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Fame Leads to Infamy in USC Scandal

Jul 21, 2010 – 8:00 AM
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Lonnie White

Lonnie White %BloggerTitle%

Mike Garrett out as USC's athletic director, replaced by Pat HadenLOS ANGELES -- Tainted, tarnished and stained.

Three biting words used to describe the state of USC's athletic department after longtime director Mike Garrett was forced out in favor of Pat Haden on Tuesday.

For Garrett's long line of critics, who often described him as testy and arrogant, his removal felt like a celebratory holiday. After years of pointing out Garrett's shortcomings, his detractors finally got their man and to them, it was a move that should have been made a long time ago.

The final blow for Garrett came last month when USC was hammered by the NCAA following a lengthy investigation into the Trojans' athletic department, highlighted by alleged illegal benefits received by celebrity athletes Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo.

USC ended up being placed on four years of probation, which included a two-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions for the football program. The basketball program, which already had been under self-imposed probation, was also penalized.

The bottom line from the NCAA sanctions? The answer is plain and simple. Garrett and the Trojans' athletic programs should have done a better job preventing players like Bush and Mayo from receiving illegal benefits when they played for school.

When incoming school president Max Nikias got Haden to agree to replace Garrett, USC took a major step in rebuilding its athletic department image. No one can argue against Haden, a former star quarterback for the Trojans in the 1970s, being a qualified and popular choice.

But Haden, a former Rhodes Scholar who has worked as a venture capitalist following a six-year NFL career, understands the challenge in front of him.

"We want to compete ferociously and win in every sport, but we want to do it ethically and within the rules," Haden told reporters at USC on Tuesday. "We're going to have a culture of compliance around here. Every meeting is going to start with the No. 1 item as compliance. ... We're going to try to be perfect. When we make mistakes, we're going to fess up, and we're going to try to do better next time."

Nikias, who replaced Steven Sample, said Haden will not officially start his new job until Aug. 3. But the changeover around Heritage Hall (home of USC's athletic department) has already begun.

In keeping up with the NCAA's rulings, every connection with Bush and Mayo has been removed from Heritage Hall, including a replica of Bush's Heisman Trophy and his No. 5 jersey.

But Garrett's No. 20 jersey remains. And it should.

There's never been a Trojan more loyal to USC than Garrett, who became the school's first Heisman Trophy winner in 1965.

As a local East Los Angeles product, Garrett's success on the field helped open the door for a "who's who" list of running backs for the Trojans. From O.J. Simpson, Clarence Davis and Anthony Davis to Ricky Bell, Charles White and Marcus Allen, USC produced one All-American tailback after another and they all came after Garrett.

But for whatever reason, Garrett was never beloved by the Trojan Family.

There was a time when I played for the Trojans in the 1980s when Garrett volunteered to help coach USC's running backs. Ted Tollner was the head coach and although the players on the team were excited to have Garrett around, the fit did not stick and Garrett was gone before anyone knew he was coaching.

In 1990, Garrett returned but this time as an assistant in the athletic department where he worked under Mike McGee. For three years, Garrett weaved his way inside Heritage Hall and when McGee stepped down, he was hired as A.D. over George Raveling.

It was 1993 and being USC's A.D. was considered anything but a dream job. The Trojans' football program was trying to regain its mojo under John Robinson, who was starting his second stint as coach.

Although Robinson led USC to three consecutive bowl wins, things began to sour after the Trojans attracted NCAA attention for dealings with Keyshawn Johnson and Delon Washington.

Garrett did not hesitate to take action once USC began to struggle under Robinson and he was harshly criticized for delivering his decision over an answering machine message.

That was after the 1997 season. Garrett's next football hire, Paul Hackett, did not fare much better and he was let go before the 2001 season began.

Although Garrett struggled to find the right football coach, he was getting the job done behind the scenes. USC's graduation rates for student-athletes soared above the national curve and with Garrett finding a variety of ways to increase revenue, the school was able to finally start plans for an on-campus state-of-the-art arena.

Things really took off for Garrett once Pete Carroll arrived. Even though Carroll wasn't exactly a popular choice and was regarded as Garrett's backup pick, USC excelled under Carroll.

The Trojans won back-to-back national championships and USC football once again became a major player in the athletic world. With Garrett taking a backseat role, Carroll helped turn the Trojans into a hot program for recruits throughout the country.

This openness and willingness to accept celebrity turned out to be USC and Garrett's downfall.
Filed under: Sports