Imagine selling businesses that have net profits upwards of $100 million. Pat Haden, USC’s 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 — 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 USC’s administration, Haden replaced Mike Garrett, former USC running back, Heisman winner and athletic director of the last 17 years. Haden’s hire was a move that happened very quickly, yet was not without much deliberation.
“I had heard the rumor, time and time again,” said Chris Lewis, Haden’s partner in the private equity firm Riordan, Lewis & Haden. “But I wasn’t surprised that USC wanted him. I was surprised that he’d do it.”
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 he’s been in for much of his career.
“There 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,” said John McKay, Jr., USC’s 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 “a lack of institutional control” over its athletic programs after concluding a four-year investigation in June. The men’s basketball and women’s 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 Haden’s tone reiterated that of compliance.
“Winning is important to me, but winning ethically is a little more important,” 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.
“Pat will bring instant credibility,” Lewis said. “People will say, ‘Here’s a guy that will follow the rules,’ and there won’t be any question about it.”
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.
“He’s always had a lot of irons in the fire,” Lewis said.
Haden never thought one of those irons would lead him to the athletic director at his alma mater, but now that he’s here, he said he believes his leadership skills will help bring the athletic department up to speed.
“I told the direct staff that reports to me, ‘Hey, I’m 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,’” he said.
Despite his inexperience in athletic administration, Haden didn’t 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 Haden’s eyes.
“Chad’s a fine man, but at the end of the day, we didn’t win. We were last place in the Pac-10 [in 2010],” Haden said. “Chad had four years to turn it around, and he didn’t. 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.”
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 Cruz’s résumé had nothing to do with his promotion.
“It wasn’t an afterthought, a pre-thought or a thought period,” Haden said. “Frank Cruz was the right man for the job at this point in the year.”
Haden’s baseball move reflects his dedication to increasing the focus on and support of sports that don’t have the same national recognition as football and basketball.
“I don’t want any athlete around here to think they’re second-class citizens to football,” Haden said. “That’s not the case at all.”
Immediate goals Haden has for student-athletes include providing a more fulfilling, wholesome and most of all, legal college experience.
“I don’t want to see our athletes locked up in Heritage Hall. I want to see our athletes at concerts, at plays,” 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 doesn’t 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 doesn’t want a “compliance culture” to prevent athletics from flourishing.
“We must do what we have to do without dampening the competitive spirit. You don’t want to be so compliant that all you’re doing is saying ‘no’ to everything,” Haden said.
In order to be successful while staying within the lines, Haden is urging coaches to be selective in their recruiting.
“Lane 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,” he said.
He said he hopes the dark cloud on USC will one day evaporate, but realizes a lot rides on his shoulders.
“At the end of the day I’m going to be judged by graduating rates, winning championships and staying out of NCAA trouble,” he said.
Staying out of NCAA trouble will arguably be the toughest task. But removing Reggie Bush’s Heisman Trophy from Heritage Hall helped send a message, Haden said.
“While we want great athletes like Reggie Bush to come here, we’re going to win the right way,” Haden said. “We’re going to do our best not to allow our players to be corrupted.”
Haden’s 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 administration’s reputation.
“We’ve been through these [tough times] before, and like a phoenix, we will always rise,” Haden said.