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USC will consider an athletic director without previous ties to school

USC President C.L. Max Nikias, shown Jan. 12 at the UNICEF Ball in Beverly Hills, says the search for the school's next athletic director will be a long process.

USC President C.L. Max Nikias, shown Jan. 12 at the UNICEF Ball in Beverly Hills, says the search for the school’s next athletic director will be a long process.

(Jonathan Leibson / Getty Images for U.S. Fund for UNICEF)

The search for USC’s next athletic director will take months and could result in a hire without any previous USC ties, university President C.L. Max Nikias said Wednesday.

In his first public comments since athletic director Pat Haden announced his plans to retire in June, Nikias said he would conduct “a national search.”

“It’s going to be a serious search,” he said.

Nikias watched Wednesday’s USC basketball game from a courtside seat alongside Nick Brill, who runs the Brill Neumann executive search firm retained by USC. Brill declined comment.

Nikias, who has promised to conduct the search “in the strictest confidence,” did not reveal any early candidates.

He said he expects Brill to produce a “very large” pool of names from a wide variety of backgrounds.

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Every USC athletic director until Mike McGee, in 1984, had previous ties to the school. USC’s next two hires, Mike Garrett and Haden, were former USC football players.

Nikias put no parameters on potential candidates. He said he would consider “everybody.”

The position could be a lucrative one. Haden is believed to be the country’s highest-paid athletic director, making at least $2.5 million in salary and benefits.

But it is not without its challenges. The aftershocks of crippling NCAA sanctions, levied in 2010, lasted throughout much of Haden’s tenure.

USC’s football team has been roiled by instability. Haden fired former coach Lane Kiffin at L.A. International Airport in September 2013 following a loss.

In August, Haden allowed Steve Sarkisian to continue as head football coach despite an incident at a booster event where the coach slurred words in an expletive-laden speech.

On Oct. 11, Haden placed Sarkisian on indefinite leave after Sarkisian failed to appear for a practice. The next day, Haden fired Sarkisian, saying that his conduct “did not meet USC’s standards and expectations of a head coach.”

In November, a week after USC hired interim Coach Clay Helton, Sarkisian sued USC in L.A. Superior Court.

“Instead of accommodating Steve Sarkisian’s disability, USC kicked him to the curb,” the lawsuit said.

USC filed a response, saying Sarkisian’s lawsuit was full of “half-truths” and “outright falsehoods.”

Sarkisian is seeking the $12.6 million remaining on his contract plus damages in the ongoing case.

Haden has experienced a number of health issues in the last 18 months. Last week, he was hospitalized after feeling lightheaded outside Heritage Hall. He was released from the hospital after undergoing an unspecified medical procedure.

Haden will step down in June, but he will remain at the school for an additional year to guide USC’s $270-million renovation of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which will also host the National Football League’s Rams next season.

Nikias said the hiring process will be deliberate and will take months, not weeks.

Nikias has become increasingly involved with athletics in recent years. In January, he was named chairman of the College Football Playoff’s board of managers.

He said he has assembled a committee to provide input, but declined to list its members.

“Ultimately, the president picks the athletic director,” Nikias said.

Twitter: @zhelfand


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