His cardinal-and-gold tie gleaming in the sun, Mike Garrett stepped in front of the shiny red car with a huge grin.
USC had just been awarded this year’s Lexus Gauntlet Championship for winning its overall sports competition against UCLA, and a group of Trojans coaches gathered outside Heritage Hall on Tuesday afternoon to celebrate.
The prize was a 150-pound replica of a medieval gauntlet.
But Garrett had his eye on something else.
“We love Lexus, the car,” Garrett said, glancing back at the promotional vehicle, looking over at an auto executive. “If I could have one, I’d appreciate it.”
Everyone laughed, sort of.
It was a joke, but a bad one.
With two of the most high-profile athletes in recent Trojans history being investigated for accepting everything from free clothes to a free house, it’s time for the USC athletic director to pay up.
After enjoying several years of unmatched athletic prosperity, it’s time for him to give the Trojans nation some unvarnished accountability.
Mike Garrett has some explaining to do.
In the wake of this weekend’s documented allegations that basketball star O.J. Mayo was regularly paid by a lackey named Rodney Guillory, Garrett needs to explain things like, how could his school allow a known cheat like Guillory to even be close to its program?
Guillory’s involvement had already led to the suspension of former Trojans basketball player Jeff Trepagnier, and you invite him back?
“Right now, there’s an investigation going on, and we can’t really comment on it,” Garrett said Tuesday.
Faced with news leaking from upcoming depositions in a lawsuit against Reggie Bush -- whose parents allegedly were given free housing by wannabe agents -- Garrett needs to explain his school’s role in the case.
Bush being the hottest Heisman Trophy candidate for the flashiest program in the country, couldn’t his home life been monitored more closely?
“Historically it’s always been inside,” Garrett said of NCAA problems. “Now we’re talking outside for the first time. . . . It just seems individuals want to act on their own behalf, that’s what we’re dealing with.”
Everyone knows that both problems came from the outside. So far, there has been no evidence that the Trojans knew anything about either issue.
But if they didn’t know, why not?
If they tried to know, what happened?
If they have monitors in place to prevent this NCAA lawlessness, what are they?
After the Bush revelations, the silence was irritating.
Now that a different star in a different sport has been accused of similar NCAA crimes, the silence is simply irresponsible.
Garrett, who spoke only briefly and generally to two reporters Tuesday, has undoubtedly been advised by the school’s lawyers or compliance officers to keep quiet.
That’s bad advice.
“That’s bad judgment,” said David Eggenschwiler, a USC professor emeritus who has been involved with the university for 41 years. “It’s a good idea not to remain quiet any longer. If this continues, people don’t trust them to be uninvolved. If they don’t address it, people are going to assume the worst.”
Since the Bush problems arose two years ago, the Trojans have been seemingly content to sit quietly on their back stoop while the NCAA and legal system sift through their trash.
The feeling seems to be, Good luck, call us if you find anything.
The attitude seems to be, Go ahead, dig right to the bottom, we can survive anything.
With the national perception eroding by the day, the reality is that the reactive approach no longer works.
If infractions are found, they will not survive it. And worse, it will look like they were hiding it.
“USC has ignored all these things and acted like they’re going to disappear, but they’re not going to disappear,” Eggenschwiler said. “I think they are clean. But they have to show they are concerned.”
They need to show their madly passionate fans who, in my experience, have always wanted to win the right way.
They need to show their potential recruits, who are now hearing only the negatives.
Hold a news conference. Bring out a compliance officer. Explain how the system works. Highlight the safeguards. Answer the questions.
As Garrett was returning to his office after Tuesday’s ceremony, I asked him if he was concerned about his legacy, or the legacy of his program.
“I don’t worry about legacies; legacies aren’t important to me,” he said. “At USC, we just have to do the right thing.”
With doubt creeping up from seemingly every corner, it’s time to show you mean it.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at email@example.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.