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USC Sports

Column: Football remains the most important item for Lynn Swann at USC

USC’s hiring of Lynn Swann as the school’s new athletic director was met with several questions.

Why did USC hire another of its former football stars? What about Swann’s lack of experience running an athletic department?

Here’s the reality: It doesn’t matter.

While it would be nice if the up-and-coming men’s basketball program could ascend to national prominence or for the women’s teams to win some more national championships, the only sport that really means anything at USC is football.

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“I think, certainly, you look at football being the No. 1 asset of the athletic department, in terms of revenue and success,” Swann acknowledged.

How Swann is judged will come down to how the football team performs. And how the football team performs will come down to Clay Helton, who is entering his first full season as head coach.

If Helton is the right person to lead the program, then Swann is set. All Swann would have to do is retain him.

But if Helton isn’t the long-term solution, Swann will have to figure out not only the right time to make a change, but also how to go about replacing him.

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Swann offered no indications of how he might go about doing that at his introductory news conference Thursday. Perhaps he didn’t know.

While declaring his goal was for the football team to win national championships, he was careful not to define what he considered an acceptable season.

“Every step along the way is a step to a national championship,” Swann said. “Got to win the first game. You take it one game at a time. You got to win the first game, you got to win the second game. You got to continue to move it down the line. That’s the way I look at it.”

That instinct to avoid controversy should serve him well in the short term, as will his glorious athletic history, nice smile and ability to tell stories.

If Swann looked like a safe choice, that was probably by design. There is stability at USC. The objective is to not disrupt that.

The basketball arena is built. So is the new on-campus football headquarters. The Coliseum will undergo a $270-million renovation, the project to be overseen by current Athletic Director Pat Haden for the next year.

Swann knows this.

USC President C.L. Max Nikias said he wanted his new athletic director to be “a leader, not a manager.”

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Swann offered a slightly different view, saying there are times it’s better to be a manager.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a manager,” Swann said. “I think all too often people get the job and say, ‘All right, I’m going to do with things my way.’ Well, I’ve seen in corporate America, those people don’t last very long.”

Swann spoke of how he would lean on longtime athletics administrator Steve Lopes and compliance director Dave Roberts.

“I’m not coming to the job thinking I have all the answers,” Swann said he told Lopes.

Swann really only has to answer one or two questions. And he has still has plenty of time to ponder them.

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While USC was searching for Haden’s replacement, Nikias said, he received a letter insisting he pursue President Obama. Playfully told he had beat out Obama for the position, Swann joked, “Well, I can say if I beat the president, I guess I’m the first one to beat him in a race.”

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If you’ve ever seen Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis run the bases it probably won’t surprise you to learn he’s not the best athlete in his family. That would be wife Cindy, a former volleyball player at the couple’s shared alma mater of Austin Peay State in Tennessee.

Cindy ran the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon last year in three hours, 30 minutes and 24 seconds, which qualified her to compete in the Boston Marathon on Monday.

The mother of three will be running to raise money for pediatric cancer research in honor of Rhyan Loos, the 6-year-old granddaughter of Austin Peay basketball Coach Dave Loos. Rhyan has Stage-4 neuroblastoma. The Ellises attended college with Rhyan’s father, Brad Loos, an assistant basketball coach at Missouri.

“Their goal is to raise money for research, and we wanted to help them with that goal,” Cindy said.

The Ellises are accepting pledges at teamellisfamily.com and the family will match up to $26,500 in donations.

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The sad state of the Dodgers bullpen required Kenley Jansen to record a five-out save in only their ninth game of the season, but the team still made the right decision this winter when they dropped the pursuit of troubled closer Aroldis Chapman.

It’s one thing for an organization to stand by its players when they mess up. It’s an entirely different matter when it acquires a player who has recently run into trouble, as doing so indicates a tacit approval of his behavior — in the case of Chapman, he was alleged to have physically abused his girlfriend and shot up his own garage.

Also, it’s not as if Chapman would be available right now. He’s serving a 30-game suspension under baseball’s domestic-abuse policy.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Twitter: @dylanohernandez


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