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Column: Lynn Swann’s exit allows USC to start cleaning house in the athletic department

Lynn Swann pauses during his appointment news conference as USC athletic director in Los Angeles in 2016. Swann resigned Monday.
Lynn Swann pauses during his appointment news conference as USC athletic director in 2016. Swann resigned Monday.
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

It’s about time.

Lynn Swann never should have been the USC athletic director in the first place, and it’s about time someone finally decided to end a misguided tenure filled with ineffectiveness, indifference and more biting scandals than big football victories.

The letter from USC President Carol Folt to the Trojans community Monday afternoon read as if Swann made the move himself, claiming he “has decided to resign from his position as the Director of Athletics effective today.”

That’s not exactly true. It’s obvious the decision was made by USC. Swann was informed of his fate Monday morning and subsequently chose the wording. I wrote in March that Swann needed to be fired, and, in her third month on the job, Folt did precisely that.

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This makes her the most important Carol at USC since Pete.

This was Folt smartly beginning a massive overhaul of a Trojans athletic department that has become a national embarrassment. This was the new boss commencing a cleansing of the nation’s only university athletic department recently involved in the two announced FBI probes into college sports.

There was Tony Bland, former USC assistant basketball coach, pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in the college hoops scandal. Then there was Donna Heinel, former senior associate athletic director, allegedly accepting $1.3 million in bribes in the college admissions scandal.

After three tumultuous years atop one of the nation’s most prestigious athletic departments, USC athletic director Lynn Swann resigns.

All of this was just in the last year, all while the USC football team was finishing with its first losing season in 19 years, everyone led by Swann, who had such a distant connection to his job that in the middle of the scandals he was seen at a sports memorabilia convention in Virginia signing autographs for money.

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Swann needed to go. He should have been gone by now. Given his close ties to the deep-pocketed USC boosters who have been given free rein to run the joint, it took a fresh new voice to finally make that call. Folt admirably used that voice in a statement that was even louder when she appointed Swann’s interim successor.

It isn’t longtime shadow athletic director Steve Lopes, the good soldier who has diligently run the department for years. It is Dave Roberts, a USC special advisor to the president and the vice chair of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions. This sends the message that Folt is intent on bypassing tradition and completely reshaping Trojans athletics from the outside. Her announced search committee for the new athletic director is filled with academics and business leaders who are also not connected to the department. These are all good things.

For the last 26 years, USC athletics have been run by former Trojans football players whose main qualifications for the job were, well, that they were former Trojans football players. Mike Garrett, Pat Haden and Swann did not have any previous experience running a major athletic department when they were hired. With the exception of Garrett’s fortunate hire of Pete Carroll — he wasn’t his first choice — their inexperience showed.

Garrett was in charge during the massive Reggie Bush-related NCAA sanctions, Haden was involved in the Lane Kiffin debacle and Steve Sarkisian disaster, and virtually Swann’s entire era was enveloped in football coaching controversy and scandal.

Those guys could work a room, but not so much a modern athletic department. Their main asset was that they could raise assets. The university’s most celebrated and visible property — its sports programs — was being run by its least qualified bosses.

Folt showed Monday that she is going to change all of that. She put a reality check on the hero worship. She willingly risked the ire of Trojans tailgate parties for the good of Trojans business.

It was a strong move. It was a necessary move. It was a move that should raise the attention of everyone from the John McKay Center to Heritage Hall.

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Trojans football coach Clay Helton has lost his guardian angel, and, even though he might have found a new one in quarterback Kedon Slovis, it could still take an incredible run to save his seat. Basketball coach Andy Enfield lost one of his biggest fans, and even though the recruiting has been great, the hint of scandal lingers.

For everybody, it will be about more than just winning, a point Folt made clear by effectively terminating Swann just two days after one of the most inspirational football wins in a couple of years, the 45-20 victory over Stanford.

The new administration will be about not only doing things well, but also doing things right, which is the only way the Trojans can truly return to greatness.

How should a new athletic director be hired? For one, it must be the exact opposite way in which Swann was hired. In the spring of 2016, a search committee drew up a long list of names to replace Haden, and this list reportedly included highly regarded Chris Del Conte of Texas Christian University.

Del Conte was eventually bypassed in favor of Swann, who had zero experience running an athletic department but had something more important in his pocket. Based on a recent revealing story by The Times’ Harriet Ryan and Matt Hamilton, it appears Swann’s job was essentially bought for him by billionaire booster B. Wayne Hughes.

Meanwhile, the following year, Del Conte was hired by the University of Texas, a giant, lucrative athletic operation for which he has made such an impact that earlier this year he was given a $200,000 raise.

USC obviously cannot whiff like this again. The true measure of the impact of Monday’s announcement will be seen in what Folt does next. Actually, more revealing will be what she doesn’t do.

The cronyism has to stop. The jock mentality has to end. The preference given to someone simply because they attended USC cannot continue.

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The ideal candidate for this position would appear to be one who doesn’t necessarily know the school, but knows the job. The university doesn’t need a sports guru, it needs a business guru. It doesn’t need a coach, it needs a chief executive. This ultimate insider school should, for once, crave the viewpoint of an outsider.

There are surely other great athletic administration candidates out there like Del Conte. The search committee needs to find them. Folt needs to make sure of it. Hughes need not be consulted. He’s had his shot.

Swann is gone, a new sheriff is in town, and USC appears to be finally on the verge of moving its athletic department out from underneath the shadow of Tommy Trojan.

It’s about time.


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