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USC hires its newest coach using a process it hopes to never repeat

USC logo.
( USC logo)

When longtime swim coach Dave Salo stepped down in February, USC athletic director Mike Bohn never expected to find his replacement over video chat.

But on Tuesday, three months after Salo’s unexpected departure, Jeremy Kipp, a former USC assistant, was named coach following a virtual interview process.

For Kipp, who worked under Salo from 2008-15, leading USC’s swim program was a dream job. Landing the gig over Zoom, however, was hardly how he or Bohn expected that dream to come true.

“It was a challenging process,” Bohn said, “but we’re thrilled with the result.”

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With campus closed, the university on a hiring freeze and his athletic department working remotely amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the process took “a lot longer than usual,” Bohn explained, despite the fact that USC interviewed fewer candidates than under normal circumstances.

“With the inability to get in front of someone, we spent more time vetting our candidates, thinking what’s the right fit and learning as much as we can through communication with colleagues across the country,” Bohn said. “That takes more time and obviously more insights, more people.”

Those insights included input from current swimmers, to whom Bohn reached out to gauge what qualities they wanted in their new coach. That information alone took weeks to compile before USC set out to interview candidates.

When Kipp first interviewed last month, he had little grasp on how his virtual audition went.

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“There’s a lot of body language that when you’re interviewing, where you know you’re doing well. You read the room,” Kipp said. “On Zoom, if you think you said something really smart, you’re looking at the cubes thinking, ‘Did that land or not?’”

Kipp had no idea until the job was offered to him. His interviewers, on the other hand, were able to share their opinions about him via a separate chat during Kipp’s interview.

It was one of the few advantages of a virtual process, Bohn said. Shortcomings aside, the process was enough to convince Bohn that Kipp had the passion he was looking for.

Kipp spent the previous two seasons in the same position at Northwestern, culminating with the program’s best performance in more than a decade. Kipp also served as coach at Boise State for three seasons.

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Only a few coaches and administrators remain from Kipp’s stint at USC.

On Tuesday morning he was introduced to the men’s and women’s teams over Zoom. Kipp, who hopes to move to California next month, had a speech ready. As he scanned dozens of faces in small boxes on his computer screen, it dawned on him again how difficult it was to communicate to an entire team over Zoom.

Kipp’s passion again impressed Bohn. The response from USC’s swimmers, he said, was “as validating a response to a coaching hire that I’ve ever had in my career.”

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“To be able to watch the screen as the student-athletes’ faces lit up with excitement and hope when they learned Jeremy was their new coach, that was really special,” Bohn said. “It was truly an inspiring moment.”

That doesn’t mean Bohn is itching to make any more virtual hires.

“I hope this is the one,” he said.


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