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Mike Bohn is near a deal to become USC’s athletic director

Connecticut v Cincinnati
University of Cincinnati athletic director Mike Bohn, shown in 2018, is nearing a deal to replace Lynn Swann as USC’s athletic director, according to people close to the process.
(Michael Hickey / Getty Images)

The search for USC’s next athletic director has zeroed in on a leading candidate, people close to the process told the Los Angeles Times on Friday.

Mike Bohn, who spent the last five years at Cincinnati, is nearing a deal to replace Lynn Swann and become just the second athletic director in school history without ties to USC. The first, Mike McGee, also came to USC from Cincinnati.

An official announcement is not expected this weekend, but multiple people confirmed that a deal is likely to be finalized shortly.

In a statement Friday, USC said: “Our search for a new athletic director is progressing well. When details become available, we’ll let you know.”

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Six weeks after Swann abruptly resigned from USC, ending a three-year tenure at the top of a department in turmoil, the search for his replacement has homed in on Bohn, who took the reins of the Cincinnati athletic department in 2014 after spending the better part of a decade in the same position at Colorado.

At USC, the 58-year-old Bohn would inherit a department scarred by scandal and years of turmoil, the fallout of which is still ongoing.

As the fourth athletic director in a decade at the university, Bohn, who grew up in Colorado, would soon be forced to confront questions of the department’s culpability in the wake of an explosive college admissions scandal and a federal investigation into a college basketball pay-for-play plot that saw one USC assistant coach indicted.

But first and foremost, he’ll be tasked with determining the direction of USC football and the future of its embattled head coach, Clay Helton.

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As rumors over Helton’s future have persisted in recent weeks, university President Carol Folt and interim athletic director Dave Roberts both indicated to The Times that any decision on his status would be left to the next athletic director. Now, with a hiring imminent, a decision could come sooner rather than later.

As USC prepares to face Oregon on Saturday at the Coliseum, it remains atop the Pac-12 South standings, with a path to the conference title game.

At Cincinnati, where he was charged with elevating a middling athletic program into a new era, Bohn’s tenure was marked by newfound success on the field and substantial upgrades off of it.

He earned a reputation for his enthusiasm and tireless fundraising efforts, endearing himself as an engaging leader of an up-and-coming department. He oversaw more than $170 million in major renovation projects to improve Cincinnati’s football field, Nippert Stadium, and its basketball home, Fifth Third Arena.

Among Cincinnati’s fan base, Bohn was heralded primarily for his hiring of Luke Fickell, the former Ohio State assistant, as football coach. Since his hiring in December 2016, Fickell has helped resurrect a program that had otherwise faded from relevance. In three seasons, he’s led Cincinnati to a respectable 21-11 record. This year, Cincinnati (6-1) ranks 17th in the Associated Press poll and sits atop its division in the American Athletic Conference.

Bohn’s connection through Fickell to Ohio State is sure to raise eyebrows at USC, where former Buckeyes coach and Bearcats alum Urban Meyer is coveted as a dream hire by some disenchanted Trojans fans hoping for Helton’s exit.

Not all of Bohn’s personnel moves have been successful. Over nine years as athletic director at Colorado, where he helped guide the program through its transition into the Pac-12, Bohn fired three football coaches, two of whom he had hired. Those coaches, Dan Hawkins and Jon Embree, finished with a combined record of 20-54. Bohn’s last head coaching hire at Colorado, Mike MacIntyre, spent six seasons in Boulder before being fired last fall.

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Due in large part to those struggles to stabilize Colorado’s football program, Bohn was forced to resign in 2013. The decision was described by the university as a “mutual conclusion,” but Bohn claimed he was blindsided by the decision. Since then, Colorado’s struggles have largely continued.

Prior to his arrival in Boulder, Bohn spent decades working his way through athletic departments at Air Force, Colorado State, Idaho and San Diego State, the latter two of which he served as director. That deep experience surely endeared him to Folt, who told The Times that such experience would be crucial for whoever assumed the post of athletic director.

“I really do need someone that’s highly experienced in this world of athletics and student athletes,” Folt said last week. “I’m looking for someone that’s going to help me launch this department into this new era of college sports. It’s changing, and I want to not just be running behind it, but helping to structure it to be successful.”

That push for change was apparent in Folt’s decision to tap Bohn as the department’s new leader. USC’s last three athletic directors were all former USC football players. Neither Swann, nor his predecessor, Pat Haden, had any experience working in collegiate athletics prior to their hiring. Haden had replaced Mike Garrett, who left under a cloud of NCAA sanctions.

Bohn, a Kansas graduate, would be the ninth athletic director in the school’s history, but the first without USC ties to assume the top position in the department since McGee left in 1993.

After three tumultuous years atop one of the nation’s most prestigious athletic departments, USC athletic director Lynn Swann resigns.
Lynn Swann stepping down as USC athletic director is the first step to a fresh start for the football program and likely means the end of Clay Helton as coach.
USC interim athletic director Dave Roberts says he won’t be the one to make a decision on the future of football coach Clay Helton, unless something “extraordinary” happens.
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