Analysis

USC stays inside the box with choice of Lynn Swann as athletic director

USC loves its traditions.

A bronzed statue of Tommy Trojan sits in the middle of campus. Traveler, the white horse, runs the sidelines after touchdowns. The Trojan Marching Band plays "Fight On" after every first down.

And USC hires former Trojans football stars as athletic director.

USC President C.L. Max Nikias did it again Wednesday when he announced that Lynn Swann would succeed Pat Haden.

"To his new role, Lynn Swann will bring the heart and soul of a Trojan," Nikias said in a letter to the university community. "He shares our profound dedication to combining academic excellence with athletic excellence."

The hiring of Swann surprised some people, but it probably shouldn't have.

It would have been a revelation if USC opted to go outside the so-called Trojan family. USC's 13-9 loss to UCLA in 2006? A defeat by 41-point underdog Stanford in 2007? Nikias could have pulled off a more stunning upset.

Swann, a graceful college and pro Hall of Fame receiver, offered a resume that included many of the same characteristics as Haden. He has no experience in athletic department administration but was a Trojans star in the 1970s.

Swann enjoyed a successful NFL career and then worked as a broadcaster. He is a philanthropist and has served on corporate boards. He made an unsuccessful run for governor of Pennsylvania.

Mike Garrett, USC's athletic director before Haden, also ran for elected office. However, Garrett, a Heisman Trophy winner as a Trojans running back, was an associate athletic director at his alma mater before he succeeded Mike McGee, the only USC athletic director with no previous ties to the school.

In February, after Haden announced he would step aside, Nikias told reporters that "a national search" for Haden's successor would take months and that it could result in a hire who had no connection to USC. He retained an executive search firm to help and said he expected a "very large" pool of names.

"It's going to be a serious search," he said.

But longtime observers of the program doubted that Nikias would seriously consider an outsider.

Steve Lopes, USC's chief operating officer and a longtime senior associate athletic director, was regarded as the inside favorite. Lopes handles football scheduling and appeared at football games last season in place of Haden, who did not travel after midseason because of health issues. A person with knowledge of the search said Haden endorsed Lopes as his successor.

The longshot view was that Nikias might bring in an experienced athletic director, a person with a track record of navigating the inner workings of a Power Five conference school.

Instead, Nikias stuck with the familiar.

He had hired Haden, the former Trojans quarterback, in 2010. Haden's mission was to steer USC through the aftermath of some of the most severe sanctions in NCAA history.

Haden inherited Lane Kiffin as football coach, ultimately fired him in 2013 at L.A. International Airport, hired and subsequently fired Steve Sarkisian, and last December installed Clay Helton as the new coach after Helton stepped in for Sarkisian and led the Trojans to the Pac-12 Conference South title.

Haden's tenure was marked by increased athletic department revenues and completion of the $70-million McKay Center, the renovation of Heritage Hall and a refurbished swim stadium. It also featured controversies, including Haden's coming onto the field to talk to referees during a game at Stanford, and his handling of Sarkisian after the coach slurred words and used profanity during a booster event on campus before last season.

Haden is not completely out of the fold. He will stay close to the program for a year, overseeing the renovation of the Coliseum.

That's where Haden and Swann played together as USC teammates during the 1972 and 1973 seasons. And where Swann led the Trojans onto the field before a 2014 game against Colorado.

Like Haden, Swann inherits a football coach and questions from fans about whether that coach was the right choice.

But Swann otherwise takes the job in a far different setting than his predecessor did. USC is no longer on NCAA probation.

In some quarters, the Trojans went from being regarded as the evil empire to a sympathetic program because of what is now viewed as unfair treatment from the NCAA.

Helton is regarded as a straight arrow, someone who won't bring embarrassment to the university for on- or off-the-field behavior.

In that way, Swann is expected to encounter far less turmoil than Haden, his former quarterback.

After the last six years, that could mark the start of a new tradition.

Follow @LATimesKlein on Twitter

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