LOS ANGELES — The audience’s anticipation grew even more as Mike Garrett stood at the lectern in silence while looking straight ahead in deep thought.
“It’s great to be home,” he said, and the Cal State L.A. community couldn’t be happier.
Garrett, who grew up less than three miles away in the Maravilla Projects housing complex, was introduced as Cal State L.A.’s new executive director for athletics at what university officials curiously called a “gathering of alumni and friends” Nov. 20.
“I only want to do one thing while I’m here and that is to find the best student-athletes, educate them and win national championships,” Garrett said.
Garrett comes to Cal State L.A. after having served as athletic director at Langston University in Oklahoma for three years before resigning in April. But the 1965 Heisman Trophy winner’s background in college athletic administration is much deeper than that.
He oversaw athletics at USC for 17 years until leaving in 2010 under a storm of controversy as a result of severe NCAA sanctions that were assessed against the football and men’s basketball programs.
But USC won 23 national championships while Garrett was athletic director. And under his leadership, the university’s fund-raising efforts led to the construction of the state-of-the-art Galen Center.
Cal State L.A. President William Covino and Jose Gomez, the university vice president and chief operating officer, approached Garrett about replacing Dan Bridges, who is retiring Dec. 31 after 10 years as the Golden Eagles’ director of athletics.
Covino called Garrett’s appointment a major victory for the university.
“Mike Garrett is the perfect person to lead us,” Covino said. “In so many ways, he reflects what we as a university represent.”
Cal State L.A. fields 11 teams, all of which compete at the NCAA Division II level: men’s and women’s basketball, soccer and track and field; baseball; and women’s volleyball, tennis and cross-country. The school fielded a football team for nearly three decades until cutting the program after the 1977 season.
Garrett said his goal is to help student athletes achieve excellence on the playing field, in the classroom and in the community.
“We’re going to do something in East Los Angeles that they’ve never seen before,” said Garrett as he looked toward the student-athletes that were aligned on each side of the dais. “Get ready.”
Garrett’s comments drew applause and cheers from the audience.
“Welcome home, Mike!” a man yelled from the rear.
As a student-athlete, Garrett had a legendary career at Roosevelt High School and then starred at USC under Coach John McKay where he won the Heisman in 1965. He was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs and played in the first-ever Super Bowl and later helped the Chiefs win Super Bowl IV.
He finished his eight-year playing career in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers. Garrett was also drafted three times by major league baseball teams before playing pro football.
After his sports career ended, Garrett earned a law degree and became a leader in business and college athletics.
“His success on the playing fields complemented his success in the classroom and if you put that package together, Mike Garrett exemplifies the spirit we want to instill in all of our students, and in every facet of our university,” Covino said. “He embodies grit, determination and success, the very attributes that characterize our Cal State L.A. students.”
The audience included some of Garrett’s childhood friends, as well as Al Padilla, his B team football coach at Roosevelt and Henry Ronquillo, his Little League coach at Evergreen Park in Boyle Heights, who would later become the Roosevelt principal, and Art Velarde, Bobby Ikuta and Mike Perez.
“I would like to recognize Henry Ronquillo, who coached me in Little League, and Al Padilla, who coached me at Roosevelt,” Garrett said. “They shaped me and have helped me tremendously.”
Garrett’s sister, Geri Garrett Hurley, an alumnus of Cal State L.A. was in attendance. Several of his friends are university alumni, including George Pla, who was seated at the podium.
Another friend, former Eastside City Councilman Richard Alatorre was also there. “Richard’s a Bulldog,” noted Garrett, referring to Roosevelt’s arch-rival Garfield. “But I had two sisters and a brother who went to Garfield. I would have gone there too but we moved to Boyle Heights.”
In closing, Garrett said sternly, “I like winning and I think about the Golden Eagles soaring above everybody else. We’re going to hurt people, we’re going to dominate.”