Southern California athletic director Pat Haden defended both his hiring and firing of Steve Sarkisian on Tuesday, saying the troubled coach passed a thorough background check and had no behavioral missteps until the past two months.

Haden said he sent a letter of termination to Sarkisian when he was unable to contact the coach personally, one day after Sarkisian showed up to work "unwell." Interim coach Clay Helton will lead the Trojans (3-2, 1-2 Pac-12) against No.14 Notre Dame on Saturday.

"I was able to gather facts and determine that Steve's conduct did not meet USC standards and expectations of a head coach," Haden said.

USC President Max Nikias issued a statement in strong support of Haden, who is under scrutiny for his handling of Sarkisian's problems and the football team's struggles.

Haden allowed Sarkisian to keep working after an embarrassing alcohol-related incident at a pep rally in August because he decided the coach "deserved a second chance," he said.

Haden initially placed Sarkisian on an indefinite leave of absence Sunday, but echoed similarly vague recent statements about the reasons for the decision Tuesday.

Haden said an unnamed national search firm helped with Sarkisian's hiring despite his anecdotal history of boisterous alcohol-related behavior during his time at the University of Washington, but the AD couldn't explain why USC saw nothing wrong with the public records obtained by the AP, the Los Angeles Times and other outlets that demonstrated Sarkisian's enthusiasm for hefty alcohol purchases while traveling for the Huskies. Haden said Sarkisian also had background checks done by USC and the NCAA.

"At the time of Steve's hire, I firmly believed he was the right choice and fit for USC," Haden said. "The decision didn't work out, and I own that."

Spurrier: It was time

Steve Spurrier knew it was time. South Carolina was struggling and the gregarious and once-innovative coach was a big reason why. Always one to do things his way, Spurrier believed he needed to step aside, and no one was going to change his mind.

Spurrier resigned as Gamecocks coach, resisting pleas from the University of South Carolina president and athletic director to stay through the season — accepting the harsh reality that the team's awful first half was on him.

"You can't keep a head coach as long as I have [coached] when it's heading in the wrong direction," Spurrier said.

Spurrier, 70, considered leaving several times during his 11 seasons at South Carolina, most recently after last year's 6-6 regular season. But a win over Miami in the Independence Bowl re-energized him and gave him hope for better things ahead.

The Gamecocks, though, have struggled at 2-4 and are 0-4 in the Southeastern Conference for the first time in Spurrier's 23 seasons in the league.


•Iowa senior defensive end Drew Ott tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and is done for the season, coach Kirk Ferentz confirmed.

•Former NFL and Iowa safety Tyler Sash died from an accidental overdose after mixing two powerful pain medications, and a history of painful injuries was a contributing factor, a medical examiner said. Additional studies will look at whether Sash, 27, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease caused by repetitive trauma that has been found in several former NFL players.