November 20, 2012
The hiring of Pat Haden as athletic director was universally hailed as a great move by an NCAA-troubled USC.
Haden represented sensibility, stability and respect.
So now Trojan world is going bonkers, and true to what he represents, Haden sits here grounded.
Kudos to Pat Haden for being Pat Haden.
He remains unmoved by the rants of fans and the most recent media headline: "Kiffin not the coach for USC's future."
Some folks were saying they just knew Haden had run out of patience, too many embarrassing Lane Kiffin moments for him to hang with the guy.
And yet Haden reportedly told Kiffin a week ago he had no worries — apparently forgetting to mention Brett Hundley's name.
Now I don't believe Kiffin's job was ever in jeopardy or Haden would have waited to see how the Trojans fared against UCLA, Notre Dame and a bowl opponent.
But others had the coach gone after Saturday's loss to UCLA, knowing Haden did not hire Kiffin. It's mentioned often, the implication obvious: First chance Haden gets, Kiffin is gone.
Yet it's a miscalculation, Haden choosing to develop his young head coach rather than capitalize on public sentiment and go looking for his own guy.
In placing the emphasis on stability, knowing Haden as Trojans fans should, they shouldn't have been surprised when he announced no change.
"Lane is my head coach, 150%," Haden told Times columnist Bill Plaschke. "Now and hopefully for a long time."
Now I worry about a Rhodes scholar going 150% on anyone when I know, and I didn't graduate from college, that 100% is quite enough.
But when it comes to talking emphatically, I guess that's how Rhodes scholars do it.
"I see the future," Haden said, and yet he still told Kiffin before the UCLA game he was going to remain with USC.
"I see the potential," he said. "I know what he's been fighting through and I like what he's done."
Wouldn't we all like to work for a boss like that?
Say anything you want about Kiffin and it's probably already been said. Although there is a chance this week SEC supporters might be cheering for Kiffin to beat Notre Dame, and they've never done that before.
But take everything that's happened since Kiffin's arrival and what's the worst thing he's done — worthy of being fired?
The obvious answer is losing too many games.
And Haden disagrees. Haden is just as much a Trojan as all the other USC honks out there and just as unhappy when the school loses.
But he sees so much more in Kiffin.
If there were problems with Kiffin's student-athletes or claims of illegal recruiting, Haden might be joining the "Jack Del Rio" chants.
But beyond losing, what's the worst thing Kiffin has done at USC?
There's certainly a list of items troubling to those who want more maturity in a football coach. But name one distraction worth starting a search for a new coach.
Even in their totality, while maybe meriting a shake of the head, they just aren't that much.
Some folks always figure Kiffin is up to no good, the deflated footballs obviously his doing even though he says they were not.
No one has linked Kiffin to them, and just imagine how hard some have tried, and yet that's what ignited the talk that Kiffin had to win out or be fired.
Yet another miscalculation.
J.K. McKay's job is to closely monitor the football program, reporting to his buddy Haden, and both of them apparently are satisfied with what they are getting.
In the past maybe a decision coming from the athletic director's office might be written off as USC arrogance. Buf if there is one thing USC and UCLA fans might agree upon, it's their respect for Haden over the years.
And if he's throwing his good name behind Kiffin, isn't Kiffin worthy of a longer look?
Now it's up to Kiffin to make good on the confidence Haden has placed in him.
He's going to have to grow on the job, and win. And maybe just as important, he's going to have to buy more time to get beyond the entrenched perception everywhere that he's trouble ready to happen.
OK, so it might help if he looked more like a head coach rather than an offensive coordinator with his head buried in his game plan.
Too often he appeared cool, detached and lost in offensive thought Saturday against UCLA. Maybe just once he might consider talking to a defensive player if for appearances only.
It might not be the same for every coach. But he's going to have to win the perception game as well as most every other game to fight off the buzzards.
And although Kiffin has said he will never fire his father, Monte Kiffin now has to do the right thing for his son and step aside as overseer of USC's defense.
It's time to allow his kid to prove Haden correct in his assessment.
"I hope Lane and I are together for a long time,'' said Haden.
And speaking on behalf of my fellow Bruins fans, who undoubtedly will agree wholeheartedly with Page 2 for the first time, I hope Kiffin remains coaching at USC for a long time.