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BILL PLASCHKE

USC's lack of leadership during hard times is revealing

University President Steven B. Sample and Athletic Director Mike Garrett are doing little to quell the chaos surrounding the athletic program, which intensified with Floyd's resignation.

June 11, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

Finally, USC speaks!

Actually, no, the university on Wednesday again refused to discuss the public disintegration of one of its marquee assets -- the blowing up of the men's basketball program -- but I dug up a quote anyway.

The following is an excerpt from President Steven B. Sample's annual address to the faculty, delivered Feb. 10, 2009:

"I have learned that difficult times often bring out the best in us. Complex challenges have a way of focusing our attention on what is essential. They remind us of our core values."

So now we know.

These being difficult times in Trojans athletics, USC's best is to duck and cover and forgo all public accountability.

These complex challenges apparently require Sample to protect sports programs to the detriment of the rest of the university.

All of which remind us that Sample's core values apparently don't include an interest in maintaining control of his cash cows.

Memo to the many esteemed educators employed by USC: This is how you want your workplace to be perceived?

Memo to the many National Merit Scholars and high SAT scorers who have recently been drawn to USC: This is where you want to spend your next four years?

At a place where the ethical standards in the classroom are apparently far different from those in the locker room? At a place that preaches leadership but practices gamesmanship?

I have purposely tried to stay out of this fray for months, figuring that it was unfair to make sweeping generalizations until the NCAA investigation into the football and basketball programs was complete.

But, now that arguably the best basketball coach in the school's history has bolted town in the middle of the night, leaving behind at least $1 million, well, c'mon.

And now that arguably the best returning group of players in the school's history have all bolted for pro basketball even though most of them will never get close to the NBA, well, seriously.

It is clear that Coach Tim Floyd bolted -- or was pushed -- off the mountain just ahead of an NCAA avalanche. It is obvious that his players, realizing the likelihood of sanctions coming after Yahoo Sports broke the news of alleged payments to O.J. Mayo's handler, also disappeared ahead of the chaos.

So many issues. Such a small Sample of leadership.

And the university president isn't the only boss coming up short.

Mike Garrett, where are you? Mike Garrett, who are you?

The university's athletic director is currently presiding over two programs under investigation, one of which is currently under a steamroller, yet he will not publicly explain any of it?

The university seemingly has been unwilling to fully investigate allegations surrounding its football and basketball teams, not even talking to key accusers, yet nobody will publicly account for any of that?

USC claims that it is not allowed to talk about internal matters currently being scrutinized by the NCAA, and that's fine, but now that the basketball program is in shambles, other answers are needed.

How does it happen that a guy can lead a team to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances for the first time in school history and then -- poof -- he's gone?

Why couldn't the university have done more to retain its four best players, as well a couple of blue-chip recruits who have reneged on their commitments?

Where is the institutional control here? What is Sample's role here? How can the university move forward from this mess?

I know there are plenty of USC fans reading this and shrugging and saying, "This is not about football, so who cares?"

Well, this could one day be about football, and the NCAA will be using USC's cooperation in all areas as a factor in determining sanctions. The NCAA will want to know if Athletic Director Garrett is being held publicly accountable and, so far, that answer is no.

This is also about something much bigger and more important than football, that being the university's reputation within the community that has helped it become so strong.

I know some big USC donors. They are among the smartest and most passionate people in town, and I can't believe they approve of the perception that the athletic program is out of control.

I know coaches in other USC sports. They are national champions and among the best in their business, and I can't believe they are comfortable watching their entire program painted with this same arrogant brush.

I know people all over the country are digesting the chaos and are now comparing USC to some athletic factories offering garage diplomas, and I can't believe that I actually have to defend its reputation.

For further insight, I checked out a book written by Sample entitled, "The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership."

On the back cover, there are quick hits of his philosophies. One of them is, "Shoot your own horse. Don't force others to do your dirty work."

So now we know.

Shoot your own horse, unless you are having too much fun riding him.

Don't force others to do your dirty work, unless the "others" are the NCAA and the dirty work would soil your football tickets.

--

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

You can follow Plaschke on Twitter at twitter.com/billplaschke.

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