Sarkisian hire should be investigated internally

On Tuesday, Pat Haden gave a press conference in which he defended the hire of former head football coach Steve Sarkisian.

“He was vetted. You can disagree with the vetting, but he was vetted,” Haden said.

The conference came after many called for Haden’s job in light of Sarkisian’s firing and rumored alcohol problems. It appears that for now Haden’s job is secure. Shortly before the conference, President C. L. Max Nikias released a statement supporting the athletic director. “I look forward to working with Pat Haden as our USC AD for many years to come,” Nikias said.

Though in his five years at USC Haden has overseen successes — some of which he highlighted during the press conference — such a misstep as the Sarkisian hire requires at least an internal review of the hiring and vetting process of high-profile figures at USC, as well as of the decision to keep Sarkisian on after he was intoxicated at the Salute to Troy booster event.

With Sarkisian’s termination and his history of alcohol abuse coming to light, there are questions that need to be answered. Was Haden aware of Sarkisian’s drinking habits? If so, why was Sarkisian still brought on board? If he was not aware, why was the vetting process not more thorough? Haden failed to properly oversee the hiring process and allowed a glaring attribute of a potential coach fall through the cracks.

A Los Angeles Times investigation into his time at the University of Washington indicates the coach has a history of heavy drinking. On one trip, Sarkisian and three other coaches bought eight shots and five beers before noon. On another, Sarkisian ordered a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne and six beers to his hotel room.

Yes, the L.A. Times reporters are professional journalists, trained and experienced in this, but if the newspaper  could dig this up in the weeks since the Salute to Troy event, then the Athletics Department should have been able to in the months they had to choose and vet a new coach.

Haden said he spoke to “dozens of people,” none of whom raised any concerns. But, in light of new evidence, this is a little difficult to believe. Perhaps, no one wanted to cast Sarkisian in a bad light or knew that there might be a serious issue. Or, perhaps, Haden and the department didn’t look hard enough.

However, even if Haden had somehow missed any indications of alcohol troubles before the hire, the Salute to Troy must have served as a wake up call for him as it did for the public.

“[After Salute for Troy], based on the input of trusted of medical professionals and staff, it was determined that he could continue coaching while seeking treatment,” Haden said. “I felt a great deal of compassion for Steve Sarkisian. He deserved another chance. That’s what I gave him.”

But this wasn’t an issue of second chances. This was an issue of helping a potentially very seriously troubled man get the help he needs. Haden’s decision was irresponsible — both for the football team — especially for the student-athletes — but also for Sarkisian himself.

This seems more than anything to be a case of wishful thinking. Wishful thinking that Sarkisian was fine, that the Salute to Troy event was just a onetime occurrence, that no one was in danger.

But in refusing to confront reality, Haden and co. not only obliterated USC’s chances for a successful season, they also played a dangerous game in risking a man’s health.

Being the head football coach at USC is no easy task. In addition to being at the helm of a storied legacy, the coach also is responsible for whether millions of dollars in alumni donations flow into the school each year. That kind of pressure can be a lot for anyone, let alone someone with a potential health condition. Letting Sarkisian continue coaching was completely irresponsible.

This incident is not something Nikias can just sweep under the rug. Though there might be something noble about him standing by his athletic director, allowing Haden, and the department as a whole, to escape unscathed indicates that the president does not take this seriously enough. An internal, but publicly acknowledged, review of the decision will at least prove the administration intends to do its due diligence and help ensure that, in the future, character and well-being are considered in these hires.

Daily Trojan Fall 2015 Editorial Board

6 replies
  1. Ralphie
    Ralphie says:

    Pat Haden is a liability to the football team and school. I cannot imagine a competent, self-respecting coach will be excited about working for Pat Haden knowing what has transpired within the last 5 years. [Hearing about Chris Petersen interview, I’m not sure Pat Haden knows what he should be looking for.]

    If Nikias cannot part ways with Haden, Haden’s best move would be to name Clay Helton the permanent head coach as soon as possible, and get out of his way. (Matter of fact, stay out of any stadium where Trojans play.)

