BILL DWYRE

Pat Haden goes with his gut in decision to fire Lane Kiffin

Athletic director makes the move because he says it is the best thing for USC, not because the fans or boosters called for it.

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Petros Papadakis on Lane Kiffin's firing and his future.

Pat Haden stood at the lectern and uttered the simple sentence that said it all.

"I believe this decision is best for USC," he said.

The sentence wasn't clever or sexy. It sounded like boilerplate stuff you'd expect at a news conference to announce the firing of a football coach.

The difference lies in the person saying it. It wasn't boilerplate to Haden. It was doctrine.

To understand that, and him, opens new corridors to the future of USC football post-Lane Kiffin.

Haden needs his job like a Porsche needs a trailer hitch. He is USC's athletic director out of passion and conviction. He used the phrase "Trojan family" several times during the news conference. With him, that's real, not phony image-building.

He was pressed, yet again, on his support of Kiffin, the famous "I'm behind him 150%" quote. His answer was simple.

"I support every USC coach here," he said, "until they are no longer a USC coach."

Before he met with the media, he walked the back halls of the McKay Center, stopping in offices, soothing, patting backs, sending players home to "get some rest." It was a family crisis and the father figure needed to reassure all.

Most of the perceptions about Kiffin's firing are wrong.

Haden did not bow to alumni pressure, and there is as much of that at USC as anywhere. A fat cat in a Trojans blazer sidling up to him at a cocktail party to say his annual donation might be less if Kiffin were still around wouldn't even register.

Haden could match most fat-cat checks. His business success, pre-USC, has served him well and reduced the kinds of pay-the-bills pressure faced by other ADs.

No sports talk radio noise or letters to the editor would matter. He doesn't ignore this stuff. He just takes it for what it is. He has referred to the "toxic atmosphere" under which Kiffin was forced to work. That didn't mean he bowed to it, just that he felt sorry for what Kiffin endured.

"Fans love you for 30 seconds at a time," he said.

Talk that this was a big recruiting time, that it was a bye week that allowed more time for a new coach to take over, that the public pressure had just become too much, was just that — talk.

"There is never a perfect time," Haden said. "We just weren't making the progress I was looking for. It was just a gut feeling."

Haden's gut was the only one that mattered.

He is in lock step with USC President Max Nikias. He was talked out of the business world by Nikias. Nikias was the only one who could have vetoed Kiffin's firing; probably the only one other than Haden's best friend, J.K. McKay, even consulted.

Haden does not come from down the hall of the athletic department, but from down the street of fancy boardrooms. Because of who he is and how he handles himself, it is a perfect fit.

He was hired to navigate the school through the aftermath of its NCAA violations. USC, years ago characterized as a football factory that held occasional classes, had become a great academic institution. Nikias couldn't afford old-time jock ways. Nor could he afford the athletic director — then Mike Garrett — telling an alumni group that the NCAA was "jealous they weren't Trojans."

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