USC athletic director Pat Haden defended both his track record as the leader of the Trojans athletic program Tuesday, and the hiring of fired coach Steve Sarkisian, who was terminated Monday for failing to adhere to a zero-tolerance policy regarding alcohol use.
Haden directed Sarkisian into a treatment program in August after the coach gave a speech while impaired at a booster function. Haden's hiring of Sarkisian has come under greater fire since the Los Angeles Times uncovered records indicating Sarkisian's alleged drinking problem reached back to his days as coach at Washington. Haden said a search firm was hired to handle the background check on Sarkisian's hire.
"He was vetted," Haden said, according to the Orange County Register's Ryan Kartje. "You can disagree with the vetting, but he was vetted," and added "I firmly believed he was the right choice. ... The decision didn't work out, and I own that. I own it."
Exactly how a hired search firm missed what the Los Angeles Times uncovered, however, remained unclear after Haden's remarks. And Haden was reportedly in no mood to delve more deeply into that question publicly.
"Go talk to (school president) Max Nikias. He's approved everything I've done," Haden told a reporter, according to Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News.
While Haden might be drawing criticism for giving Sarkisian a second chance, support for him within the USC administration is unwavering.
"As president of USC I am very, very fortunate to have Pat Haden as our Athletic Director -- as is the entire Trojan Family. He is a man of true character and integrity, he cares deeply for our student athletes, and he always makes their well-being his highest priority," Nikias said in a statement. "Pat Haden has been doing an outstanding job in leading Trojan Athletics in the past five years and I want to take this opportunity to reiterate my unwavering support for him. I look forward to working with Pat Haden as our USC AD for many years to come."
USC has named Clay Helton as interim coach for the balance of the season. Haden, who fired Lane Kiffin in midseason 2013 almost exactly two years ago, will draw plenty of scrutiny on his hire for a permanent coach.