LANGSTON — Langston University officially introduced former University of Southern California football great Mike Garrett as its athletic director Thursday.
It's a hire that the school's new president predicts will be a “defining moment” in a Langston University's history, but one he also admits is risky.
“Is it a risk? Absolutely,” Langston president Kent Smith said after Thursday's press conference where Garrett was introduced alongside his wife, Suzanne, to the school's alumni, faculty, staff and the media.
“Am I aware of the things that are out there? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, I felt like it was the right risk to take for Langston University. I believe it is a low risk. I believe we are going to be better for having Mike Garrett on board. I am very comfortable with this decision.”
Garrett, a 1965 Heisman Trophy winner at USC, was fired in August 2010 after 17 years as athletic director at his alma mater. The NCAA cited USC for lack of institutional control under Garrett's administration and imposed severe penalties.
The Trojans were hit with four years of probation, a two-year bowl ban and scholarship restrictions after the NCAA found serious violations involving the football and men's basketball teams, mostly involving illegal benefits given to Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and basketball standout O.J. Mayo.
Garrett said the situation at Langston now is similar to when he was hired as USC's athletic director.
“USC 17 years ago was trying to grapple and get their school academically sound and athletically sound,” Garrett said. “Langston is in that position now. It's a great feeling to be able to build something. Building is what I like to do. I believe in what Langston wants to do.”
Smith said the hiring of Garrett is a home run for Langston, the only historically black college in Oklahoma.
“Just as the result of naming Mike Garrett (as athletic director), Langston University cannot pay for the publicity we've received just in the last two days. It's extraordinary,” Smith said.
“But make no mistake about it, this is not just about publicity. This is about raising the bar for Langston University. I believe with all my being that Langston University will become a force academically and athletically in the near future. I really do believe it. That's ultimately what he is buying into.”
Garrett, 68, said he wasn't looking for a job when he was contacted by a national search firm hired by Langston to find an athletic director.
Former Langston athletic director Patric Simon resigned in April to take a similar position at Alcorn State University in Mississippi.
Since leaving USC, Garrett said he's been spending time with family and taking a computer class.
“When someone called me I was very surprised,” he said.
Garrett said he knew little about Langston before getting the phone call.
“I vaguely knew it was in Oklahoma,” he said of the NAIA school.
Smith said he and Garrett “hit it off” the first time they spoke. Garrett was impressed by Smith's vision for Langston University and the athletic program.
“I deal more in dreams and people,” Garrett said. “Dr. Smith, I liked him and loved the way he was talking so it was a very easy decision.”