Mike Garrett sees a bright future for USC athletics.

by Tim Tessalone

eisman Trophy-winning tailback Mike Garrett has been in the public eye for 34 years, although the only running he does now is through the tree-lined streets of Pasadena to stay in shape.
Now in his sixth year as USC athletic director, Garrett has embarked on the greatest expansion of facilities in the history of the athletic department. In June alone, groundbreaking began on the Galen Center (the $3 million dining/activity building that houses the Jess Hill Weight Room), an expansion of the football practice field (named for Brian Kennedy), a new women’s soccer practice field (named for Soni McAlister) and six new tennis courts (also used by the intramurals program) to replace the five removed for the football field. Garrett also announced that USC will build a track stadium on Cromwell Field (named for Katherine B. Loker) and he has begun raising money for a long-awaited campus arena, an expansion of Dedeaux Field and an expansion of the training room.
Mike has been just as busy during the rest of his term. Donations and marketing income have both skyrocketed. He has added soccer and water polo as additional women’s sports and by fall 1999 will have added a total of 42 more women’s scholarships, guaranteeing that all USC sports will have the maximum number allowed by the NCAA. And he has built an outstanding coaching staff, including Paul Hackett, who will make his debut in the Pigskin Classic on August 30.
As he looked forward to football season and Hackett’s first game, Garrett discussed the state of the athletic department.

Is it more difficult for USC to be successful in football now? Some people say that, but I don’t agree. I believe if you have the right combination of people and resources and desire that you can do almost anything. With Paul Hackett, we believe we’re in a position to really improve our program.

Each full year that you’ve been athletic director, USC has ranked in the top 10 nationally in the all-sports ranking. But you’ve often said that’s not good enough. We want to win more, particularly national championships, because that’s what we’re used to doing. Being a Trojan and winning are synonymous. In the last two years, we’ve missed out on a couple of opportunities for more national titles, but I believe our athletes have learned from it.
We have talent and great coaches now. What we’re looking for is a winning attitude. Earning the national championship in baseball this spring was a good start. We believe great times are just around the corner.

What qualities do you look for in hiring coaches? We always look for a disciplinarian first. The second component is someone who will put the same stress on academics as he or she will on athletics. The third is someone who knows the sport and can just flat out coach it.

Do you think there’s a correlation between success in athletics and academics? It’s an old adage that if you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it. The way to win is to make sure student-athletes are under pressure both in the classroom and on the field – and they will find a way to succeed.
We promise our athletes that, with our support system, if they apply themselves, they will graduate; and we are working hard to keep that promise.
Besides being exciting, your job is obviously stressful. What do you do to relax? Watch sports. It’s more of the same thing, but it’s someone else’s team. I love sports. I also run a lot, and that relaxes me. And I play golf badly enough so that when I play all I can think about is golf, which takes my mind off my job.
Getting away from the office and just being at home helps me a lot, too. I’m very much a homebody.

You’ve embarked on a major expansion of athletic facilities. Was that one of your goals when you became athletic director? I knew we had to do two things: bring in good coaches who could recruit and improve our facilities. The first five years we’ve hired outstanding coaches, established our recruiting and started generating more money for our program. Now we’re improving our facilities, and that’s the last leg of what we had to do. We’re very optimistic about the future.

Assistant athletic director Jim Perry has followed Mike Garrett’s career for nearly 35 years as a sports-writer and former USC sports information director.

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“When we played Texas A&M in 1964, they were scared to death of our tailback, Mike Garrett. Every time the ball was snapped and Mike took a step, it looked like all 11 members of the defense flowed toward him.
“On one play a tackler hit Mike so hard that his helmet flew off and rolled along the grass. Honest to God, another player tackled the helmet. When he found out Mike wasn’t in it, he slammed it down on the ground.”

–John McKay
in his autobiography,
McKay: A Coach’s Story

Photo by Debra DiPaolo

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