When Mike Bohn was hired as the first outsider to lead USC athletics in decades, sweeping changes were expected inside a historically insular department recently plagued by scandal.
Those changes at Heritage Hall began Tuesday, according to multiple people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly. Three of USC’s most senior officials in the athletic department are out, including Steve Lopes, the CFO and COO, who’d long been considered second in command.
Ron Orr, a senior associate athletic director who led the Trojan Athletic Fund, is also out, along with associate athletic director Scott Jacobson, who worked with Orr in development and fundraising.
Their removals stem in part from concerns over recent turmoil, including the ‘Varsity Blues’ cash-for-admissions scandal, The Times has learned.
Donna Heinel, a top athletic department administrator, and legendary water polo coach Jovan Vavic were charged in the case last year and quickly fired by USC. Both have pleaded not guilty. Two former USC soccer coaches — Ali Khosroshahin and Laura Janke — were also charged. They pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with authorities but haven’t been sentenced.
The moves Tuesday also come because of the desire of new athletic department leadership to bring in its own people.
A shake-up of the department’s senior leadership had been anticipated since Bohn’s hiring in November. He replaced Lynn Swann, the USC football star-turned-athletic director who abruptly resigned in September after a tumultuous three-year tenure that included the school being linked to the federal investigation into college basketball corruption and “Varsity Blues.”
The admissions scandal centered on Newport Beach college consultant William “Rick” Singer allegedly funneling bribes to college administrators and coaches to help students gain admission as athletes, though many had limited or nonexistent backgrounds in their purported sports.
Lopes, Orr and Jacobson haven’t been charged or mentioned publicly by authorities in connection with the “Varsity Blues” investigation. But they were referenced in a slew of internal USC emails filed in U.S. District Court in Boston by attorneys for Robert Zangrillo, one of the defendants, as part of a months-long effort to subpoena documents from the school.
In one email string in early 2014, Heinel told Orr and other school officials about a student admitted as a walk-on water polo player.
“Please give me ideas on what kind of development opportunities we can explore with the family?” Orr wrote.
The response from another official: “1-5M potential.”
When the family appeared to not have followed through with a donation, Heinel suggested she could have “Admissions pull the approval.” Orr wrote back: “Really sucks dont pull we will guilt them.”
The court filings also included spreadsheets tracking about 200 “special interest” applicants between 2012 and 2015. The sheets included which athletic department official recommended them, the students’ grade-point average and a column where a potential donation by their family was often listed.
One freshman recommended by Lopes, for example, had the notation: “1 mil pledge.” A freshman recommended by Orr for women’s track and field carried the note: “500,000 for Galen.” The note for one of Jacobson’s recommendations said: “100,000 — no ask yet.”
The documents are heavily redacted and the full context isn’t clear, including whether the donations were made and any athletic qualifications of the students.
The specter of future fallout from the scandal still loomed when Bohn inherited the department in early November. New USC President Carol L. Folt introduced him at his initial news conference as someone who “demands at all times the highest level of integrity, not only of himself, but of everyone that works for him.”
“My intent is to listen, to learn and to lead, in that order,” Bohn said then. “Ultimately, my goal is to deliver a bold, creative, innovative vision for our program that will position USC at the forefront of the intercollegiate athletics landscape for the present and future.”
Lopes’ exit, after 35 years in the department, sends a clear message of change at the start of a new era for Trojan athletics. Under USC’s previous three directors, Lopes played a major role in determining the direction of the department.
Since joining the department in 1984 as an assistant strength coach, Lopes slowly worked his way up the chain of command within USC athletics. He was promoted to his current position in 2012.
When Pat Haden left in 2016, Lopes was seen as one of the leading candidates to replace him as athletic director.
Orr, a former All-American swimmer at USC, had been with the athletic department just as long as Lopes. He was promoted to senior associate athletic director in 2010, tasked with taking care of the Trojan Athletic Fund, the fundraising arm of the department. Orr was also known for his work on campus with “Swim With Mike,” a charitable organization he founded that provides resources for physically challenged athletes.