Lynn Swann introduced as USC athletic director; outgoing AD Pat Haden skips event
New USC Athletic Director Lynn Swann speaks at a news conference Thursday in the John McKay Center.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann, shown in September 2015, has been named USC’s new athletic director.(Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)
Lynn Swann leads the Pittsburgh crowd in victory cheers on Jan. 7, 1979, in the final moments of the AFC championship game against the Houston Oilers.(Associated Press)
Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinee Lynn Swann, left, stands with his presenter, former Pittsburgh Steelers’ teammate John Stallworth, during the ceremony in August 2001 in Canton, Ohio.(David Maxwell / AFP/Getty Images)
Retired Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh before the opening game against the Miami Dolphins in September 2006.(Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images)
In May 2006, Lynn Swann accepts the Republican nomination in the race for Pennsylvania governor. Swann lost to the incumbent, Edward Rendell.(William Thomas Cain / Getty Images)
Pro Football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann sports a Steelers bowling ball during a Super Bowl celebrity bowlling event on Jan. 28, 2009 in Tampa, Fla.(Scott Boehm / Getty Images)
Lynn Swann prepares to lead the USC football team onto the field at the Coliseum for a game in 2014.(John McGillen / Associated Press)
Lynn Swann, a member of Augusta National Golf Club, greets Tom Watson before the par-three contest at the Masters on April 10, 2016.(Andrew Gombert / EPA)
Dr. Charena Swann touches the hand of her husband, Lynn Swann, he was being introduced as the USC’s new athletic director April 14 in the John McKay Center.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
USC President Max Nikias, right, introduces Lynn Swann as the school’s new athletic director on April 14.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Moments before Lynn Swann was officially introduced as USC’s new athletic director Thursday, USC officials began lining up in the back of the room.
Football Coach Clay Helton was among the first there. He stood and shook hands in one corner. Steve Lopes, the longtime USC athletics administrator thought to be under consideration for the job, attended too. Officials from the athletic department and the university milled as USC President C.L. Max Nikias introduced Swann at a news conference at the McKay Center.
There was one conspicuous absence: Athletic Director Pat Haden, whose tenure runs out at the end of June.
“Neither Pat nor any of the members of the Board of Trustees were involved in this search,” Nikias said. “And that was the right thing to do.”
Haden stayed away to keep the attention on Swann, Nikias said, and did not express displeasure with not being consulted.
“We discussed it with Pat,” Nikias said. “He just felt, rightly so, that this is Lynn’s moment. If he were to be here that probably would’ve been a distraction.”
Haden didn’t return messages seeking comment. The outgoing director, who people with knowledge of the situation say backed Lopes for the job, will remain with USC for a year to oversee a planned $270-million renovation of the Coliseum.
Swann and Haden met over coffee early Thursday to discuss the job and Haden “offered his help and insight,” Swann said.
Swann has no previous experience running an athletic department, but Nikias and Nick Brill, of the Brill Neumann search firm retained by USC, made overtures.
Swann said that Brill visited his home, and Swann later interviewed with Nikias.
Nikias called Swann an “out-of-the-box” choice but said the Hall of Fame receiver’s lack of administrative experience “wasn’t a concern to me at all.”
Nikias said he looked more for leadership ability and vision than experience. Swann, he added, is “a highly effective civic and corporate leader.”
Swann, who will start July 1, is the third consecutive former USC football star to hold the position, following Heisman Trophy-winning running back Mike Garrett and Haden, a former quarterback.
USC has been criticized as insular – only one athletic director in its history had no previous ties to the university.
In February, Nikias told The Times that a connection to USC was not a prerequisite. On Thursday, he said it was not essential to Swann’s hiring.
As Nikias introduced him, Swann, 64, sat with his wife, Charena. He appeared without the white beard he had worn recently and wore glasses while speaking at the podium. Swann spoke at length about his experiences since retiring from football in 1983.
In that time, Swann has served on several corporate and nonprofit boards, was a broadcaster and television show host, ran for governor of Pennsylvania and was co-owner of a Pittsburgh-based Arena Football League team that was in business for four years.
Work on outside boards became an issue for Haden after a Los Angeles Times examination found that he held more than a dozen roles outside USC that combined paid him more than $500,000 annually.
Nikias has said that once Swann starts at USC he would serve on only two boards, dropping one when his term ends in November.
Swann is entering into what appears to be a relatively stable situation – such as it ever is in major college athletics. Helton is in the first year of a five-year contract, although he finished last season with losses in the only two games he guided after being awarded that deal and the Trojans open next season against defending national champion Alabama. In basketball, Coach Andy Enfield was rewarded with a contract extension through the 2020-21 season after his team’s surprisingly strong showing last season.
“I’m not here to clean house or make overwhelming changes,” Swann said.
With Enfield, Swann said he joked, “So, Andy, were you a little concerned about who the next athletic director was going to be that you had to walk over to Max’s office and get a two-year extension before I got here?”
Swann also met with Lopes and told Lopes he would need his help.
When Haden leaves his post and Swann takes over, it’s not clear whether J.K. McKay might part ways with USC.
McKay, the older son of the late USC coaching legend John McKay, has a friendship with Haden that dates to when they were boys. McKay was brought on when Haden was hired and he holds the title of senior associate athletic director for football.
McKay said Thursday that he was not sure of USC’s plans or what he wanted to do.
Swann’s main mission will be restoring consistency and success to the football team, which he acknowledged was USC’s No. 1 program. USC has been under upheaval since former coach Pete Carroll left for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks just ahead of crippling NCAA sanctions. Since then, USC has had four head coaches.
USC should expect to win national championships, Swann said, “and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter: @zhelfand