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USC Athletic Director Pat Haden stands by his man Lane Kiffin

In a wide-ranging interview, Pat Haden says problems in USC football program can be fixed and renews support of embattled Coach Lane Kiffin. Basketball, baseball are also priorities.

January 22, 2013|By Gary Klein, Los Angeles Times
  • Pat Haden says problems in USC football program can be fixed.
Pat Haden says problems in USC football program can be fixed. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

With Heritage Hall undergoing a yearlong face-lift, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden and other department officials set up offices last month in a university-owned shopping center across the street from campus.

A tobacco shop sits directly across the walkway, a nail salon and food court across the courtyard.

The situation is clearly temporary.

And that's how Haden, who oversees 21 sports and a program that generates more than $80 million in revenue, views the recent fortunes of USC's high-profile programs.

After opening last football season No. 1, the Trojans stumbled to an embarrassing 7-6 record under embattled Coach Lane Kiffin. Haden last week fired basketball coach Kevin O'Neill midway through his fourth season. And the once-dominant baseball program has been absent from the NCAA tournament for nearly a decade.

Asked to describe the state of USC athletics, Haden says, "The sky is not falling, in spite of what some people read and think and write."

Haden mentions the men's water polo and tennis programs — dynasties that have won five and four consecutive national titles, respectively. The four-time NCAA champion men's volleyball team played for another title last year, and the women's golf and tennis programs could contend this spring. The $70-million McKay Center is a showpiece, a new sand volleyball stadium is ready to host matches and the Heritage Hall renovation and a new aquatics complex are under construction.

In addition, Haden says, the athletic department enjoyed a record year for fundraising and USC athletes last month completed the best academic semester in school history.

"I know there's a bunch of people out there — all they care about is football," he says. "But I'm the athletic director. I love 'em all. I love all 650 athletes. And so the state of USC athletics is excellent."

Haden, however, acknowledges receiving a steady stream of negative letters, emails and Twitter messages. He says his car was recently keyed off campus — "I don't know if that is a result of this," he says, laughing — but he sees better days ahead.

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After USC's football team lost to UCLA in November, Haden went on record saying "Lane is my head coach 150%."

Last week, he quipped, "I guess the math doesn't work."

Asked if there has been an adjustment in the percentage, he says, "137.5%," adding, "I understand people disagree with me. . . . But in my judgment, and I get paid to make the best decisions I can for USC, there's no reason that Lane Kiffin shouldn't be our coach."

Haden acknowledges that the Trojans "played horribly a couple times," and "got shredded on defense a couple times" and "turned the ball over way too much."

But . . .

"These are things that all can be fixed," he says. "And they all can be fixed by Lane Kiffin."

So too, he says, can "some of Lane's slip-ups," several of which had little to do with the Xs and O's of football.

In September, a reporter was banned from practice after he accurately reported that a player underwent surgery. Kiffin also abruptly bolted from a post-practice news conference when asked about a player returning from injury.

In October, a USC quarterback was instructed by coaches to wear another player's jersey number on special teams in the first half against Colorado, and then played later in the game in his usual number. In November, the Pac-12 Conference fined USC $25,000 after it was discovered that a student manager intentionally deflated USC footballs before a game against Oregon. The season ended with the embarrassing Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech, punctuated by news stories last week that portrayed a heated postgame locker-room scene.

"His reputation," Haden says of Kiffin, "it's going to be really hard to sanitize that over time unless he kind of wins a lot of games and does things right, which we plan to do."

But Haden says that Kiffin suffers from what the coach has described as "the Kiffin factor."

"He's anti-Teflon," Haden says. "I mean, stuff sticks to him that doesn't even belong on him."

Haden says Kiffin had nothing to do with USC's not allowing visiting teams to conduct walk-throughs at the Coliseum the day before games, or with the deflated-footballs incident. But, he acknowledges, "we messed up on the jerseys, there's no doubt about that. Could he have handled the media better? No doubt about that."

Asked to list three of Kiffin's strengths, Haden offers work ethic, recruiting and play-calling.

"Now, again," he says, "that's going to raise, with some people, some rawness." But Haden says offensive production during Kiffin's tenure has been "pretty good, some of it sensational, now not all the way through."

Asked what Kiffin needs to do to keep his job, Haden demurs.

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