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Mike Garrett becomes a big name at a small school

COLLEGE SPORTS

The former Heisman Trophy winner and USC athletic director starts over at NAIA's Langston University in Oklahoma.

June 07, 2012|By Ben Bolch
  • Former USC athletic director Mike Garrett is the new athletic director at Langston University in Oklahoma.
Former USC athletic director Mike Garrett is the new athletic director… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

LANGSTON, Okla. — The words were vintage Mike Garrett, reminiscent of something he might have said to a gathering of USC boosters a decade ago, before all the trouble started.

"The only thing I know is winning," the former longtime Trojans athletic director said Thursday in a place half a country and a world removed from Heritage Hall.

Then he paused.

"I hate losing," he continued, drawing out each word for emphasis.

All that was missing was a cardinal-colored tie and a two-finger victory salute.

Defiant as ever, Garrett embarked on a most unexpected chapter of his career when he was introduced as the athletic director at Langston University, a historically black college about an hour north of Oklahoma City that has an enrollment of about 3,000.

Garrett's new school won't be playing in the Bowl Championship Series title game any time soon.

The Lions compete in the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and averaged about 1,500 fans for home football games last season, a school spokesman said. Their men's basketball team has made three postseason appearances since 1930.

That didn't deter Garrett from taking a job that will pay the former Heisman Trophy winner roughly $90,000 a year, according to Langston President Kent Smith Jr.

"Whether you play Division I or Division II or NAIA, competition is competition," Garrett told about 75 school officials, alumni, coaches and athletes gathered in an atrium adjacent to the basketball gym. "There is no secret about preparing, there is no secret about getting the right student-athletes. The formula doesn't change being at USC or at Langston."

The school-issued news release announcing the hire touted USC's 23 national titles during Garrett's 17-year reign but made no mention of the NCAA violations that led to his firing two years ago. Impermissible benefits accepted by the family of football star Reggie Bush and by basketball standout O.J. Mayo led to sanctions that included a two-year bowl ban and a loss of 30 football scholarships.

Garrett said he had no regrets about his USC tenure.

"You know, those things happen and they happened in football and basketball," Garrett said. "That's understandable. People watch what you do and we had particular cases where there's things beyond our control, so those things kind of happen."

Smith, also in his first week on the job, said he had contacted the NCAA about Garrett and felt comfortable with the hire, which he called one of the university's "greatest defining moments."

"I've done my due diligence," Smith said. "Is it a risk? Absolutely. Am I aware of the things that are out there? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, I felt like it was the right risk to take for Langston University."

Garrett, 68, conceded being surprised when he was contacted by a search firm hired by Langston. But he said he was drawn to Smith's plans for making the school an academic and athletic powerhouse because they reminded him of a similar vision held by former USC president Steven Sample.

"I loved his dream about Langston, what we can do," said Garrett, who was accompanied on the dais by his wife, Suzanne.

Students, alumni and coaches said they were thrilled that Langston could attract someone of Garrett's pedigree.

"These kids, they can't talk to a Heisman Trophy winner," football Coach Mickey Joseph said. "Now they're able to reach out and touch one."

Said senior strong safety Casey Williams: "We've got a big name here now."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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