USC AD Pat Haden gets support from school president, takes blame for Steve Sarkisian hiring

LOS ANGELES – USC president Max Nikias on Tuesday expressed support for embattled athletic director Pat Haden, who defended his hiring of Steve Sarkisian but took responsibility for it not working out.

Nikias, who hired Haden and is close friends with him, issued a statement Tuesday morning before Haden and interim football coach Clay Helton addressed the media.

“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.”

Haden has done a lot of good things as USC athletic director, including guiding the football program out of some of the harshest sanctions in NCAA history. However, his handling of the Sarkisian situation has come into question. Haden acknowledged that it didn’t turn out the way he had hoped.

“I firmly believed Steve was the right choice,” Haden said. “The decision didn’t work out, and I own that.”

Haden said the school used a search firm and thoroughly vetted Sarkisian. In the course of that process, Haden said, no one raised a red flag about a possible drinking problem.

Haden fired Sarkisian on Monday, one day after placing him on an indefinite leave of absence. Sarkisian appeared to be off during a team meeting Sunday morning and did not attend practice that afternoon.

In August, Sarkisian was intoxicated at the school’s annual “Salute to Troy” rally, later conceding that he had mixed alcohol with prescription medication. Haden said Tuesday that he felt the best course of action at the time was to allow Sarkisian to continue coaching while seeking treatment.

“I felt a great deal of compassion for Steve Sarkisian,” Haden said. “He deserved another chance. And that’s what I gave him.”

Haden said he had a long conversation with Sarkisian after the incident, outlining the expectations for his behavior moving forward. When Sarkisian failed to meet those standards, Haden terminated him.

Haden said he tried to get ahold of Sarkisian in person to deliver the news but couldn’t find him.

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