Gar­rett’s down­fall was ar­ro­gance

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS BRIEFING -

LOS AN­GE­LES — Seven­teen years could be boiled into two mo­ments, the com­pli­cated legacy of Mike Gar­rett re­vealed in a fi­nal burst of ar­ro­gant blus­ter.

The first thing you need to know about the re­sume of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s fallen ath­letic di­rec­tor is that, at a booster club func­tion in San Fran­cisco this sum­mer shortly af­ter the foot­ball pro­gram was hit with heavy sanc­tions, he said, “As I read the de­ci­sion by the NCAA … I read be­tween the lines and there was noth­ing but a lot of envy. They wish they all were Tro­jans.”

The sec­ond thing you need to know is that shortly af­ter of­fer­ing this frac­tured in­sight, he was given a stand­ing ova­tion.

As the brood­ing, bul­ly­ing boss views his beloved school from the bot­tom of the curb, it is ob­vi­ous to note that many thought he was a buf­foon.

But it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that per­haps just as many thought he was a hero.

He was hated. He was loved. He was loathed. He was re­spected.

Mostly, though, it seems, Mike Gar­rett was cursed.

The same traits that made him such a strong uni­ver­sity sym­bol also made him such a weak uni­ver­sity rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

For 17 years, the Tro­jans’ first Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner ran the ath­letic depart­ment the way he once ran the ball. He put his head down and chugged. If some­thing was in his way, he rudely ran over it. If some­thing was charg­ing him, he deftly ran around it.

He never looked up. He never saw back­ground. He never un­der­stood con­text. His only goal was reach­ing the end zone and, well, if he was be­ing pushed along by cheaters into spa­ces cleared by con men, he nei­ther no­ticed nor cared.

It will be easy to­day to paint new ath­letic di­rec­tor Pat Haden as an an­gel of good­ness re­plac­ing Gar­rett’s car­i­ca­ture of in­com­pe­tence. It will be also be care­less and wrong.

If Gar­rett was such a clown, what does it say about the se­ri­ous USC faith­ful who do­nated more than $375 mil­lion dur­ing his ten­ure?

If Gar­rett was so de­struc­tive, how did he over­see the build­ing of a gleam­ing new bas­ket­ball arena?

If Gar­rett was so dumb, how did he hire Pete Car­roll?

There are many rea­sons Gar­rett should no longer be ath­letic di­rec­tor and, in fact, he should have been nudged out the moment the foot­ball team was hit with a two-year post­sea­son ban for cheat­ing.

In the end, Gar­rett wasn’t ac­count­able, he wasn’t ac­ces­si­ble, and he never un­der­stood that be­ing the face of a uni­ver­sity meant more than smil­ing on Satur­days. In the end, he was just a 66-year-old for­mer run­ning back whose judg­ment was as bad as his knees.

But in the end, this story is not only scan­dalous, but sad, be­cause Gar­rett couldn’t sur­vive long enough to re­tire, to gain one last chance at grace, to en­joy one fi­nal moment to sa­vor ev­ery­thing he did right.

Be­cause, face it, you aren’t the ath­letic di­rec­tor at a school that wins 23 na­tional ti­tles un­der your di­rec­tion if you’re not do­ing some­thing right.

Haden, the Tro­jans’ golden child and the per­fect pick to lead the school through two or three tough pro­ba­tion years — it’s hard to imag­ine the suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man play­ing savior any longer — has said all the right things. But some of those things, Gar­rett has al­ready done.

Haden said one of his fo­cuses will be women’s sports. Un­der Gar­rett, USC added women’s teams in wa­ter polo and soc­cer, el­e­vated a women’s row­ing team to a var­sity sport, and added 42 more women’s schol­ar­ships, giv­ing USC the max­i­mum num­ber al­lowed.

Haden, a for­mer Rhodes scholar, has also talked about an in­crease in aca­demic at­ten­tion. Un­der Gar­rett, the foot­ball team grad­u­ated a school-record 82 per­cent of its play­ers in 2001, and his depart­ment has helped spawn a school vale­dic­to­rian, sa­lu­ta­to­rian, and, yes, even a Rhodes scholar.

Haden is a sym­bol of change. But re­mem­ber, Gar­rett was one of the ear­li­est African Amer­i­can ath­letic di­rec­tors at a Di­vi­sion I school, help­ing to pave a di­verse path in an ex­clu­sion­ary aca­demic world that still can’t seem to fig­ure out how to hire African Amer­i­can foot­ball coaches.

Gar­rett was, in some ways, a pi­o­neer. But once al­lowed in­side the hal­lowed USC halls, he just couldn’t keep from track­ing mud ev­ery­where.

For ev­ery Gar­rett gem, there has seem­ingly been a Gar­rett goof. The crude way he fired John Robin­son. The fool­ish way he hired Rick Ma­jerus. The quick way he hired Lane Kif­fin, who now be­comes the most ten­u­ously em­ployed Tro­jan with­out ever coach­ing a game.

It was Gar­rett who al­lowed Tim Floyd to bring in that star guard dressed in a “Pro­ba­tion Bait” T-shirt. And it was Gar­rett who al­lowed Car­roll to run a pro­gram whose swag­ger was so unchecked, no­body thought twice about a new rental house for the par­ents of a Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner.

No­body should take a big­ger fall in this USC scan­dal than Mike Gar­rett, and, it turns out, no­body will. But don’t for­get how the pro­gram reached those dizzy­ing heights. And, when the boo­ing dies, don’t be afraid to thank him for the view.

Kevork Djansezian

Pat Haden has been say­ing all the right things since be­ing named as Gar­rett’s suc­ces­sor. He’s a sym­bol of change, but the Rhodes scholar isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a savior.

ric Francis

Mike Gar­rett did many things right as USC’s ath­letic di­rec­tor. But he didn’t seem to no­tice or care that cheat­ing was a fac­tor in the Tro­jans’ con­sid­er­able suc­cess.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.