Mike McGee, the only athletic director ever to be hired at USC without any previous ties to the university, has died. He was 80.
McGee, who also played for the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals and coached football at Duke, served as the school’s athletic director from 1984 to 1993.
When McGee came to USC from Cincinnati in 1984, the football program was at the end of three years’ probation levied by the NCAA because of a series of violations that included a ticket scheme to funnel cash to football players. The basketball program was also under investigation but avoided sanctions.
As an outsider, his arrival at USC was met, at first, with apprehension. In taking over, McGee was not shy about his intentions to overhaul USC’s athletic department. Early in his tenure, he weathered criticism over his efforts to transition the department into a modern collegiate athletics enterprise.
As fundraising and department revenue rose over his tenure, those changes would make a tremendous difference for the future of USC’s athletic department.
“In order to set the program right, there were things that had to be done,” McGee told The Times in 1988. “Whenever an alien comes onto the scene in a place that is family-oriented, there is an element of suspicion. I knew that because I was an alien myself. There are gonna be toes stepped on, but we have a responsibility to those young people and this university first. There are a lot of ways to organize a department. I may be a little more formal than some.”
Within two years of his hiring, that reorganization was well underway. McGee replaced USC basketball coach Stan Morrison and football coach Ted Tollner, while easing legendary baseball coach Rod Dedeaux into retirement.
Their replacements would, for the most part, find success. To lead the football program, McGee hired Larry Smith, who, upon his hiring, proceeded to appear in three consecutive Rose Bowls, winning one. McGee also hired baseball coach Mike Gillespie, who went on to win one College World Series and appear in two more.
Steven B. Sample, then USC president, said when McGee announced his departure from the university that “he turned around a program that was challenged with unbalanced budgets and NCAA violations. During his watch, the football team played in seven bowl games, including four Rose Bowls, and men’s basketball played in successive NCAA tournaments for the first time. Fundraising and overall revenue has doubled.”
After his tenure at USC, McGee served as athletic director at South Carolina from 1993 to 2005. He was replaced at USC by Mike Garrett, a former Heisman Trophy winner at the university.
Ever since, USC has had an alumnus lead the athletic department.