tenure as the Trojan athletic director must come to an end for USC’s sake as more controversy surrounds the university.

Let’s be clear: Pat Haden isn’t getting fired.

While USC president Max Nikias may not know a lot about sports, the one thing he thinks he knows is that Haden is the right man to be the face of USC athletics. The highest-paid AD in the entire country has Nikias’ unequivocal support, confidence which at this point is borderline irrational.

USC athletics has turned into a full-blown circus over the past five years, and Haden is the ringleader. If he knows what’s good for him and his alma mater, Haden should step down from his position once this school year ends.

Pat Haden as an athletic director has essentially been a microcosm of his USC football teams. There were so many reasons to buy into the hype: Starting quarterback of two national championship teams. NFL Pro Bowl selection. Rhodes scholar. Attorney. Partner of a private equity firm. Universally respected and beloved.

Despite many reasons to believe he could succeed, however, Haden has managed to perpetually underwhelm.

He is a very smart individual, but it takes a lot more than intelligence to be a successful AD. One of the most important traits for that position is dedication. Even if the Clay Helton hire works out, it’s hard to defend how he was hired. Despite having an ample amount of time to find his new football coach since Steve Sarkisian was fired in October, Haden engineered an unimaginative, and frankly lazy, search over that span.

Instead of doing an extensive search like almost every other AD in the country, Haden has used shortcuts and committed multiple cardinal sins in the process.

Helton’s hire, even though Haden denied it, was largely due to a big win over UCLA and the support of the players. After defeating the Bruins, it was as if the memories of losing by 20 points the prior week simply vanished. And it’s not like Haden hasn’t used a small sample size before making an important coaching decision, like when he nabbed Florida Gulf Coast’s Andy Enfield following his two March Madness wins as a No. 15 seed.

Do you really think Haden hires Enfield if FGCU loses to Georgetown? Would Haden even know who Enfield was if that result happened? And yeah, I doubt Haden would have promoted Helton had the Trojans lost to the Bruins, which would have dropped his record this season to 4-3 with just one win by more than one possession.

Instead of doing an extensive search like almost every other AD in the country, he’s used shortcuts and committed multiple cardinal sins in the process. He’s hired a coach based on one March Madness run. He’s used players’ opinions as justification to hire a coach, despite the fact that they will all be gone in four years.

His hires have been reactionary, and it has shown.

Haden’s best hire so far has been USC baseball coach Dan Hubbs, who was given the job just a few days before the 2013 season began. Hubbs, who was the USC pitching coach before the announcement, was the replacement for the fired Frank Cruz.

Mar 3, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans athletic director Pat Haden at spring practice at Cromwell Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Cruz was fired for knowingly committing NCAA violations, which came fewer than two years after he was promoted as USC’s interim coach by, you guessed it, Haden despite having a losing record. So even for both of Haden’s baseball hires, including his top overall coaching decision, he didn’t look far at all before making his new choice.

The most maddening part about Haden is his failure to swing for the fences when having the opportunity to conduct a new coaching search. It’s this inexplicable philosophy that hinders USC football from reaching its true potential as the powerhouse of the West Coast.

One thing Haden has been good at during his tenure has been keeping USC in the news. That’s not a positive thing.

He’s fired three coaches (Sarkisian, Lane Kiffin and basketball coach Kevin O’Neill) in bizarre fashion in the middle of the season.

There have been multiple lawsuits under his watch. The Sarkisian lawsuit was preceded by a combination of a few of Haden’s bad decisions (hiring Sarkisian, keeping Sarkisian after the Spirit of Troy incident, the way he fired Sarkisian) coming back to bite him, and has delivered another blow of credibility to an athletic department that is on life support in that respect.

While USC athletics may be in a better position now than when Haden first took over for Mike Garrett, make no mistake, its reputation has never been lower than the national punchline it is today.

Yet, Pat Haden continues to get more opportunities to blow important decisions with the help of his yes-men advisors, and ultimately dig USC in a deeper hole. His reputation as a leader in collegiate athletics has been smeared nationally, except within USC, where he is seemingly invincible among the administration and his cronies.

When first hired, Haden was the white knight who was supposed to lead USC out of the NCAA-delivered darkness and back to prominence. Instead, he’s led the Trojans to another era of darkness, but this one filled with mediocrity. In a time without much positivity within USC athletics, the only certainty is that the rest of the country laughing at Troy after another one of Haden’s ill-advised decisions blows up in his face.

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But if Haden is truly the unselfish man that he appears to be, he needs to realize that the best-case future for his beloved Trojans no longer includes him in the picture. With no one else having the gall to push out USC’s former golden boy, Haden has to do it himself.

Haden waited to fire Kiffin, well beyond when it was painstakingly obvious that he was a perennial underachiever. Haden waited to fire Sarkisian, even after the first clear signs that Sark had a severe drinking problem. Both times, he embarrassed himself and the university in how and when he went about each dismissal.

Now with all of the evident signs that he is not the man for the job, Haden has the opportunity to make one of his smartest decisions during his time as AD. He should leave before Troy further crumbles, and not wait until he, and his beloved alma mater, can be humiliated one final time.