Updated Tuesday, Oct. 13 – 1:11 p.m.
LOS ANGELES (CNS) – USC Athletic Director Pat Haden, who has come under fire over the hiring and ultimate firing of football coach Steve Sarkisian, insisted on Tuesday that the university did its due diligence during the hiring process and did not unearth any concerns about possible alcohol or behavioral problems.
Haden also said he believed Sarkisian “deserved another chance” after the coach appeared drunk at a pre-season Salute to Troy pep rally, and “that’s what I gave him.”
Sarkisian was fired Monday, one day after he was placed on indefinite leave. Haden said Sunday Sarkisian failed to attend a Trojan practice and when he contacted the coach by phone, Sarkisian was not healthy. Some players told reporters Sarkisian appeared intoxicated at a team meeting earlier that day.
Speaking to reporters today following the Trojans’ first practice in the post-Sarkisian era, Haden said he had compassion for Sarkisian following that pep rally and believed he could continue coaching while seeking treatment.
But he disputed criticism that the university should have known about reports of Sarkisian’s alleged alcohol problems while he was at the University of Washington before he was hired as USC’s football coach.
“In our hiring process, we used a respected national search firm that screened all our candidates, including Steve,” Haden said. “Also, Steve had both NCAA and USC background checks done. And we talked to dozens of people, including head coaches, staff members, friends and people who have known Steve well for many years, sometimes decades, including some from his previous tenures here at USC. None raised a concern.
“Further, Steve was never disciplined while at the University of Washington,” he said. “And remember, Steve has been at USC now for a year and a half before the Salute to Troy without incident. At the time of Steve’s hire, I firmly believed he was the right choice and fit for USC. As I sit here today, Oct. 13, the decision I made didn’t work out and I own that. I own it.”
Haden said he still has not actually spoken to Sarkisian about his firing. He said he spent several hours Monday trying to reach the coach, but was unsuccessful.
“When I could not reach Steve personally I sent a termination letter to him and his agent immediately because a decision had been made,” he said. “I really do look forward to talking to Steve at some point. I really do.
“Steve Sarkisian’s a good person. I’ve known him a long time. I know he’s a good football coach. I wouldn’t have hired him otherwise. I wish him the absolute best. He has my support, our support. We remain concerned for him and hope he focuses on his health and well-being.”
Haden said he understands some observers believe Sarkisian should have been fired or suspended after the Salute to Troy rally, during which the coach slurred his words, uttered a profanity and criticized several opposing teams. Sarkisian later blamed his behavior on a mix of alcohol and prescription drugs.
“I felt at that time, it was in the best interest of our players who have been through an incredible amount of adversity during the (NCAA) sanctions and the coaching changes they’ve gone through, and to Steve not to suspend or fire him,” Haden said. “At that time, based on the input of trusted medical professionals and staff, it was determined that he could continue coaching while seeking treatment.
“I felt a great deal of compassion for Steve Sarkisian. He deserved another chance, and that’s what I gave him.”
After the rally, Haden met privately with Sarkisian “and laid out our expectations for his behavior.”
“He has violated those agreed-upon expectations in the conduct expected of all our USC coaches,” Haden said.
Earlier today, USC President C.L. Max Nikias issued a statement in support of Haden.
“As president of USC I am very, very fortunate to have Pat Haden as our athletic director — as is the entire Trojan family,” Nikias said. “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. 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.”