USC in­tro­duces ath­letic di­rec­tor

USC is em­pha­siz­ing in­tegrity, so its new ath­letic di­rec­tor doesn’t need to hire Meyer

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Mike Bohn, the first school out­sider to hold the po­si­tion in a quar­ter-cen­tury, takes over a high-pro­file depart­ment scarred by scan­dal.

‘They’re go­ing to be com­pet­ing for na­tional cham­pi­onships ... and do­ing it with in­tegrity ...’

— CAROL L. FOLT, USC Pres­i­dent

He wasn’t in the build­ing.

Ex­cept he was.

He was rarely men­tioned by name.

Ex­cept ev­ery other ques­tion was about him.

Urban Meyer was nowhere and ev­ery­where Thurs­day in the John McKay Cen­ter, where Mike Bohn was in­tro­duced as USC’s ath­letic di­rec­tor.

The rea­son was ob­vi­ous: Meyer is whom Tro­jan Na­tion wants as its foot­ball coach.

USC can preach the im­por­tance of in­tegrity, but the univer­sity is about win­ning — in ath­let­ics, that means win­ning foot­ball games.

Pete Car­roll’s teams are ev­i­dence of that. They were why the ath­letic depart­ment was sanc­tioned by the NCAA, but their dom­i­nance re­mains the stan­dard by which the Tro­jans con­tinue to mea­sure them­selves.

Pro­ba­tion? What pro­ba­tion? So long as the foot­ball team wins, ev­ery­thing is OK, even when it’s not.

And that’s why the ques­tion of whether to re­place the still-em­ployed Clay Hel­ton with the win-at-all­costs Meyer is more than a foot­ball de­ci­sion.

At stake is the univer­sity’s cul­ture.

Tak­ing on the ex­ist­ing cul­ture will re­quire con­vic­tion.

If the words spo­ken at

Bohn’s in­tro­duc­tory news con­fer­ence are to be be­lieved, new univer­sity Pres­i­dent Carol L. Folt has it. So does Bohn. Folt em­pha­sized in­tegrity in her re­marks.

That was the first char­ac­ter­is­tic of Bohn that she men­tioned when in­tro­duc­ing him. She re­turned to the idea when talk­ing about what she ex­pected from USC’s sports teams un­der Bohn.

“They’re go­ing to be com­pet­ing for na­tional cham­pi­onships in all our sports and do­ing it with in­tegrity on and off the field,” she said.

Was that a re­buke of Meyer? The three-time na­tional cham­pion coach pro­tected an as­sis­tant at Ohio State who was ac­cused of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence by his wife. He coached a num­ber of play­ers at Florida who were ar­rested.

It didn’t sound like a re­prieve for Hel­ton, whose team is 5-4 en­ter­ing its trip to Ari­zona State this week­end. Bohn made clear that Hel­ton would need more than a nice-guy rou­tine to re­main the head foot­ball coach.

Mak­ing a ‘V’ with in­dex and mid­dle fin­gers, Bohn said, “Let me say this for the first time as your ath­letic di­rec­tor: Fight On to vic­tory.”

Later, when talk­ing about what he ex­pected to see from the foot­ball team over the last three weeks of the sea­son, Bohn said, “I men­tioned Fight On and the sense of be­ing able to do that. But it’s also

Fight On to vic­tory. It’s im­por­tant to win.”

Asked if he an­tic­i­pated mak­ing a coach­ing change, Bohn replied, “It’d be pre­ma­ture to be talk­ing about coaches or any sit­u­a­tion when I’ve just ar­rived.”

While in­sist­ing that he wanted each of USC’s 21 sports teams to com­pete for na­tional cham­pi­onships, he ac­knowl­edged, “We all un­der­stand the im­por­tance of foot­ball. It’s very sim­i­lar to ev­ery in­sti­tu­tion I’ve been a part of.”

As for what he con­sid­ered a rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tion for the foot­ball pro­gram, Bohn said, “We want to com­pete for na­tional cham­pi­onships across all sports and that in­cludes, ob­vi­ously, the foot­ball pro­gram. We want to be in the Rose Bowl.”

All of this talk of win­ning doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily point to Bohn push­ing to hire Meyer. He stressed that any de­ci­sion of mag­ni­tude would in­clude Folt’s in­put.

“I have yet to see a suc­cess­ful ath­letic di­rec­tor or be an ath­letic di­rec­tor in an en­vi­ron­ment where the au­ton­omy all lies with the ath­letic di­rec­tor,” Bohn said.

“We’re a team. Our team of lead­ers will work to­gether on that.”

Com­pared to the last time an ath­letic di­rec­tor was in­tro­duced in the John McKay Cen­ter, the dif­fer­ences were strik­ing.

When Lynn Swann took over more than three years ago, he never pre­sented a clear phi­los­o­phy. In ret­ro­spect, his am­bigu­ous com­ments were a warn­ing about what was to come. Swann re­signed in Septem­ber, his ideas still a mys­tery.

Long­time col­lege ad­min­is­tra­tors, Folt and Bohn were able to ar­tic­u­late their vi­sion for the ath­letic depart­ment in a way Swann never could. The new­com­ers are se­cure in who they are, as well as in what they be­lieve.

Their status as out­siders gave their mes­sages a re­fresh­ing feel and in­spired con­fi­dence they could re­duce, if not elim­i­nate, the kinds of prob­lems that made head­lines in re­cent years.

But their abil­ity to choose the next foot­ball coach will be ques­tioned. What some will de­scribe as in­tel­lec­tual in­de­pen­dence is cer­tain to be dis­missed by oth­ers as tone-deaf­ness.

The de­mands for Meyer will grow louder in com­ing weeks.

But USC doesn’t need Meyer. The think­ing that the foot­ball team’s suc­cess would wipe clean the univer­sity’s short­com­ings is why USC got into trou­ble in the first place.

This isn’t the Univer­sity of Spoiled Chil­dren any­more. Over the last cou­ple of decades, the school has evolved into a top­notch univer­sity.

Its cul­ture has to evolve, too, and the foot­ball coach Folt and Bohn hire needs to re­flect that.

Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

MIKE BOHN said it was “pre­ma­ture” to talk about any po­ten­tial coach­ing changes to the foot­ball team.

Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

USC’S NEW ATH­LETIC DI­REC­TOR, Mike Bohn, left, chats with Rick Caruso, chair­man of USC’s Board of Trustees, fol­low­ing Bohn’s in­tro­duc­tory news con­fer­ence.

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