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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Haden's Year of Expectation Begins With Enfield Hire

Mike Piellucci |
April 3, 2013 | 4:52 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Enfield's coaching results will reflect back upon Haden in a significant way. (Scott Enyeart/Neon Tommy)
Enfield's coaching results will reflect back upon Haden in a significant way. (Scott Enyeart/Neon Tommy)
Pat Haden is no fool.

Like everyone else, he is cognizant of the men’s basketball program amassing just 20 total wins over the past two seasons. He sees the torrents of empty seats in the Galen Center, hears opposing fans often outshout USC’s own. He knows exactly how few students bothered to show up for Senior Day.

He understands full well that only two years removed from its last NCAA Tournament berth and four from a conference tournament win, his second-most lucrative property has become irrelevant. He brazenly admitted as much in a press conference Wednesday when he introduced his new coach, Andy Enfield.

“And there's no reason,” he says in a conversation afterward, “that we shouldn't be a force in basketball.”

For the time being, at least, Haden has managed to get people talking about basketball in Troy and it would be naïve to assume that didn’t play a key part in what got Enfield hired. For as many questions as he leaves unanswered in regards to substance, the former Florida Gulf Coast coach was the one sure thing left on the Trojans' board who could provide style and, sure enough, it took all of a half hour after the official announcement of his appointment for both he and USC to trend worldwide on Twitter. A team that was so often rudderless under Kevin O’Neill and, later, Bob Cantu now has an identity as a West Coast version of “Dunk City,” the meme-tastic FGCU catchphrase that the athletic department’s blog briefly coopted and Haden said today they would no longer use after FGCU objected. Yes, the Trojans will play fast and loose and come November, they will have the nation’s attention no matter how low they are ranked.

In handing Enfield a deal that reportedly pays around 10 times his old rate, Haden opted for short-term guarantees at the cost of longer-term uncertainty. His statement on Monday – the one that defiantly proclaimed that “Andy’s success this season at Florida Gulf Coast was not a flash in the pan,” – rang of faith but Haden, like the rest of us, has no way of being certain with such a thin dossier to parse through. He’s confident Enfield will succeed, of course, and cites a tool from his own prior career in private equity called an internal rate of return that convinced him as much. Enfield, he notes, has encountered nothing but wild success in every arena of his life up to now – in business, in basketball and, as noted ad nauseam, in his personal life by virtue of marrying his model wife, Amanda – which he feels portends similar accomplishments at USC.

But, “is he going to win four national championships here?” Haden asks, both rhetorically and hypothetically.

“I don't know.”

All Haden can hope for is that credulity to be rewarded because, as high as the stakes are for Enfield, they pale in comparison to what’s on the line for Haden.

The ignominious Frank Cruz era excepted, Haden’s tenure as athletic director has been defined by the penance he’s paid for the sins of his predecessors. He’s spent the last three years with a mop in his hand, soaking up the stains smeared onto the program by NCAA sanctions while meticulously evaluating a batch of coaching hires he had no say in. Only now, in his fourth year and with the program’s image mostly restored, has he begun to reshape it in his image. That he chose the 43-year-old Enfield as his first big hire shouldn’t be seen as any sort of coup, not with Jamie Dixon and Josh Pastner and god knows who else reportedly first rebuffing his advances. Nor should it be seen as an indictment, either, not in a coaching climate where even UCLA was left to dangle the best job in the sport longer than it ever imagined before settling for milquetoast Steve Alford. Looking inward, one can turn to Mike Garrett’s first pair of hires for further reassurance, with consolation prize Pete Carroll widely panned as ill-suited for the college game and Tim Floyd arriving only after the newly-hired Rick Majerus resigned just five days into his tenure. Make no mistake: No one will remember the circumstances of how the Enfield gambit came to be if it ends up paying off.

And it needs to, because the ramifications extend far beyond the immediate future of men’s basketball.

This is only the start of what promises to be a busy calendar year for Haden, the first domino in a series that will also task him with tabbing a new coach for his most lucrative women’s sport (basketball, where Haden says he is “close to doing something.”) and second-most storied program overall (baseball), and, quite possibly, the most visible job on campus if Lane Kiffin presides over another disappointing season in football. Each of those three carries more prestige in their respective sports than the men’s basketball job but none will carry this certain type of scrutiny, the one that comes with this being the first major action that Haden takes to dictate his own circumstances rather than toiling in those he inherited. Andy Enfield, if he succeeds, will make Pat Haden a visionary. If he doesn’t, Haden becomes the dumbest guy in the room, so desperate to microwave success that he got suckered into hiring a coach on the strength of one hot weekend in March who couldn’t even win the Atlantic Sun Conference. Either outcome would drastically affect his viability in the job and, with it, his capacity to chart the athletic department’s course for the next decade.

It’s the kind of dichotomy that begets talk of a man’s legacy, which Haden waves off dismissively. “I'm not interested in really making a mark,” he says, and yet he will do exactly that by choosing the leadership of at least three major programs in a span of time when many universities will not touch even one. He has prepared diligently for all of it, meeting with the recruiting firm Korn Ferry once per quarter to discuss each of his coaches, including those entrenched in their positions for the next decade.

“What we think about every day is, 'If our coach gets hit by a bus, who's next?'” he says. “We don’t just think about this when a coach leaves. Our men's tennis coach, he's probably going to be here another 10 years but we have a good idea of who's going to succeed him. You're always thinking about it.”

With Enfield entrenched for the next six years, Haden will be thinking a little less about men’s basketball. He refers to this new era of USC basketball as a "reboot," harkening back to 2006 when Floyd had the Trojans flying high en route to a Sweet 16 appearance. Ever ambitious, Enfield’s expectations skew even higher, saying in a conference call Tuesday that he wanted to turn USC basketball into a “national brand.” Haden would hardly object to that, of course, and demands nothing less over the long haul.

But for now, after a half decade of anonymity?

Pat Haden's on the right track getting people talking again.

Contact Staff Writer Mike Piellucci here. Follow him on Twitter here.



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