Pat Haden announced his retirement Friday as USC's athletic director, and at this moment -- right now -- his tenure can be judged a disappointment.
He was hired in 2010 to shepherd the football program back to glory. That didn't happen. Despite NCAA sanctions being substantially in the rearview mirror, the Trojans remain in flux with a new and unproven head coach and no Pac-10/Pac-12 championships since 2008.
Haden couldn't rein in Lane Kiffin's ego and force-feed him coaching maturity, and his hiring of Steve Sarkisian to replace Kiffin became a massive failure when Sarkisian was fired midway through the 2015 season after substance-abuse issues came to light.
Without question, the USC athletic department as a whole is in a better place today than it was when Haden was hired to replace Mike Garrett. An athletic director has myriad responsibilities, and Haden successfully connected many dots in terms of academics, infrastructural and facilities improvements and fundraising. As observed in a news release from president Max Nikias, "[Haden's] adamantine priority has been the growth and academic success of each and every USC student-athlete — and, as a consequence, he has improved student-athlete grade-point averages and graduation rates to all-time highs."
That's a not unexpected public take from a university president who genuinely likes Haden as a friend and colleague, but Nikias darn well knows the true "adamantine priority" for USC's athletic director is football. It's not just that football makes the money, either. It does that for every Power 5 school. But USC is different. It is a historical and perennial national power. It's on the sport's Mount Rushmore along with Notre Dame, Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma and Ohio State.
When USC isn't winning football games, it's not USC.
Yet if we can turn our attention for a moment and look away from the gridiron, something notable happened in the Galen Center on Thursday: USC completed a sweep of UCLA in basketball, as coach Andy Enfield's team improved to 18-5 overall and 7-3 in the Pac-12, a game back of first-place Oregon.
Haden's hiring of Enfield away from Florida Gulf Coast three years ago raised more than a few eyebrows, and Enfield's 5-31 mark in Pac-12 play in his first two seasons suggested Haden had fallen in love with a shiny, new thing instead of coaching substance, which fell in line with his unrewarded patience with Kiffin and his uninspired hiring of Sarkisian.
Men's basketball is the second-biggest financial driver of an athletic department, and if Enfield continues his upward trend with the Trojans, that's a cardinal-and-gold star on Haden's legacy.
That brings us to the larger point: Haden's legacy has yet to be written. It could end up positively glowing.
What if Clay Helton turns out to be the perfect fit for USC, which, say, wins 10 games in 2016 and the national title in 2017? What if that 2017 season is played inside a sparkling, high-tech renovation of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum? Nikias notably announced that 63-year-old Haden will continue guiding the Coliseum renovation project for a one-year term ending in June 2017.
A fancy-pants John McKay Center -- already a checked box -- a basketball team back in the NCAA tournament on a regular basis under Enfield, a renovated Coliseum and a football national title under Helton: That could all become part of Haden's legacy.
Or Enfield's flash of success fizzles, Helton doesn't get it done, and the Coliseum project gets mired in a financial and political quagmire as the NFL makes its L.A. move. That's also a potential endgame for Haden.
And, of course, things could fall somewhere in the middle.
Haden, like Garrett, was and is and will continue to be a great Trojan. Their successes and failures running the USC athletic department won't change what happened when each donned those iconic uniforms with "Fight On!" throbbing in the background.
Garrett received too much credit for his outside-the-box hiring of Pete Carroll and received too much discredit for the Trojans getting plastered with horribly unfair and borderline corrupt NCAA sanctions.
At this point, Haden probably won't get enough credit for the good he has done for USC athletics as a whole because his stewardship of the football program has been questionable at best.
As he opts to step aside, however, he, just like us, will await the final verdict on his tenure.
It might come quickly in the form of immediate success or failure. It might take five years. But it will come. Just know that no one is rooting harder for Helton to succeed than Pat Haden.