Faces of a new era: Pat Haden
Posted August 17, 2010 at 7:18 pm in Sports
Imagine selling businesses that have net profits upwards of $100 million. Pat Haden, USCâs new athletic director, did just that for 23 years. But as of Aug. 3, he put away his investment portfolio and grabbed a clipboard.
Haden left a cushy high-rise equipped with secretaries, plasma screens and leather bound books with a view of hometown rival UCLA for another cushy office at USC â but one with a lot more clutter on its desk.
When President C.L. Max Nikias took office, he brought Haden, a former Trojan quarterback two-time academic All-American and Rhodes Scholar, on to fill one of the highest-profile positions in college athletics.
In a series of recent upheavals by USCâs administration, Haden replaced Mike Garrett, former USC running back, Heisman winner and athletic director of the last 17 years. Hadenâs hire was a move that happened very quickly, yet was not without much deliberation.
âI had heard the rumor, time and time again,â said Chris Lewis, Hadenâs partner in the private equity firm Riordan, Lewis & Haden. âBut I wasnât surprised that USC wanted him. I was surprised that heâd do it.â
Haden said he also surprised himself when he took the job. He rejected the offer a few times but after some careful thought, he liked the idea of a different kind of challenge than finance, a field heâs been in for much of his career.
âThere are a lot of good people that do have [athletic administrative] experience, but this university is in some respects a business, and he has that experience covered,â said John McKay, Jr., USCâs new associate athletic director.
Experience will be key for Haden. As athletic director, Haden assumes the reigns of a department shackled with sanctions from the NCAA, which said the university had âa lack of institutional controlâ over its athletic programs after concluding a four-year investigation in June. The menâs basketball and womenâs tennis teams self-imposed penalties on themselves before the ruling and face no additional punishment, but the NCAA came down hard on the football program, primarily because of improper benefits received by former Trojan great Reggie Bush. The team lost 30 scholarships over the next three years and cannot compete in bowl games for the next two seasons.
The university is appealing the decision and hopes the second year ban will be lifted, McKay said.
McKay, who played with Haden on the football team, said he believes the athletic director sets the tone for the department, and Hadenâs tone reiterated that of compliance.
âWinning is important to me, but winning ethically is a little more important,â Haden said.
Those around Haden, who is most recently known as a NBC commentator for Notre Dame football, said he should have no problem governing by compliance as his integrity stands out above any other quality.
âPat will bring instant credibility,â Lewis said. âPeople will say, âHereâs a guy that will follow the rules,â and there wonât be any question about it.â
Haden has always been about rules. He received his law degree at Loyola Law School in 1982, after playing for the Los Angeles Rams from 1976 to 1981. A few years later, he met former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, who asked Haden to be a member of his law firm. Within the spans of a few years, Haden went from NFL quarterback to a law degree-holding member of a prominent law firm.
âHeâs always had a lot of irons in the fire,â Lewis said.
Haden never thought one of those irons would lead him to the athletic director at his alma mater, but now that heâs here, he said he believes his leadership skills will help bring the athletic department up to speed.
âI told the direct staff that reports to me, âHey, Iâm new at this, but you need to let me know what your goals are, and I will do my best to help you get there,ââ he said.
Despite his inexperience in athletic administration, Haden didnât wait long to digest some of those goals and make his first major move.
Just more than a week into the job, Haden fired head baseball coach Chad Kreuter. His 111-117 (.487) overall record was subpar in Hadenâs eyes.
âChadâs a fine man, but at the end of the day, we didnât win. We were last place in the Pac-10 [in 2010],â Haden said. âChad had four years to turn it around, and he didnât. Our baseball heritage is so strong; we won all four years when I was here. I grew up with our baseball being the best in the country.â
The Trojan baseball program has won 12 baseball national championships, twice that of any other university.
It just so happens that interim baseball coach Frank Cruz has served on the NCAA baseball rules committee for four years. But Haden insists that notch on Cruzâs rĂ©sumĂ© had nothing to do with his promotion.
âIt wasnât an afterthought, a pre-thought or a thought period,â Haden said. âFrank Cruz was the right man for the job at this point in the year.â
Hadenâs baseball move reflects his dedication to increasing the focus on and support of sports that donât have the same national recognition as football and basketball.
âI donât want any athlete around here to think theyâre second-class citizens to football,â Haden said. âThatâs not the case at all.â
Immediate goals Haden has for student-athletes include providing a more fulfilling, wholesome and most of all, legal college experience.
âI donât want to see our athletes locked up in Heritage Hall. I want to see our athletes at concerts, at plays,â Haden said.
Haden, who graduated magna cum laude from USC, said he plans to focus on closing the GPA and graduation gap between the general student population and student athletes.
But that doesnât mean that Haden is just going to abandon putting a successful product on the field.
Although Haden said every meeting he starts with compliance, he doesnât want a âcompliance cultureâ to prevent athletics from flourishing.
âWe must do what we have to do without dampening the competitive spirit. You donât want to be so compliant that all youâre doing is saying ânoâ to everything,â Haden said.
In order to be successful while staying within the lines, Haden is urging coaches to be selective in their recruiting.
âLane Kiffin has to be really selective about the kind of kids he brings in; all the coaches need to be continually vigilant about our recruiting of quality kids,â he said.
He said he hopes the dark cloud on USC will one day evaporate, but realizes a lot rides on his shoulders.
âAt the end of the day Iâm going to be judged by graduating rates, winning championships and staying out of NCAA trouble,â he said.
Staying out of NCAA trouble will arguably be the toughest task. But removing Reggie Bushâs Heisman Trophy from Heritage Hall helped send a message, Haden said.
âWhile we want great athletes like Reggie Bush to come here, weâre going to win the right way,â Haden said. âWeâre going to do our best not to allow our players to be corrupted.â
Hadenâs longstanding reputation in the community of Los Angeles aims to bring a better image to the school, McKay said. Any future actions of the USC athletic department rest on this new administrationâs reputation.
âWeâve been through these [tough times] before, and like a phoenix, we will always rise,â Haden said.