After USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett introduced the newest football coach, Garrett hastily stepped away from the lectern, made his way around the lake-sized table, worked his way through a bank of photographers, reporters and onlookers, and took a seat at the back of the room.
After more than two weeks as the head of the gang that couldn't recruit straight, he couldn't wait to get out of the spotlight. In his words and actions Friday, Garrett wanted to make it clear that this is Pete Carroll's show. Except Garrett's the one with his name above the title. He's the producer and director.
If everything works out, Garrett gets the Oscar. If it fails, Garrett could get the ax.
It's not merely about the school's image. It's about the coffers.
The overriding reason Paul Hackett had to go could be seen in the Coliseum stands this season. There was an abundance of empty seats, thousands and thousands of votes of no confidence. If coaches in the money-making sports can't give fans a reason to come to the games--reasons to believe in the program, get excited about it and want to experience it for themselves--then the school has no choice but to let them go. The economics demand it.
The same applies to Garrett. As successful as Garrett has been at fund-raising, nothing keeps the checks flowing like winning football seasons.
He can't afford to keep making mistakes with the school's centerpiece job. His error in the Hackett hire cost the university $800,000 to buy out the remainder of Hackett's contract.
This should have been a great week to be the athletic director at USC. The basketball team is undefeated and No. 13 in the Associated Press rankings. The women's volleyball team reached the NCAA final four. Workers on Friday were laying down rubber for the refurbished track near Heritage Hall. The school is still planning an on-campus arena.
Yet when television cameras showed Garrett in the stands for Thursday's basketball game against Pepperdine, he looked sleep-deprived. It was like one of the "after" pictures of a president following four years in office.
With Hackett gone, there was no other figure in the cross hairs besides Garrett. And as the search dragged on with rejections, ill-prepared contingency plans and last-minute wavering, the criticism mounted.
"I thought a lot of it was personal," Garrett said. "I thought it went beyond what one would normally do to analyze a search. As a matter of fact, ever since I've been athletic director, a lot of it's been personal--way beyond, I think, what a person would normally experience. But I realize that's my plight. I'm not going to complain about it, because I love being the athletic director here and I love the idea of making SC what it was before."
As much as Garrett and the administration dispute it, hiring a football coach and overseeing a successful program is more than just another part of the job at USC.
"The public says that and the media says that," Garrett said. "But as I talk to our alumni and I talk to our administration--football, no question, is the flagship, and I have to win in football--but if I won in football and didn't win in track and field and baseball, they would question that too."
There's plenty of evidence to the contrary. The eight national championship plaques for football on the Wall of Champions in Heritage Hall's Varsity Lounge are fewer than the 28 won by the track and field program, the 22 won in tennis (15 men's, seven women's), the 12 by baseball and the 10 by swimming (nine men's). Yet it's the football plaques that occupied the prime spot, planted in the middle like Shaquille O'Neal in the paint, directly behind the spot Garrett and Carroll stood to address the media.
Well, Carroll didn't exactly stand there. He kept pacing around while he talked, leaving the microphones, driving the TV and radio folks crazy.
But he came across well. This is the part he has down cold, and it's easy to imagine him winning over recruits. It was his personality, and all those sideline shots of him jumping around and hugging players while he was the defensive coordinator for the New York Jets that helped him become that team's head coach in 1994. It was his 6-10 record that made him the team's former coach after the season, and a reputation for running a loose, undisciplined squad in New England that got him fired after three years as head coach of the New England Patriots.
He also had the tough task of following Bill Parcells. It won't be as difficult to succeed Hackett, but it's clear that Carroll will get absolutely no grace period. I've never seen a coach's qualifications questioned so relentlessly at an introductory news conference.
And every time you see Carroll, you'll think of Garrett.
Eight months from now, we'll see whether this works. For the moment, Garrett is ready to turn his attention to other tasks.
"Right now I want to help Pete acclimate himself as fast as I can," Garrett said. "There's a basketball team I'm looking at. We're finishing our track stadium, and that's very important to us. We're doing fund-raising for the arena. There are ample things to look at right now. But after this press conference I can at least put picking the head coach behind me and start thinking about other business in the athletic department."
Yes, there is "other business" besides football. But if one of the athletic director's duties is to make the ledger sheets balance the right way, it's imperative that the football team wins games to generate cash.
Throughout this news conference there was a nagging feeling that it won't be too long before the next coach's news conference. And if that's the case, don't expect Garrett to be making the introductions.
J.A. Adande can be reached at his e-mail address: email@example.com.