  2. PVTrojan
    PVTrojan says:

    Wait so one bottle of champagne and six beers (on separate checks) means the guy has an alcohol problem that Haden should have seen coming from miles away? Sark can’t possibly be sharing these drinks with other people, right? Or how, on one of the receipts in question, Sarkisian was buying drinks for other people, unless he really, really likes Baja Chicken sandwiches and Salmon BLT’s and that entire tab was for himself, in which case we’re talking about an incredibly corpulent man who died of alcohol poisoning.

    I just don’t understand how the media can take so much circumstantial evidence and then decide on its own merits and arbitrary criteria of what constitutes alcoholism to speculate that Pat Haden improperly vetted a candidate. I’m not saying Pat Haden’s a saint, but be careful when you talk ill of someone who took a pay cut to put out what was a dumpster fire with the Pete Carroll debacle. Pat Haden took a pay cut to take on perhaps the most thankless job in sports, and now people are demanding his ouster because “boo hoo we’re not winning Natties anymore.”

    To think that Haden has to deal with boosters, the President (who himself probably has a significant fundraising agenda as a partial stakeholder) and a media and fanbase that constantly second-guesses all of his decisions and still manages to run a serious program is a miracle in itself.

    If you want to blame anyone, blame impatient boosters and a spoiled fanbase that thinks it’s entitled to national title expectations on account of past successes. Blame every fair-weathered fan who doesn’t know the game that starts a chant calling for a coach’s job when that guy’s doing his best to preserve a thin roster that’s been further depleted due to injury by running bubble screens, stretches and powers to make the game clock run down faster. In short, go blame yourselves.

    Prior to Carroll, our last national title was in 1978. Does a quarter century between titles sound like a blue blooded “win now” culture to you? Get over yourselves and stop being so damned arrogant. This isn’t the Pete Carroll era anymore, and it’s time we start getting back to translating the talent we have into a title contender instead of always calling for the next guy’s head on a plate.

  3. IMHO
    IMHO says:

    Quit talking about Sark’s alleged alcoholism. He was fired for being an awful head coach and going 12-6. He was Lane Kiffin part 2.

    Both were awful hires.

  4. hawaiiguy
    hawaiiguy says:

    My top 5 issues with Pat Haden
    1. Initial news conference, I am hear to ease USC through the sanctions. Has done anything but ease us through.
    2. After Judge Shallers review of facts regarding NCAA’s vicious illegal and subjective findings Haden chose to be on the NCAA’s rules committee implying USC was in the wrong!
    3. When Kiffins head was being called for after the ridiculous #1 pre season ranking and subsequent reality of playing a football schedule with 50-60 players, he ignored all the safety warnings of asking amateur kids to play dangerously more snaps than should be allowed.
    4. When the Arizona St game fell apart in the second half, the whole nation could see our amateur kids were simply gassed yet valiantly Fought On. Hadens reaction was to meet one of the most high profile coaches in the nation at an airport terminal to fire him in front of his players. Then refuse to allow him to ride back to campus with his players. Weakest move in history of AD, until he couldn’t even face Sarkisian like a man a tell him he was fired face to face!

    This is not a leader, this is a scared little boy riding the coattails of his ties to USC, every Trojan who ever played for us should be shaking their heads, and demanding HIS job!

    • waytoocool1999
      waytoocool1999 says:

      You forgot him coming down onto the field. That was embarrassing. But Haden has done such a great job outside of football… that’s mens basketball program… and baseball program…

      • HankC
        HankC says:

        waytoocool, I hope you had tongue-in-cheek with that last remark. Ha!

        But, even so, Pat is an honorable guy. His early order was to ease the Bush/Mayo incidents with the NCAA. He could have been the right guy, but it just turned out he didn’t have the b***s to deal with it adequately. And while the griddle was still hot, he brought in Kiffen. Kiffen in many, many respects was a lousy choice, not the least of which was the cumbersome baggage he brought that the NCAA did not like.

        Well, Pat’s 62, a good retirement age. Go home, enjoy the family and the football and academic awards you achieved here and abroad. Unfortunately we’ve proven twice (Mike and Pat) that a USC football star doesn’t necessarily become a star A.D.

        And as to Max, if he doesn’t handle this one, as it doesn’t seem he plans to do, he’s close to a ripe retirement age too. Alumni are getting a little tired when they start referring to him as the “photo app prez”.

        As an aside, there’s talk in town about Josh McDaniels as a possible head coach. Jeez, that’s one guy we don’t even want close to town, let alone the campus. Please dismiss that one!

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