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Mike Garrett and compliance: how deep should changes be?

DC Trojan and I kicked this around for a few days as we felt that with all that is going on in the athletic department it was time to take a look at how we got here and the leadership needed going forward. We both contributed to this post.- Paragon

In 1993 Mike Garrett was hired as the Athletic Director for USC. His ties to USC are obviously well known, winning the Trojans' first Heisman Trophy.

On the one hand, you can look at Garrett's tenure of having been one of considerable success. Since Garrett has been at the helm, USC teams have won championships in Baseball (1998), Football (2003, 2004) and numerous championships in other sports. The football program revived under Pete Carroll, and Tim Floyd was hired to bring NBA experience to creating a basketball team that was a genuine contender for the postseason, as opposed to an occasional visitor to the tournament. There is no question that Garrett has increased the exposure of the athletic department as a whole including numerous fund-raising efforts including the building of the Galen Center, and that under his leadership that USC athletics have prospered.

And yet that prosperity has come at a price. The most obvious is that USC is currently embroiled in two off the field controversies involving player's allegedly receiving improper benefits. While one could argue (and the case has been made on this blog) that the Reggie Bush scandal was a result of behavior that was concealed from the University, by people outside the realm of the usual suspects, in a sport that isn't known for this kind of corruption, the same cannot be said of the Mayo scandal.

As has been hashed out here and elsewhere over the last couple of weeks, so much of what's surprising is that it seems eminently avoidable. The Reggie Bush debacle stood as a warning. Rodney Guillory is a known entity at USC. That Guillory had alleged free access to the basketball offices let alone the campus begs the question who was paying attention? Mike Garrett certainly had to know who Guillory was after the events in 2000 that lead to the temporary ineligibility of USC basketball player Jeff Trepagnier. Are we to believe that Garrett is an infrequent visitor to the basketball offices that he never saw Guillory in Heritage Hall during time in regards to O.J. Mayo?

It is mind boggling to many that USC would claim not to have known about Mayo's relationship with Guillory while at the same time barring him from receiving complimentary tickets to USC basketball games this past season. Something there doesn't add up.

It's not like there haven't been other indications that the Compliance Department wasn't at the top of their game. The run of problems with the football team that peaked a couple of years ago seems to be more under control at the moment, but one of the avoidable red-face incidents was that of Leinart and Jarrett getting their rent underwritten by Leinart's father. We've covered the challenges of player surveillance in other posts, but that wasn't a question of trying to assess whose credit card was paying for a flat-screen t.v. - presumably someone would have noticed that Leinart and Jarrett had moved.

The fact that it seems to be the football coaching staff who got those incidents back under (some semblance of) control does make one wonder how much leadership is coming from the top. If you step back from the fundraising, the championships, and so on, how does Garrett's tenure really add up?

On the coaching side, it's a bit of a mixed bag. For football, if memory serves, Garrett inherited the Robinson re-hire when Mike McGee left for South Carolina. Robinson's firing was a debacle, and Garrett's choice for his replacement, Paul Hackett, was not a runaway success. People - me included - thought that Pete Carroll was a questionable hire, but Garrett was right and then some, which has largely given him cover for other decisions. (As far as Carroll's hiring goes, at least I didn't write an article saying that Dennis Franchione would have been a better choice - looking at you, Tom Dienhart! )

On the basketball side, it's been a bit of a mixed bag also. After George Raveling retired, Garrett hired Henry Bibby, who was pretty successful for a USC basketball coach, but who was fired four games into the 2004 season - strange timing, at best. Tim Floyd was hired, plainly along the lines of Pete Carroll, to revive his coaching career and boost USC basketball at the same time. The trajectory of Mayo's career at USC suggests that at best, Garrett was taking a calculated risk in allowing Mayo in the door.

Then we come to baseball. Garrett forced out long-time baseball coach Mike Gillespie. Gillespie missed the post season only twice in his 20 year tenure. Gillespie being asked to leave is much less of a problem however than Garrett's hiring of Gillespie's son-in-law Chad Kreuter - who had no Division I head coaching experience. A storied baseball program like USC's should not be a place for an untested unproven coach to make his start. Gillespie's "resignation" further upsets the fan base with Gillespie taking his new team at UC Irvine to the post season in his first year.

So what can be made of all of this? On one hand, Mike Garrett is a USC treasure, who has been working hard to build up the Athletic Department and show ambition in more than just football. In the Athletic Department's flagship program, football, he has more than offset the 1990s with the success that Pete Carroll has achieved. On the other hand, his hiring and firing decisions are sometimes best described as odd, and coaches are given so much rope they hang themselves. And then there is the background hum about the judgment being exercised in big-picture compliance that has been amplified to a roar with the Mayo debacle following on the heels of the Bush scandal.

This isn't an argument that Mike Garrett should be fired. He has done much for USC as a player and an administrator, and that deserves respect. It's not necessarily an argument that Mike Garrett should resign either - there are other ways to address compliance problems, such as having an assistant AD to act as an enforcer, or moving compliance to another part of the university bureaucracy, like the legal department.

The point is that without howling for blood, it's fair to ask if he's the man to address resolving the Mayo issue, both at the tactical level of investigations, as well as reforms in how the Athletic Department monitors itself. It's fair to ask if Mike Garrett has done as much as he can - and again, that was more than most - for USC athletics, if change is needed, and how that change could or should happen. Fundamentally, it's fair to ask: do we still have effective leadership in the Athletic Department?