LOS ANGELES — Pat Haden stood on the field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on a hot afternoon in May and pointed to a spot in the stands dozens of rows above the west end zone. His father’s season tickets to Southern California football games were there, in Row 90.
He then turned to the east end zone, where classical columns and arches have provided a distinctive backdrop to visits from Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela; two Super Bowls; two Olympics; and a World Series — not to mention home games for U.S.C., U.C.L.A. and three franchises currently in the N.F.L. With bright eyes, a perpetual smile, and a fitness tracker on his wrist, Haden, 62, exuded the aura of a senator.
“It kind of gives you chills when you think of all that’s happened — all the athletes that have walked down those steps,” he said.
Haden, once a Rose Bowl-winning quarterback and now U.S.C.’s athletic director, will not be on the field much Saturday night, when the No. 6 Trojans host Stanford in the teams’ Pacific-12 Conference opener. Last year, Haden was widely condemned after he ran onto the field at Stanford during a nationally televised game to argue with officials about an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Trojans Coach Steve Sarkisian.
Haden contended that the episode had resulted from a miscommunication and said he later apologized to his fellow members of the College Football Playoff selection committee. But he was fined $25,000 and reprimanded by the Pac-12. “I certainly could have handled the situation better,” he said.
It was a low point in a frustrating 9-4 season, but hardly the Trojans’ lowest in recent years. Despite being named after some of the most famous losers in Western literature, the Trojans claim 11 football national championships and expect to be contenders year in and year out. At the same time, U.S.C., the most Hollywood of programs, has faced several reality-TV-like distractions in recent years.
Haden, after all, is the athletic director who fired Coach Lane Kiffin at an airport hours after the team had lost to Arizona State, 62-41, in its fifth game of the 2013 season. The 2014 season was greeted by the news that the senior captain Josh Shaw, briefly hailed as a hero, had made up a story about saving a nephew from drowning to cover up an injury he sustained while jumping off a balcony after an argument with his girlfriend.
And just last month, reports surfaced that Sarkisian was drunk and used inappropriate language at a booster event. The coach apologized and is receiving counseling, but he has not been suspended. Haden called the situation “embarrassing.”
All of it is enough to make one wonder why Haden, a Rhodes scholar and lawyer who spent nearly a quarter-century as a partner at a private equity firm and was also a respected television commentator, wanted the job he has now held for five years. U.S.C. football was at an even lower point when Haden took over in 2010. N.C.A.A. sanctions related to payments suspected to have been made to running back Reggie Bush led to U.S.C.’s being stripped of a Bowl Championship Series title, among other penalties.
But despite a near-certain drop in pay and an increase in stress, Haden gave in when the U.S.C. president, C. L. Max Nikias, asked him to replace Mike Garrett, who had overseen the department during the N.C.A.A. violations involving Bush and the basketball star O. J. Mayo.
“I would not have done this,” Haden said of returning to his alma mater, “for anybody else.”
During Haden’s tenure, U.S.C. teams have won 10 national championships, bettered only by Florida’s 11 over the same period. The spring semester of 2015 was the best academically in the history of the university’s athletics program, the college said, with the football and men’s basketball teams achieving their highest grade-point averages.
For Haden, one of the biggest draws of working at U.S.C. was the Coliseum. He first visited the stadium in 1967 to watch his hero, Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr, win Super Bowl I.
Born on Long Island, Haden moved with his family as a boy to Scottsdale, Ariz., where his father sold roofing materials. By his teenage years, the family had moved to Southern California. Haden played quarterback for Bishop Amat Memorial High School and competed in a state championship game at the Coliseum.
At Bishop Amat, he met J. K. McKay, who has been a longtime friend and is now the senior associate athletic director for football at U.S.C. McKay’s father, John, was U.S.C.’s coach at the time, and both played for McKay — J. K. as a wide receiver — and won two national titles. In Haden’s senior season, 1974, he was the team captain and was named the most valuable player in the Rose Bowl. He was drafted by the Rams and spent six more seasons in the Coliseum.
If the United States Olympic Committee gets its way, the Coliseum will host another Olympics in 2024. But for all intents and purposes, the stadium, which is publicly owned, is U.S.C.’s home, thanks to a 98-year lease it secured in 2013.
The lease was one of Haden’s signature achievements since he was named athletic director, and he helped push it through after a controversy related to a corruption scandal involving past Coliseum managers. Before a meeting in 2013, at which a separate board granted the lease’s final approval, Haden implored the Trojans community to appear in solidarity and to ignore “what you may have read in The L.A. Times or hear from misinformed members of the public.”
What they may have heard was echoed in an interview with Bernard C. Parks, a former city councilman and the sole dissenter in the commission’s 8-to-1 vote approving the lease.
The lease “was, in my opinion, a gift of public funds to a private university to use as they see fit, whether it’s naming rights, bringing events there, Olympics, N.F.L. football — every dime goes in their pockets,” Parks said of U.S.C.
“They are a logical tenant,” he added. “But I don’t think you give up ownership. They should have put out the bid just like you do any other facility. Who can run the Coliseum? Who can bring in the business?”
Despite hurdles like the Coliseum deal and the Sarkisian incidents, Haden said he enjoyed about 85 percent of his job, with the remaining 15 percent consisting of sleepless nights worrying about what the 600 Trojans athletes he oversees might be doing on any given night in Los Angeles.
“And then also the tsunami of negativity from fans who want you to win every game in every sport every year by multiple points,” he added. “That can wear on you a little bit.”
But walking on the field in May, Haden displayed little wear. Later, he gave an impromptu tour of the football team’s locker room, which was undergoing minor renovations, including the installation of new carpet and a sound system. Haden said that he sometimes slipped down from his suite in the press box to watch parts of the games here.
“You can yell at the TV more,” he said.