At USC, J.K. McKay is still Pat Haden’s go-to guy

J.K. McKay says he is not George Orwell, this is not 1984, and he is not Big Brother watching over Lane Kiffin.

“That’s not how I see it,” McKay says, “and not how Lane sees it, either.”

Then McKay smiles, something happening a lot these days at USC’s Heritage Hall.

“Yes, Lane has been something of a lightning rod,” McKay says. “My job is to keep him off ‘SportsCenter.’ We’ll look up at the TV screen at that little scrawl across the bottom and I’ll say, ‘See, you’re not there. Way to go.’”

It was barely a month ago that McKay picked up the phone in his Century City law office. On the other end was his lifelong friend, Pat Haden.

“I remember exactly what I said,” McKay says. “You’re going to do what?”

Within an hour, McKay had left the law firm of Jeffer, Mangels, Butler and Marmaro and returned to the winning sports combination of Haden and McKay. Haden would be USC’s new athletic director and McKay would be his associate in charge of the football program.

“I was an easy convert,” McKay says. “This is a lot more fun than being a lawyer.”

Sports collaboration for USC is not a new thing for these two. In the 1975 Rose Bowl, quarterback Haden passed 38 yards to wide receiver McKay with just over two minutes to play for the touchdown that set up the two-point conversion that beat Ohio State, 18-17.

That game was played four months before Kiffin was born.

Haden and McKay were named co-most valuable players.

“Just write that I was the MVP,” McKay says. “If he sees that, it will really annoy him.”

On the serious side, it is a relationship of two 57-year-old men with unwavering respect for each other.

McKay says, “I don’t think, in all these years, that we’ve ever had a disagreement.”

Haden says, “I trust him completely.”

On the less serious side, they are also unwavering in their pursuit of ways to rip each other. McKay calls his boss the “short quarterback.” Haden calls McKay the “employee.”

McKay says the touchdown catch in the Rose Bowl was due to his superior athletic skills. Haden says the ball hit him in the hands.

But the respect never stops filtering through the rips and jabs.

“I met him the first day of football practice as a freshman at Bishop Amat High School,” McKay says. “I was going to be a quarterback. Then I saw him throw. He had a pro arm when he was 14. Right there, I thought wide receiver would be a good position.”

Haden’s family moved to Northern California before his senior year and Haden moved in with the McKays. The head of the household, of course, was USC coach John McKay. The Haden-J.K. McKay team won a CIF title their senior season, and both were recruited nationally. McKay delights in telling the story of his father’s coming to him, knowing the two would probably choose the same college, and asking his son to come to USC.

“I really need the quarterback,” John McKay said.

McKay and Haden roomed together at USC as freshmen, then lived in adjacent apartments the next three years. McKay dated Haden’s future wife, Cindy, for a while before she took up with Haden.

“We still argue about who dumped who,” McKay says. “In the end, she gave up a bod for a brain.”

Haden, the brain, was a Rhodes scholar and enough of a bod to play in the NFL for the Rams. McKay also had an NFL career before getting his law degree in Florida, eventually moving back to California and passing the bar here.

Now they are together again, Haden still calling the signals and McKay admiring that, not resenting it.

“He’s one of the smartest guys I know,” McKay says. “I don’t think I have ever done anything important without talking to him.”

Nor will he now, with the knowledge that his mandate is of utmost importance to a university and a proud athletic department, spanked and embarrassed by the NCAA.

“We love this school,” McKay says. “We do not want the NCAA to say, ever again, that we lack institutional control. Winning is not winning if you don’t do it the right way. We are going to have the best compliance program in the country.”

McKay has the thick NCAA rulebook on his desk. He also has another set of documents, representing all elements of the NCAA’s four-year sanctions against the Trojans. McKay says those are extra rules placed on USC because of the violations. He says there will be fewer people along the USC sidelines this season, and access for agents and boosters, among others, is limited.

He says he took his four-year-old son to football practice recently and the compliance officer at the door wouldn’t let him in. Only family members of players are allowed.

“So we left and got an ice cream cone,” McKay says. “He liked that better, anyway.”

Oh, yes. His son’s name is Haden.