If Mike Garrett has his way, he hasn’t won his last college football national championship.
Four years after he was replaced as USC’s athletic director in the wake of severe NCAA penalties, Garrett is again driving a college sports program toward visions of prominence.
Garrett is the athletic director at Langston University, a historically black college in rural Oklahoma. There, the man who oversaw a USC program that won nearly two dozen national titles and generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue supervises nine teams — four men’s, five women’s — that compete in the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
Garrett, who turned 70 in April, declined an interview request from The Times to discuss his work and vision for Langston and to reflect on his time at USC. But in an article published in the Oklahoman last August, Garrett sounded as if he was planning to build Langston into a power.
“I can guarantee you this, there have never been any NAIA coaches who have been put under more pressure than I’m putting my coaching staff under,” Garrett told columnist Berry Tramel. “The talk is national championships 24 hours a day.
“If you’re around the kids, all the talk is national championship, national championship. It’s very exciting.”
Garrett also has his new school closely monitoring the rules.
Langston won the Central States Football League title last season but later forfeited six games after self-reporting a violation. The school received a reprimand, said Matthew Hanson, the NAIA’s director of legislative services.
Langston is on probation — though it remains eligible for postseason participation — through May 2015 for a violation that occurred in an unspecified sport during the 2011-12 academic year. The current administration self-reported the violation, Hanson said. Garrett was hired in the summer of 2012.
Garrett, USC’s first Heisman Trophy winner, was hired as the Trojans’ athletic director in 1993. After he fired football Coach Paul Hackett following the 2000 season, he hired Pete Carroll.
After a 6-6 first season under Carroll, the Trojans began an unprecedented run of success, winning two national titles in football and appearing in seven consecutive Bowl Championship Series bowl games.
But in 2006, when the NCAA launched its investigation into allegations surrounding running back Reggie Bush, Garrett was the face of an athletic program critics perceived as defiant and uncooperative. The school self-imposed sanctions against its basketball program for violations related to former player O.J. Mayo, but it stood firm in denying it knew about alleged violations committed by Bush and his family.
In June 2010, the NCAA cited USC for a “lack of institutional control” and meted out punishment.
Later that day, Garrett told a Northern California booster club gathering, “As I read the decision by the NCAA … I read between the lines and there was nothing but a lot of envy. They wish they all were Trojans.”
Max Nikias, who was then USC’s president-elect, announced a month later that Pat Haden would take over as USC’s athletic director. Garrett was hired by Langston about two years later.
“Whether you play Division I or Division II or NAIA, competition is competition,” Garrett said the day he was introduced. “There is no secret about preparing, there is no secret about getting the right student-athletes. The formula doesn’t change being at USC or at Langston.”
Garrett also said he had no regrets about his USC tenure.
“You know, those things happen and they happened in football and basketball,” Garrett said. “That’s understandable. People watch what you do and we had particular cases where there’s things beyond our control, so those things kind of happen.”
In April, Garrett hired two basketball coaches with ties to USC, former Trojans graduate assistant Stan Holt for the men’s team and Cheryl Miller for the women’s.
But Garrett has otherwise kept his distance from USC.
Last year, USC named its weight room in the John McKay Center after Garrett. Haden said he called Garrett to invite him to the dedication.
“He couldn’t make it out for the ceremony itself but that’s the only time I talked [with Garrett],” Haden said. “I called him and said in honor of his great contributions to USC, which have been enormous, we were going to name it the ‘Iron Mike’ weight room, which we did.”
Haden said Garrett’s legacy of achievement at USC would endure.
“Mike won 23 national championships here and did a lot of really good things — he really got the football program rolling for a great stretch, unparalleled really,” Haden said. “It’s going to be hard to match in a lot of ways.”