Swann’s exit kicks off USC ath­let­ics over­haul

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - BILL PLASCHKE

It’s about time.

Lynn Swann never should have been the USC ath­letic di­rec­tor in the first place, and it’s about time some­one fi­nally de­cided to end a mis­guided ten­ure filled with in­ef­fec­tive­ness, in­dif­fer­ence and more bit­ing scan­dals than big foot­ball vic­to­ries. The let­ter from USC Pres­i­dent Carol Folt to the Tro­jans com­mu­nity Mon­day af­ter­noon read as if Swann made the move him­self, claim­ing he “has de­cided to re­sign from his po­si­tion as the Di­rec­tor of Ath­let­ics ef­fec­tive to­day.”

That’s not ex­actly true. It’s ob­vi­ous the de­ci­sion was made by USC. Swann was in­formed of his fate Mon­day morn­ing and sub­se­quently chose the word­ing. I wrote in March that Swann needed to be fired, and, in her third month on the job, Folt did pre­cisely that.

This makes her the most im­por­tant Carol at USC since Pete.

This was Folt smartly be­gin­ning a mas­sive over­haul of a Tro­jans ath­letic depart­ment that has be­come a na­tional em­bar­rass­ment. This was the new boss com­menc­ing a cleans­ing of the na­tion’s only univer­sity ath­letic depart­ment re­cently in­volved in the two an­nounced FBI probes into col­lege sports.

There was Tony Bland, for­mer USC assistant bas­ket­ball coach, plead­ing guilty to one count of con­spir­acy to com­mit bribery in the col­lege hoops scan­dal. Then there was Donna Heinel, for­mer se­nior as­so­ciate ath­letic di­rec­tor, al­legedly ac­cept­ing $1.3 mil­lion in bribes in the col­lege ad­mis­sions scan­dal.

All of this was just in the last year, all while the USC foot­ball team was fin­ish­ing with its first los­ing sea­son in 19 years, with every­one led by Swann, who had such a dis­tant con­nec­tion to his job that in the mid­dle of the scan­dals he was seen at a sports mem­o­ra­bilia con­ven­tion in Vir­ginia sign­ing au­to­graphs for money.

Swann needed to go. He should have been gone by now.

Given his close ties to the deep-pock­eted USC boost­ers who have been given free rein to run the joint, it took a fresh new voice to fi­nally make that call. Folt ad­mirably used that voice in a state­ment that was even louder when she ap­pointed Swann’s in­terim suc­ces­sor.

It isn’t long­time shadow ath­letic di­rec­tor Steve Lopes, the good sol­dier who has dili­gently run the depart­ment for years. It is Dave Roberts, a USC spe­cial ad­vi­sor to the pres­i­dent and the vice chair of the NCAA’s Com­mit­tee on In­frac­tions. This sends the mes­sage that Folt is in­tent on by­pass­ing tra­di­tion and com­pletely re­shap­ing Tro­jans ath­let­ics from the out­side. Her an­nounced search com­mit­tee for the new ath­letic di­rec­tor is filled with aca­demics and busi­ness lead­ers who are also not con­nected to the depart­ment. These are all good things.

For the last 26 years, USC ath­let­ics have been run by for­mer Tro­jans foot­ball play­ers whose main qual­i­fi­ca­tions for the job were, well, that they were for­mer Tro­jans foot­ball play­ers. Mike Gar­rett, Pat Haden and Swann did not have any pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence run­ning a ma­jor ath­letic depart­ment when they were hired. With the ex­cep­tion of Gar­rett’s for­tu­nate hire of Pete Car­roll as foot­ball coach — he wasn’t his first choice — their in­ex­pe­ri­ence showed.

Gar­rett was in charge dur­ing the mas­sive Reg­gie Bush-re­lated NCAA sanc­tions, Haden was in­volved in the Lane Kif­fin de­ba­cle and Steve Sark­isian dis­as­ter, and vir­tu­ally the en­tirety of Swann’s era was en­veloped in foot­ball coach­ing con­tro­versy and scan­dal.

