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Pat Haden needs to hold Steve Sarkisian to a higher standard

It was the last thing Pat Haden wanted to hear. The last thing he expected to happen with the start of a potentially promising USC football season only two weeks away.

But once head coach Steve Sarkisian stepped onto the stage at the annual Salute to Troy Saturday night and proceeded to embarrass himself, his team, the university well ... it was time to take action.

It was time to be strong and forceful, time to show all those shocked alums and boosters he couldn't put up with his coach being apparently intoxicated and using foul language and disparaging other Pac-12 schools.

Only Haden didn't do that. He didn't do much of anything on Sunday except basically slap Sarkisian on the wrist.

If you've been following this whole USC soap opera closely, you are left with only one conclusion: There is a basic double standard involved when it comes to the Trojans' athletic department.

Tell me, if that had been a player, or an assistant coach, on stage, what would have happened? We all know the answer. The player would have been suspended indefinitely. The same goes for the assistant, who very likely might also have been fired on the spot.

Shouldn't the head coach be held to an even higher standard than any of his players or assistants? He is being paid millions of dollars and is the face of the program. If anyone's public conduct should be above reproach, it is his.

How can Haden basically turn his back on Sarkisian's inexcusable mistake when, only three years ago, he suspended head basketball coach Kevin O'Neill and eventually fired him for an apparent intoxicated run-in with an Arizona booster at the Pac-12 Tournament?

Sarkisian's ugly display came in front of a huge segment of the USC football community, with not only donors and boosters but families with children attending.

So why not take stronger action now? Well, some will say, the timing is admittedly awful. The season opener is rapidly approaching and although training camp is winding down, the next two weeks of preparation are crucial.

But isn't this a case where you have to put honor and integrity ahead of pure athletic goals, as important as they might be both financially and image-wise?

A university is a place where students are supposed to learn how to do the right thing. Well, is allowing Sarkisian to slink away with a weak apology after such a stunningly bizarre and disgraceful appearance really the right thing?

Maybe even more important, is it the right thing for Sarkisian's future at this point? Clearly, this is a man under intense pressure. Not only are there soaring expectations for his football team that finished 9-4 a year ago, he also had his marriage dissolve in the past few months. His wife, Stephanie, filed for divorce in April.

It is not fair for anyone in the media to attempt any psychoanalysis on his behalf, but maybe Sarkisian needs to step away and reassess things for a while.

The assumption is that Haden took all of this into account when he made his decision, but no one knows for sure.

The irony is, less than a week ago, Haden, in an extensive interview offered a strong endorsement of his head coach.

"I think the program is in good hands," he said. "I think we're trending the right way. I'm very satisfied with Coach Sarkisian and his staff. They work very hard and do a great job of recruiting."

It is difficult to remember an athletic director whose first five years on the job have been as tumultuous as Haden's. He had the infamous Lane Kiffin firing on the LAX tarmac, followed by a giddy few weeks of the Ed Orgeron era, only to wind up eschewing Orgeron in his search for a new head coach and hiring Sarkisian.

Then there was last year's weird incident at Stanford, when Sarkisian sent a message to the press box pleading with Haden to come to the field. The athletic director ran down and proceeded to argue with officials, the first time anyone can remember that occurring on a college football sideline.

The result has been a series of ongoing rumors concerning how long Haden will remain as USC's athletic director.

"People ask me about the future, I tell them I hope to wake up tomorrow," he said, in the interview. "That's my plan. Outside of that, I have no timetable or anything like that. I enjoy my job. I really do. I just can't believe I'm 62 years old."

He made that statement only a few days ago. Chances are, he may feel even older today.