Tough challenge, even tougher times for Haden

There have been a number of high notes for Pat Haden in his half-dozen years overseeing USC athletics but on balance, this has been a very tough ride for all sorts of reasons.

What a long, tough time this has to have been for Pat Haden.

For anyone overseeing the soap opera that USC athletics has been for the last three years, it must have seemed like three lifetimes. But for a person in uncertain health, it's hard to imagine the toll that has taken.

And of course, as Pres. Max Nikias' Friday statement announcing Pat's June 30 retirement, there have been so many positive moments as we noted in our column last week. Two new women's sports, 10 national titles, second only to Florida's 11, a recently resurgent basketball program, two 10-win football seasons and an improved academic/athletic performance are just a few. The athletes clearly love him as do his USC colleagues.

But now after his second serious health episode in the last four months causing him to go to the ground while working, requiring emergency medical help and hospitalization, Haden, 63, will receive a procedure to stabilize a condition that has required a pacemaker the past couple of years.

While no one at USC is saying officially, we are told that his heartbeat was extremely fast as Haden was being treated outside Heritage Hall Wednesday morning before emergency personnel took him to the Keck USC Medical Center. He'll get the procedure done Thursday morning and will be hospitalized for a day or two, we are told.

All of which recalls a similar episode in October before the Notre Dame game. And that called for a trip to an emergency room in South Bend and then a flight home on a private plane. The Notre Dame game was the first of seven in the final eight Haden would miss this past season.

And you can only imagine how tough that week was on the USC AD. On the Sunday before the Notre Dame game, Pat was at the basketball scrimmage at Galen Center when a drama was playing out across campus. The head football coach he'd hired almost two years earlier, Steve Sarkisian, was unable to make it in sober enough shape to conduct the first Notre Dame week practice.

We can still recall Pat's arrival after being called to football practice with the rest of the top athletic administrators. Clay Helton would be the interim coach, he decided before a hastily convened press conference. And the man Pat had allowed to return after his obviously impaired and profane Salute To Troy performance in August, was on suspension.

Now none of this is to assign blame or causality. Just to describe how tough a trip this has been for the man in charge of USC athletics.

As it turned out, Sark's suspension was for just a day. And then Pat fired his coach, the second midseason firing he'd had to perform in two years, something no AD anywhere may have ever had to do. And then came Notre Dame four days later and all the alumni/fundraising duties in Chicago. And the high pressure game under the weirdest of circumstances against the Top 10 Irish -- the program where Pat was the national TV analyst for years.

Two weeks later, Pat would resign from the College Football Playoff Selection Committee in his second season. It had been pretty much of a grueling ordeal, as it turned out, with all those more than two-day trips to Dallas carrying that brief bag full of college football info. Not a lot of fun when you saw Pat lugging that big bag around heading off campus.

But it wasn't just the last few months. It's really been three difficult years going back to the Sun Bowl debacle when Lane Kiffin and his Trojan team performed about as badly as a team could -- on and off the field and in the runup to the ugly loss to Georgia Tech preceded by a dive by Lane before the game and the Trojans during it with an ugly locker room scuffle to top it off.

But as with Sark after Salute To Troy this season, Lane somehow survived -- for five more games. And then there was the bizarre late-night firing in an LAX waiting area after Pat and Nikias had a public in-game one-on-one conference on the USC sideline during the second half of the Arizona State loss.

How difficult must that have been? Worse than the Sun Bowl? Hard to say. But not easy. Then along came the 6-2 reign of interim coach Ed Orgeron with a win over a No. 3 Stanford team that offered maybe the most joyous single moment in Pat's tenure with a rare postgame storming-the-field celebration seldom seen at the Coliseum.

But it wouldn't last. After a season-ending loss to UCLA, Orgeron was gone in an emotional departure with players crying and screaming and Pat shaken at the outcome. The announcement of the Sark hire had been greeted with underwhelming response at best. Pat wasn't ready for this

Nothing ever seemed to come easy. Not even Sark's first big win, another upset of Stanford -- this time on the road -- saw Pat fined $25,000 by the Pac-12 for coming down to the field from his box to intercede with the officials for Sark who was occupied calling plays.

Again, probably not the way Pat wanted that to turn out as the episode made national headlines -- as most USC stories do.

But that was nothing when compared to the start of the 2015 season and the scene that played out in front of 2,500 friends, fans, families and football players. Somehow Sark, who has filed a lawsuit against USC and Haden for the firing, had gotten on stage at Salute To Troy in a condition where it should have been clear he should have never been allowed anywhere near a microphone.

And the efforts of USC administrators to lure him off the stage were in vain until after the damage had been done. And the video had gone viral.

The criticism has been a constant. Why no fight against the NCAA -- or why not just make the case for USC? Was that fair? Was that on Pat? It almost doesn't matter. The criticism has been unceasing, especially when the NCAA's duplicity would later be made public thanks to the Todd McNair lawsuit, where the level of the NCAA Committee on Infractions' dishonesty would first be revealed just weeks before the Sun Bowl.

For some, that would have been a good moment. And it was -- for some. An LA Superior Court judge had read the limited discovery and emails and decided there was a good chance McNair would prevail in his lawsuit contending that the NCAA had defamed and scapegoated him.

And during a time when a preseason No. 1 USC was on the way to losing five of its final six games for an unprecedented plunge from first to out of the rankings, it was just one more tough moment for Haden.

His competitive spirit had carried the feisty, undersized quarterback to a national title at USC, a Rhodes scholarship, a six-year NFL career with the Rams, a law degree and a seriously successful and lucrative partnership in a private equity firm while serving on the USC Board of Trustees.

But even the boards he served on came under attack in an LA Times story exploring the time required and the money made from Pat's many board obligations. That came after the paper had published a story the day Sark was fired detailing what was known about his drinking while at the University of Washington.

At least basketball has been going well this third season for a man Haden had hired, Andy Enfield, and the 18-5 Trojans, ranked 23rd this week and unbeaten at home where, unlike for football, Pat is a courtside regular.

But it's football that matters the most here. And the jury is obviously still out on the naming of Helton, elevated to head coach after the UCLA game.

Even the $270 million Coliseum renovation plan, which Pat has been named to lead starting July 1 after his June retirement, didn't get a unanimously positive response on its recent announcement. Dropping the capacity of the Coliseum from 93,000 to 77,500 seems to be the big hangup for critics.

Like almost everything else about USC football recently, this hasn't been a walk in the park for Haden, whose 2010 charge was to help USC navigate the NCAA's outrageously unfounded sanctions.

And as a result of the McNair lawsuit, after more than a dozen years since the first charges under investigation, the NCAA debate resonates daily for the man in the big Heritage Hall office.

And it's not going away even if Pat Haden will be.

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