Every Trojan has to wish Pat Haden well on this day we all knew was coming even if we didn't know exactly when. We certainly do feel that way.
The man with a smile and a quick joke and an extended hand will be missed in Heritage Hall just as he was the last half of the season at football games since Pat's October sideline collapse before the Notre Dame game.
Pres. Max Nikias made it official Friday with letters to alumni and a memo to the USC staff that Pat will step down from the athletic director's job June 30 and transition to a final year at USC overseeing the Coliseum renovation through the end of June, 2017.
The nearly six-year term Pat will have headed USC athletics -- the exact same period that Max has headed the University -- is probably longer than Pat anticipated that first day, August 3, 2010, when the private equity company partner and well-connected Board of Trustees member moved into Heritage Hall.
The former Trojan and Rams quarterback who earned a Rhodes Scholarship and a law degree and would become the highest-paid athletics director in the nation at $2.5 million a year had said then he would see USC through the beyond-the-pale NCAA sanctions at the time.
Little did anyone know that ugly NCAA saga would define Pat's term the way it did. Getting USC right with the NCAA seemed his primary charge coming in. And it's one Nikias salutes him for today.
But Nikias praises Pat for much more than handling the NCAA issues. The $400 million Pat is credited with raising finished off the state-of-the-art McKay Center, refurbished Heritage Hall with an athletic museum to boot and added the world-class Uytengsu Center swim stadium.
And unlike when other programs suffered similar NCAA takedowns, USC didn't take a nosedive, finishing with the third-best football record in the Pac-12 over this time frame. Here's how Max expresses his gratitude.
"Pat has pursued long-term goals without sacrificing the near-term goals of the Trojans being as competitive as possible in every arena," Nikias writes. "Over the past five years, USC teams have won 10 national championships, a figure exceeded only by the University of Florida’s 11 during that same period. We also have celebrated four Honda Sports Award winners, 32 individual national championships, 274 All-American first-team selections, three Crosstown Cup trophies, and 25 medals by Trojan athletes at the London Olympics. Our men and women basketball teams have been gradually rebuilt into exciting programs that have gained national attention.
"Pat introduced two new sports for women—lacrosse and beach volleyball—to USC’s athletics constellation, and both rapidly achieved excellence. The former earned an NCAA berth in only its third year of existence, and the latter won national championships this year in both teams and pairs competition."
Nikias also notes how "Pat integrated the athletic department more completely into the life of the larger university" when it comes to "USC’s spectacular array of cultural, social, and outside-the-classroom learning experiences. And "also integrated Trojan Athletics more fully into the life of USC’s surrounding neighborhoods" with an endowment to support community service that has "virtually all USC athletes now volunteering their time for such service."
As much as that's a tribute to Pat's leadership, it's also a tribute to the athletes and coaches who have made USC such a special place through the years. Although that doesn't include the 30 potential USC football scholarship awardees the NCAA outrageously took from the University.
And it's a mixed record at best for Pat when it came to making the right choices about whom to hire, and when to fire, in the flagship sport of football. At least Andy Enfield's success has turned around the men's basketball from a big negative into a large positive this season.
But as a result of the Todd McNair lawsuit, that getting-right-with-the-NCAA scenario hasn't played out the way most in the USC hierarchy imagined it would. They thought the onus was on a scofflaw USC to start "winning the right way" and do the right thing the way the NCAA's law enforcers said USC must.
Now we see it was the other way around. A lawless NCAA was making an example of USC for winning too much in football and having too much fun doing so. And the McNair lawsuit, six years later, is holding the NCAA's feet to the fire.
Of course the case can be made that Pat was just doing what USC wanted him to -- as he was. The President and the Board of Trustees had no interest in fighting the NCAA or holding its feet to the fire when they got the chance the way other institutions with far more serious charges successfully managed to do like Ohio State, Penn State, Oregon, Miami and North Carolina had.
Private school and upwardly-bound-academically USC had an unprecedented $6 billion fundraising campaign on the line. And no matter what LA Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller discovered in his reading of the NCAA's unlawful actions in taking USC down by taking former assistant coach McNair down, USC wasn't interested once it lost the NCAA appeal.
And yes, we do believe the word from Heritage Hall that there were multiple times a guilty-conscience NCAA agreed to give-backs in negotiations with Pat only to renege on the deal. And that's the puzzling part.
Why a person with Pat's "distinct blend of integrity, energy, wisdom, and character," as Nikias describes him, could not have made that case in a public way for a USC so maligned by the NCAA's actions is the question we may never be able to answer. Pat would have been the perfect spokesman for USC and against the NCAA's despicable practices in the USC case.
Nikias writes however that "During a time in which intercollegiate athletics has been undergoing unpredictable transformation at a national level, Pat developed and executed a blueprint for how athletics and academics can reinforce one another at an academically elite private research university with a public-minded mission. Working with Dave Roberts, vice president of athletics compliance, Pat has created a model for NCAA compliance at a top intercollegiate athletics program, especially one such as ours, which operates under the brightest of spotlights. Together, they have strengthened compliance during one of the most volatile and high-stakes periods in Trojan Athletics’ history."
But when history writes the final chapter here, it will be the NCAA that had a "lack of institutional control" and required being brought into "compliance," not USC after NCAA penalties that even Nikias describes now as having "disproportionate severity . . . on Trojan football, which Pat inherited on his first day as athletic director."
And that will be a major part of the legacy. Handling the NCAA -- both the good and the bad. Some will say that's an unfair tag to hang on Pat here, that no one has ever been sand-bagged by the NCAA the way USC was. Who could have possibly known what lurked in the hearts of the NCAA insiders, two of whom have quietly dropped off the Committee on Infractions as the McNair spotlight closes in.
And now as everyone wishes Pat well in the Coliseum renovation/fundraising job ahead of him and in his final five months as USC AD, we note Nikias' promise that he'll be working with the Brill Neumann executive search firm in a "national" effort to find USC's next athletic director.
As with so much that USC has done through this period, it gives one pause at the last time USC was said to have consulted a similar firm and came up with Steve Sarkisian, who is now suing the University after his midseason firing after a substance abuse issue that appears to have been well-known at his previous place of employment.
In a bid to open this up, Nikias asks for any nominations to be forwarded to the Brill Neumann USC AD job link.
Go for it, we say. Couldn't hurt.
And we also endorse Max's sentiment in asking all "to join me in thanking Pat Haden for his service as athletic director and his commitment to spend the following year dedicated to the fundraising initiative for the restoration of our beloved Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum."
We do endorse that thought as well.
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