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USC Athletic Director Defends Hiring, Firing Football Coach Sarkisian

LOS ANGELES ( — Facing criticism over the hiring and ultimate firing of football coach Steve Sarkisian, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden told reporters Tuesday the university did its due diligence during the hiring process.

Haden made the comments during a press conference following the Trojans' first practice in the post-Sarkisian era, and insisted he did not unearth any concerns about possible alcohol or behavioral problems while Sarkisian was being vetted.

"In our hiring process, we used a respected national search firm that screened all our candidates, including Steve," Haden said. "Also, Steve had both NCAA and USC background checks done.

"And we talked to dozens of people,including head coaches, staff members, friends and people who have known Steve well for many years, sometimes decades, including some from his previous tenures here at USC," Haden added. "None raised a concern."

After noting that Sarkisian had never been disciplined during his time at University of Washington, Haden said, "At the time of Steve's hire, I firmly believed he was the right choice and fit for USC. As I sit here today, Oct. 13, the decision I made didn't work out and I own that. I own it."

Shortly before the news conference, USC President C.L. Max Nikias released a statement in support of Haden.

"As president of USC I am very, very fortunate to have Pat Haden as our athletic director as is the entire Trojan family," Nikias said. "He is a man of true character and integrity. He cares deeply for our student athletes and he always makes their well-being his highest priority."

"Pat Haden has been doing an outstanding job in leading Trojan Athletics in the past five years and I want to take this opportunity to reiterate my unwavering support for him," added Nikias. "I look forward to working with Pat Haden as our USC athletic director for many years to come."

On Monday, the university fired Steve Sarkisian, 41, after placing him on an indefinite leave of absence.

Haden announced the decision during a news conference on Sunday, where he disclosed Sarkisian was "not healthy."

According to Haden, the troubled coach showed up to a team meeting smelling like alcohol and then failed to show up to practice.

During the conference, Clay Helton was named the interim coach for the Trojans.

"I want to thank Clay Helton for stepping into the interim head coach role, and I want to add how proud I am of our coaching staff and players, and the way they are responding to this difficult situation," said Haden. "Through all of this, we remain concerned for Steve and hope that it will give him the opportunity to focus on his personal well-being."

Trouble for Sarkisian originated on Aug. 22, when he publicly apologized after showing up drunk at the "Salute to Troy" pep rally. During his slurred statement, he announced he would be getting unspecified treatment.

The following day, Sarkisian apologized yet again stating his behavior resulted from mixing alcohol and medication.

In response to the university's actions, students and faculty have applauded Haden's decision.

Around 10:30 a.m. this morning, Haden spoke publicly for the first time since firing Sarkisian.

"He has violated those agreed upon expectations in the conduct expected of all of our USC coaches," Haden stated. "I feel a great deal of compassion for Steve Sarkisian. He deserved another chance, and that's what I gave him."

Sarkisian has reportedly entered a treatment program following his termination.

On Saturday, Helton will lead the team to South Bend, Indiana, to take on Notre Dame.

(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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