Those guys could work a room, but not so much a mod­ern ath­letic depart­ment. Their main as­set was that they could raise as­sets. The univer­sity’s most cel­e­brated and vis­i­ble property — its sports pro­grams — were be­ing run by its least qual­i­fied bosses.

Folt showed Mon­day that she is go­ing to change all of that. She put a re­al­ity check on the hero wor­ship. She will­ingly risked the ire of Tro­jans tailgate par­ties for the good of Tro­jans busi­ness.

It was a strong move. It was a nec­es­sary move. It was a move that should raise the at­ten­tion of every­one from the John McKay Cen­ter to Her­itage Hall.

Tro­jans foot­ball coach Clay Hel­ton has lost his guardian an­gel, and, even though he might have found a new one in quar­ter­back Ke­don Slo­vis, it could still take an in­cred­i­ble run to save his seat. Bas­ket­ball coach Andy En­field lost one of his big­gest fans, and even though the re­cruit­ing has been great, the hint of scan­dal lingers.

For every­body, it will be about more than just win­ning, a point Folt made clear by ef­fec­tively fir­ing Swann just two days af­ter one of the most in­spi­ra­tional foot­ball wins in a cou­ple of years, the 45-20 vic­tory over Stan­ford.

The new ad­min­is­tra­tion will be about not only do­ing things well, but also do­ing things right, which is the only way the Tro­jans can truly re­turn to greatness.

How should a new ath­letic di­rec­tor be hired? For one, it must be the ex­act op­po­site way in which Swann was hired. In the spring of 2016, a search com­mit­tee drew up a long list of names to re­place Haden, and this list re­port­edly in­cluded highly re­garded Chris Del Conte of Texas Chris­tian Univer­sity.

Del Conte was even­tu­ally by­passed in fa­vor of Swann, who had zero ex­pe­ri­ence run­ning an ath­letic depart­ment but had some­thing more im­por­tant in his pocket. Based on a re­cent re­veal­ing story by The Times’ Har­riet Ryan and Matt Hamil­ton, it ap­pears Swann’s job was es­sen­tially bought for him by bil­lion­aire booster B. Wayne Hughes.

Mean­while, the fol­low­ing year, Del Conte was hired by the Univer­sity of Texas, a gi­ant, lu­cra­tive ath­letic op­er­a­tion for which he has made such an im­pact that this year he was given a $200,000 raise.

USC ob­vi­ously can­not whiff like this again. The true mea­sure of the im­pact of Mon­day’s an­nounce­ment will be seen in what Folt does next. Ac­tu­ally, more re­veal­ing will be what she doesn’t do.

The crony­ism has to stop. The jock men­tal­ity has to end. The pref­er­ence given to some­one sim­ply be­cause they at­tended USC can­not con­tinue.

The ideal can­di­date for this po­si­tion would ap­pear to be one who doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily know the school, but knows the job. The school doesn’t need a sports guru, it needs a busi­ness guru. It doesn’t need a coach, it needs a chief executive.

This ul­ti­mate in­sider school should, for once, crave the view­point of an out­sider.

There are surely other great ath­letic ad­min­is­tra­tion can­di­dates out there like Del Conte. The search com­mit­tee needs to find them. Folt needs to make sure of it. Hughes need not be con­sulted. He’s had his shot.

Swann is gone, a new sher­iff is in town, and USC ap­pears to be fi­nally on the verge of mov­ing its ath­letic depart­ment out from underneath the shadow of Tommy Tro­jan.

It’s about time.

Mark Boster Los An­ge­les Times

LYNN SWANN with C.L. Max Nikias, then USC’s pres­i­dent, when Swann was named ath­letic di­rec­tor in 2016. Swann re­signed Mon­day af­ter three rocky years.

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