Pat Haden, USC athletic director? That was easy . . . and absolutely right

The only disappointment in the news about Pat Haden is that he’s taking over as USC athletic director and not governor of California.

The shock in this hiring is that it took so long for someone to figure out — especially at his own school.

It has been more than a month since the NCAA put USC on a public perp walk. For all the good he did in his nearly two decades of directing the Trojans’ athletic department, Mike Garrett was clearly and indisputably toast. Even if it isn’t his fault, the buck stops with the guy in the big office on these things.

In a search for an athletic director, schools always seek one of their own first. They want someone who represents them well — especially nice if it’s on the playing field. They want someone with a positive reputation, ideally with a likable personality and with speechmaking flair for the 10,000 rotary-club luncheons about to become that person’s future. They want someone with integrity and believability. Having a great sense of humor and a history of being successful in life are nice bonuses.

So, USC, how hard was that? You’d have a tougher decision deciding on what you want for breakfast.

Credit to the new guy, president-elect Max Nikias. He either knew or listened to the right people. Either way, he got it right.

As you will read in the news stories about Haden’s hiring, the new Trojans athletic director already has thrown himself on a sharp moral sword. Read his lips: “No more cheating.”

He’d probably be saying the same thing even if he weren’t coming aboard a partially wrecked ship. He has pretty much lived a life of doing it right, aboveboard, with hard work and perseverance.

Haden has been married to the same woman for 34 years, raised four children, has made lots of money in an investment firm and has maintained a public sports profile with his job as an analyst for NBC on Notre Dame home football games.

Only a person of Haden’s wit and intelligence could pull that off. He actually ended up being a popular figure on the South Bend, Ind., campus, even though it was well known that he was of the enemy. Every other year, he had to do a telecast of a Notre Dame-USC game in Notre Dame Stadium, retain his objectivity, keep his credibility with Irish fans and then fly home to Los Angeles and face all those Trojans, who, you can bet, had been hanging on every word.

It probably helped that USC almost always won. But he pulled off that tightrope walk for a decade. Anyone who can do that will probably find this athletic-director stuff a piece of cake.

As a matter of fact, the biggest negative about Haden’s hiring for some in Trojan Nation — doctors, lawyers, CEOs, sports copy editors and at least several hundred certified wackos — will be that this column, already out of control in its gushing, is written by a Domer.

You can look for all the conspiracy theories you want. The fact is, Haden is a once-in-a-lifetime person who transcends fan loyalty and school bias. He’s a class act who is perfectly suited to work at a place where his school holds its classes.

He will handle his job with a delightful sense of humor, which will be an upgrade at Heritage Hall. Say all you want about Garrett, but he’s not a knee-slap kind of guy.

Haden already has hired his longtime running mate, J.K. McKay, to look over the shoulder of Lane Kiffin’s football program. Just having Haden and McKay down the hall from each other will be a daily audition for “Saturday Night Live.”

Haden will tell people how he made McKay’s mediocre wide receiver career slightly better by constantly hitting the small, but also slow, McKay in the hands every time. McKay will counter with several small-quarterback retorts, including the one about going downfield, waiting for the pass and then seeing it sort of spurt in his direction.

“He was so small,” McKay says, “that you never knew if he had thrown it out of there or punted it.”

Life at Heritage Hall will be fun, maybe even less football-focused. Haden says that among his priorities will be the continued elevation of women’s sports. He says the fruits of Title IX have changed our lives, have given women a chance at a lifestyle that has resulted in the kind of wonderful athletic success we have seen at recent Olympics.

The fair thing — though it won’t happen — would be to judge Haden a bit less on football wins and losses for a while. The NCAA took a lot of bullets out of his holster there.

It has been quite a while now since a tough class for athletes at USC was the Social Significance of Long Snapping. Too often, though, the shenanigans of a few in the athletic department have detracted from the school’s academic stature.

It happened again with the aftermath of Pete Carroll and Reggie Bush and needed addressing. The incoming president of USC has done that.

At USC, the fix is in. His name is Pat Haden.