The changes should please the NCAA, which has yet to hear USC's appeal in the Bush case and could still soften the penalties the football program faces. No matter their opinion of Garrett, who was alternately a hero and goat in his 17-year tenure, the USC faithful will rally around Haden, who, like Garrett, is one of their own. But what about the man who holds the most visible post inside Heritage Hall? How should football coach
He should watch his back.
Haden, then a trustee, played a key role in bringing Kiffin back to USC in January after
But now that Haden occupies the big chair of a program in the NCAA's doghouse, the dynamic has changed. He is charged by his president with running a clean athletic department that also routinely wins championships. "We want to compete ferociously and win in every sport," Haden told reporters Tuesday. "But we want to do it ethically and within the rules. That's No. 1."
So Haden inherits a coach who, during his lone season at Tennessee, treated the NCAA rulebook as more of a loose set of guidelines. That doesn't exactly square with job No. 1. And with the increased scrutiny of probation, USC can't afford more missteps.
Haden will have eyes on Kiffin at all times, but they won't always be Haden's eyes. He will install
These changes don't seem cosmetic. Nikias and his new regime seem determined to make meaningful fixes in the culture of the athletic department. If the past week has taught us anything, it's that agent issues aren't limited to USC. The difference in the NCAA's eyes is in how the other programs react to such issues. When presented with accusations that their players might have had unsavory dealings with agents or financial advisors, the compliance departments at South Carolina, Alabama and Florida sprung into action. USC's department buried its head in the sand during the Bush era. The changes Nikias outlined Tuesday suggest that will never happen again.
Kiffin and his lead recruiter,
For his part, Haden believes Kiffin can succeed under the new regime. "He is my coach, and I love my coach," Haden told USCFootball.com. "I think he's going to be successful here. I think Lane's going to do fine. I don't think we're going to have a problem with compliance with Lane. I've already talked to him about that. I know Mike Garrett talked to him about that. I know [outgoing president]
But can Kiffin walk the line as defined by Nikias and Haden? Thanks to a two-year bowl ban that already has prompted transfers and 30 lost scholarships over a three-year period, USC football is bound to hit a rough patch in the next few years. While the program should recover relatively quickly thanks to its proximity to elite recruits and its reputation for putting players in the NFL, the Trojans could struggle mightily for a season or two once the current crop of upperclassmen leaves.
If that happens, Kiffin would have a built-in excuse. The sanctions hamstrung him. But if Kiffin and Haden have butted heads, Haden and Nikias could use any football nadir as their own built-in excuse to blow up the program and remake it in whatever way they choose. So Kiffin should tread carefully, lest he become another victim of the athletic department makeover.
Nikias, USC's new don, has settled all family business for the moment. But if, in a year or two, someone in the administration offers to take Kiffin