After a quarter century of entrusting former Trojans football stars with the direction of its athletic department, USC has tapped an outsider to be its next athletic director.
Mike Bohn will be named to the position on Thursday, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told the Los Angeles Times. He’ll be the first to assume the post without any previous ties to the university since Mike McGee, who, until now, had been the only outsider ever to lead USC athletics.
USC had zeroed in on Bohn as its choice last week, but his hiring, according to a person familiar with the situation, was delayed as the university conducted background checks.
Bohn, who spent the last five years at Cincinnati in the same position, will be introduced at a news conference at USC on Thursday. McGee also came to USC from Cincinnati.
Bohn will be charged with the daunting task of restoring luster to a high-profile department scarred by scandal — and still dealing with questions of its own culpability.
Amid that fallout, Bohn’s hiring, the most significant yet for President Carol L. Folt, sends an unambiguous message from the university’s new leadership.
“There is a moment right now at USC,” Folt told The Times in October. “No one is happy about the things that have happened. If I have any opportunity right now, it’s to take advantage of people’s willingness to say, ‘OK, everything is not perfect.’ ”
As USC attempts to start anew, Bohn, 58, is the fourth athletic director at the school in a decade. Unlike the other three, he arrives at USC with considerable experience in collegiate athletics administration. Before taking the reins at Cincinnati, where he helped usher a middling program overlooked by conference realignment into relevance, Bohn served as athletic director at Colorado, San Diego State and Idaho.
His hiring at USC comes nearly two months after the resignation of Lynn Swann, the former Trojans football star, whose surprise hiring and disappointing tenure as athletic director left the athletic program in a state of turmoil and instability.
Swann had no experience in college athletics when he was tapped in 2016 to replace Pat Haden, another former football star. Under Swann’s watch, USC found itself embroiled in an admissions scandal with ties to athletics that saw one of the department’s top officials indicted on federal charges. USC may also still face consequences from the NCAA following a federal probe into college basketball, which led to former assistant Tony Bland being indicted in 2018.
But before confronting that fallout, Bohn’s first order as director could ultimately define his tenure.
With USC at 5-4, now trailing Utah by a game in the Pac-12 South Division, a decision on the status of embattled football coach Clay Helton looms large. Outside the program, calls for his immediate ouster reached a fevered pitch in the wake of last Saturday’s 56-24 loss to Oregon and haven’t abated.
As USC heads to Arizona State this weekend, the timeline for a decision on Helton’s future is still uncertain. Still, as Bohn assesses the program under Helton, questions about a potential replacement are already swirling.
Prominent boosters have already made clear their desire for USC and its new athletic director to pursue Urban Meyer, the three-time national title-winning former coach long coveted by disenchanted Trojans fans. But whether Folt and USC’s new leadership would even support that pursuit remains an open question.
At Cincinnati, Bohn was widely praised for hiring one of Meyer’s former assistants at Ohio State, Luke Fickell. In three seasons, Fickell has resurrected the Bearcats program with wins in 18 of their last 21 games.
But over nine years at Colorado, where Bohn helped usher the school through its transition to the Pac-12, Bohn’s three football hires were far less inspiring. He fired Gary Barnett and installed Dan Hawkins, who went 16-33 in five seasons. He replaced Hawkins with Jon Embree, who was fired after two disastrous campaigns. Mike MacIntyre, his third hire, proved most successful. But he, too, was fired after six years.
In 2013, due in large part to his football program’s failures, Bohn was forced to resign as Colorado’s athletic director. Bohn, who is a Colorado native, said at the time that he was blindsided by the university’s decision.
He soon landed at Cincinnati, where his reputation as an enthusiastic fundraiser and engaging leader of an evolving athletic department was cemented. It was a role he was already familiar playing by then, having spent decades building up departments at Idaho and San Diego State.
In that regard, Bohn stands in stark contrast to his recent predecessors at USC, the last three of whom were better known for their past glories on the football field.