first_imgLuke Holthouse is a junior majoring in policy, planning and development and broadcast and digital journalism. His column, “Holthouse Party,” runs Wednesdays. I certainly didn’t see this coming. When Steve Sarkisian had his alcohol incident at an alumni event this August, I thought it would be an independent event. I thought it was bad and worth more serious discipline than it received, but it never crossed my mind that it would happen again.Pat Haden didn’t think it would either. And sure enough, it did.There’s been a lot of talk in the aftermath of the debacle that Haden should have seen it coming. The signs from Washington were clear; the red flags should have been vetted further. On top of the off-the-field issues, it marks the second unremarkable football hire in Haden’s tenure as athletic director, which some have said means that he, too, should lose his job.But President C. L. Max Nikias gave Haden a vote of confidence yesterday, so Haden will head the search for the next head coach. Despite all the drama and damage to USC’s reputation from this circumstance, Haden has my vote of confidence as well.Like detractors of Sarkisian while he was still at the helm at USC, critics of Haden are really erring in a hindsight bias. It’s too easy to look at this scenario, make an emotional judgment and call for the axe. But when I look at the specific controversy, I don’t think he should be fired.I’ve been a critic of Haden before. After the infamous alumni event, I wrote that I was surprised Haden didn’t suspend Sarkisian for at least a game, especially given the school’s tough stance against Bryce Dixon for an alleged discipline issue. But I thought firing him absolutely would have been going too far. And that was pretty consistent with the rest of the commentary on the issue. The toughest punishment I heard suggested was a season suspension from Mark Whicker of the Los Angeles Daily News. But most of the commentary had to do with the embarrassment the issue caused to USC, not the need to make sure it didn’t happen again.The only columnist I remember specifically worrying about the sake of Sarkisian’s health was Nancy Armour of USA Today. She suggested an indefinite leave to give him enough time to sort out his issues, which, in hindsight, would have been the right move at the time. Nobody else, as far as I can remember, thought it would be an issue again; we assumed it was a one-time thing and that he would be able to handle himself the rest of the season.When we look back on Sarkisian’s time at Washington, we see that there were signs that alcohol was a problem for him. There were similar unprofessional comments he made at a Washington pep rally along with some receipts of pretty substantial alcohol tabs that became public.But none of this was significant enough that Haden should have seen this coming before hiring Sarkisian. I know plenty of people who are very heavy drinkers in select social circumstances, but then do a perfectly good job of taking care of their work life.This became an issue when Sarkisian started having problems in his personal life. His divorce from the mother of his three children this summer has now become public because of his repeated incidents. It’s a shame that something so private has to come into the public sphere, but that comes with being a football coach of a proud national program.This is speculation for the most part, but it’s not hard to guess how an overreliance on substance morphed into a     full-fledged problem of alcoholism because of a divorce. With all the traveling, recruiting visits and hours upon hours of watching film, it’s not shocking that a full-time college football coach might not have spent enough time with his family. The heartbreak, disappointment and shame of that realization for a person so passionate about everything he does is something that can’t be quantified.And there’s no way that an athletic director should be able to predict the outcome of his employee’s marriages. Haden had no way of knowing that this problem would develop while hiring Sarkisian. Yes, Haden is responsible for closely examining the track record of his hires, but saying that he should have seen this coming is going too far.Looking at the Sarkisian hire from a football perspective is worth its own column. But I honestly think that, personal issues aside, there was plenty of potential for the football program to achieve great things under his tenure.The harder question for Haden is how he handled the alumni incident. The pressure of high-stakes college football on top of his personal issues proved to be too much for Sarkisian, but you could have made the argument that Sarkisian needed to get back to work to forget about his home life.But even if we do mark his handling of the alumni incident as a mistake, I don’t think we should forget about the rest of Haden’s work as an athletic director. His job was to clean up USC’s compliance issues with the NCAA. He has done that very well, even if other controversy has popped up during his tenure.Now, Haden’s next hire could very easily be his last. He needs to get that right, because if USC’s next head coach doesn’t meet expectations or last more than two seasons, that would be indicative of a need for a change up top. And we’ll have plenty of time to discuss every possible candidate.But Haden should be the man leading the program. This incident is a blemish on his career reputation, but not an irreparable one. No AD has been tested more in college sports, and the Trojans need Haden leading the charge through all of the challenges that are bound to happen when expectations and attention are so high.last_img