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'Very Disappointed,' Hackett Gets the Ax

November 28, 2000|LARRY STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Paul Hackett's day began early. He was on the USC campus by 6:45 a.m. Monday and shortly after that the USC football coach told his staff he had been fired.

A few hours later, Hackett met with reporters in an office at Heritage Hall and said he had discussed his departure with Athletic Director Mike Garrett in meetings Sunday night and Monday.

"For someone who has given three years of his life and for the last six months hasn't slept or eaten, I'm very disappointed," Hackett said. "I'm disappointed we don't get a chance to continue this and complete this. I felt things were headed in the right direction.

"There's no question we took our lumps this year. In the time allotted, we didn't get a chance to make the kind of progress Mike Garrett wanted. I'm sure he'll do the right thing for the university."

Hackett said he was clearly not given enough time.

"In two years, I expect to see this team explode," he said.

He said he doesn't regret touting great things for this year's team, which ended up tied for last in the Pacific 10 Conference standings.

"I'm always going to take the high road and be positive," he said. "That's just me."

Garrett, in a separate meeting with reporters, said the outcome of the Notre Dame game did not influence his decision to fire Hackett, that his mind was made up. He did not say exactly when he decided to make a coaching change.

"Kids weren't progressing, weren't developing," he said. "All of us have gone through a lot of pain, a lot of suffering. When we don't beat people, it's painful."

Garrett praised Hackett as a good human being and said, "Paul has left the cupboards totally full. He did some nice things for USC."

Garrett said a search for Hackett's successor would begin immediately.

"Right now, I'm looking for the best coach," Garrett said. "I'm not excluding anyone."

He said he has already gotten some calls but that he has not talked to anyone.

He said he would ask the new coach to give job interviews to all of Hackett's assistants.

Hackett got a $800,000 buyout for the remaining two years on his contract, and his assistants will be paid through the remainder of their contracts.

After giving the news to his staff, Hackett met with assistant athletic director Jim Perry to discuss how the official announcement would be handled.

Instead of holding a traditional news conference, it was decided that Hackett would have an informal meeting with newspaper reporters, then those reporters would be invited into Garrett's office for a separate session.

Cushy office chairs were jammed into the office where Hackett met with about 20 reporters.

"Where's the executioner's chair?" Hackett commented as he entered the room amid uncomfortable laughter.

Hackett later avoided the TV cameras that were set up outside Heritage Hall. When he was spotted a few hundred yards away, TV crews made a mad dash, but it was fruitless. Hackett, who had been more than cordial with print media, waved the broadcast media away.

Hackett had told Perry earlier he would only meet with the print media. Garrett did one-on-one interviews with broadcasters.

Sports information director Tim Tessalone was in a Torrance hospital after suffering a punctured lung and broken ribs in an outfield collision during an over-the-line game Thanksgiving Day. Tessalone, expected to be released from the hospital today, was in phone contact with Perry in planning USC's rather unusual way of making the announcement.

It was a far cry from the way things went when John Robinson was fired Dec. 17, 1997. That day, USC held a traditional news conference with Garrett and USC President Steven Sample, while Robinson held his own news conference at a downtown hotel.

Robinson said Monday he wasn't surprised by the Hackett firing. "It doesn't take you long in this business to realize coaching is a temporary position," said the Nevada Las Vegas coach. "Whenever a program has a problem, and I'm talking in general terms, it fires the coach.

"I think what was more stunning is that Arizona State fired Bruce Snyder. He's one of the best coaches in the Pac-10. So is Dick Tomey [who abruptly resigned as Arizona's coach].

"When you look at the Pac-10, USC hasn't invested in its program the way Washington and the two Oregon schools have."

Former USC quarterback Pat Haden said, "Paul is a good man and a good coach, but this is the business."

Longtime USC broadcaster Tom Kelly said, "Hackett didn't ask his best players to fumble the ball. There's a lot of blame to go around."

The USC players, who will meet with Hackett today, reacted to his firing with sadness.

"I feel bad not only for Coach Hackett, but the other coaches and their families, whose future is questionable," senior quarterback Mike Van Raaphorst said.

"The thing I'll remember most about Coach Hackett was how he was able to handle all the adversity around him. He took it all on his shoulders. It was a lesson for the rest of us."

Sophomore fullback Chad Pierson said the team let Hackett down.

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