Replacing Garrett should be just the first step
USC had to clean house, it had to start anew, and it had to show the collegiate athletic world that it's going to turn a corner and do things the right way and on the up and up (by the arcane and self-serving standards of the NCAA, but that's for another day).
Former athletic director Mike Garrett was the man at the helm while the entire Reggie Bush scandal occurred, leading to the crippling NCAA sanctions that will likely result in USC's tumble from the nation's elite.
While it might not be totally or completely fair to pin the dealings of one player on the head of the program, the buck has to stop somewhere, and Garrett has to take some of the blame for the environment that created the mess. The NCAA likes to throw around the nebulous "lack of institutional control" tag from time to time, and while Garrett might not have been the problem, he certainly wasn't the solution. And it certainly didn't create the illusion of "institutional control" when he publicly told boosters the sanctions were the result of "a lot of envy."
So, out goes Garrett just a few short months after Pete Carroll shoved a fat lady out of the way so he could get a spot on the lifeboat. In comes Pat Haden, a man of impeccable character, immense success both on and off the field, and with the high profile needed for a position of this type. If anyone can quickly restore the glory to the program (and it can be restored in a hiccup at a place with everything that USC has going for it), it's the Rhodes Scholar who embodies everything a school could ever ask for out of a former star athlete.
With the hiring of Haden, USC has taken a huge step forward in changing the perception of the program and the school, and he's expected to keep the tightest of ships as he remakes the athletic department.
Now, if Haden really wants to make a statement that things are going to change, he needs to act decisively and with authority to make the house cleaning complete by going all Kennesaw Mountain Landis.
Pat Haden needs to fire Lane Kiffin.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We know. That will never, ever happen. USC isn't going to want to pay the millions in salary and more to avoid the wrongful termination lawsuit, not that there's any desire to completely blow up the program at a time when it's trying to tread water in the hope and belief that it can become a superpower again in a hurry.
But Kiffin was a Garrett hire, and if Garrett is gone because he was part of the problem, then it has to be admitted that his hiring of a head coach was questionable in a Rod Blagojevich/Roland Burris sort of way.
It's not Kiffin's fault that Bush got in trouble, but he was part of the staff from 2001 to 2006 and has carved out an interesting reputation since then. Now it's up to Haden to eliminate as many shadows of doubt that he possibly can in a business that looks for any reason to assume the worst.
USC has a PR problem that isn't going to go away until it proves it can win big on a regular basis again without the perception that it cheated. That simply can't happen as long as Kiffin is the head coach. As long as he's around there will be those -– especially SEC fans -- who'll believe it'll be back to business as usual at USC as soon as everything from the NCAA starts to settle down a bit.
What's going to happen the first time Kiffin brings in a slew of five-star talents that could have gone to a program that could win a title right away? What's going to happen when a can't-miss pro prospect out of high school does an about-face at the 11th hour and changes his commitment from Florida to USC? Even if everything is done by the book, to a T, and lily-white clean, it's still going to be a hard sell to convince everyone that anything has really changed.
And then there's the Ed Orgeron issue. The Kiffin assistant is a peerless defensive line coach and considered one of the best recruiters in the game, but he's also tied to the Carroll era and all the success that came with it as the recruiting coordinator from 2001 until he left to take over the Ole Miss head coaching job. He was named the national recruiter of the year in 2004 by a few outlets, and while he has never been tagged with doing anything wrong, and he doesn't have the rumors surrounding him that Kiffin has, he's still associated with the mess as much as Garrett is.
USC will go through a rocky period for a few years, but the top recruits and prospects will come back and the results on the field will be there in the very near future. However, If USC really and truly wants to change the perception of its football program, then it needs to really and truly change it. Otherwise, the hiring of Haden does nothing but add a more media-savvy person at the top.