Column: How did this happen again? USC and Carol Folt are responsible for the Mike Bohn mess

Mike Bohn stands at podium and speaks to a crowd while Carol Folt looks at him and smiles.
USC athletic director Mike Bohn speaks during his introductory news conference in 2019 while USC President Carol L. Folt looks toward him and smiles.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Share via

When Mike Bohn barreled into USC as its latest athletic director in the winter of 2019, he was sold as a man of character by university President Carol Folt.

“He has real integrity,” Folt said at the time. “He has run class acts and done it really well in some difficult situations.”

As Bohn was backpedaling out of USC nearly 3½ years later, it once again appears the Trojans have only a casual relationship with the word “integrity.”


Bohn resigned suddenly Friday in a statement issued to The Times that never actually said why he was resigning. But it’s not too hard to connect the dots, and the picture they produce is shameful.

Mike Bohn’s resignation comes a day after The Times asked him and USC about internal criticism of his management of the athletics department.

May 19, 2023

Bohn quit barely 24 hours after The Times asked him and USC about internal criticism of his management.

He quit shortly before The Times published a story by Ryan Kartje in which two USC sources charged that he had made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female colleagues.

He quit shortly before The Times story reported that three sources said several people confronted him about his behavior, yet it continued.

He quit before The Times story reported that six USC sources raised concerns about his department management, including charges that he missed meetings and was often absent from key events.

He quit before The Times story recounted concerns about his conduct in his previous job at Cincinnati, citing six sources both named and anonymous who said he made unwanted physical contact with women while creating a toxic and hostile work environment.


Mike Bohn quit before a Times story brought great embarrassment to him and the department.

USC athletic director Mike Bohn stands in a tunnel at the Coliseum.
USC athletic director Mike Bohn resigned Friday, a day after The Times asked the university and Bohn about internal criticism of his management of the athletic department.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

You do the math.

All of which leads to two major questions that will be asked by anyone who has watched USC continually sacrifice integrity on the altar of victories.

Would Folt have fired Bohn if The Times story never appeared?

And why on earth did they hire this guy in the first place?

The answer to the first question can probably be found in the powerful image created by Bohn, who was gregarious, quotable and cool.

Fans loved him. The national media respected him. The Trojan athletic department blossomed under his watch.

He got the credit, deservedly or not, for hiring football guru Lincoln Riley. He got the credit, deservedly or not, for bringing the Trojans into the lucrative Big Ten.

Even the USC basketball programs thrived under Bohn, with the Trojan men adding top recruits including LeBron James’ son Bronny and the Trojan women finally qualifying for the NCAA tournament under celebrated coach Lindsay Gottlieb.


In March of 2022, Bohn was named an athletic director of the year by the National Assn. of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and his future in the Trojan kingdom seemed set.

USC athletic director Mike Bohn and football coach Lincoln Riley laugh during a news conference at the Coliseum.
USC athletic director Mike Bohn, right, has been credited with luring star football coach Lincoln Riley, left, away from Oklahoma.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Did all this make him untouchable? It sure felt like it.

SC seemingly knew that beneath Bohn’s flashy accomplishments, there was trouble brewing. According to The Times story, earlier this year USC retained a lawyer specializing in sexual and gender-based harassment, and in March, Gina Maisto Smith began interviewing members of the athletic department.

It seems obvious that in those two months, Smith could have confirmed the discontent discovered by The Times. One would think that, at the very least, given that information, USC would have been prepared to part ways with Bohn by settling on a replacement.

But, no, the resignation was sudden and there was no replacement in place, which can only lead one to believe that USC was never going to remove Bohn unless pushed.

If true, that is a condemnation of USC and Carol Folt, and that’s not even the worst of it.


What makes this whole affair even sleazier is that it’s now apparent Bohn should never have been hired in the first place.

Mike Bohn speaks at a news conference after he was named Cincinnati athletic director on Feb. 6, 2014.
(Al Behrman / Associated Press)

Six sources in The Times story — including two willing to be named — describe questionable behavior at Cincinnati. How does this never come up in the vetting process?

We’re not talking about sources from Bohn’s deep past. We’re talking not about childhood grudges or grade-school gossip. We’re talking about his most recent job! Nobody at USC bothered to do a deep dive on his time at Cincinnati before hiring him directly from … Cincinnati?

Robb Williams, former Cincinnati head athletic trainer, told The Times that he saw Bohn make unwanted contact with women on several occasions, including touching their shoulders and backs in a way that made them feel visibly uncomfortable.

Kim McGraw, former Cincinnati athletics director of business affairs, told The Times she witnessed Bohn squeezing women’s shoulders and putting his arms around them in ways that made “her skin crawl.”


Was nobody from Cincinnati approached by USC or its hired guns Turnkey Search? Or did people talk and they were ignored?

USC has repeatedly declined to respond to The Times’ questions about Bohn’s behavior.

When asked Saturday whether Bohn was properly scrutinized before he was hired, a source close to Bohn’s search maintained that the university conducted a thorough vetting process.

This all comes back to Folt. This is her account. This is her responsibility. This is her mess and right now, she must swim in it.

USC athletic director Mike Bohn shakes hands with USC President Carol Folt while standing near a podium.
USC athletic director Mike Bohn shakes hands with USC President Carol Folt during an introductory news conference.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Remember, when she was inaugurated a couple of months before hiring Bohn, her mission was to fix the deep holes in USC’s moral fiber.

“Today we are turning a page at USC,” Folt intoned in her opening address. “We are starting a new journey of exploration.”


Nearly four years later, no page turned here, just the same old story. And it would have been nice if she started this “new journey of exploration” by exploring the past of the future athletic director.

It’s all become so repetitive. The criticisms have become so wearisome. It’s so sad that one of the crown jewels of college sports has become such low-hanging fruit.

The Reggie Bush scandal. The Steve Sarkisian scandal. The college admissions scandal.

USC’s influence in Los Angeles is growing, and so is its list of embarrassing scandals — plus more from the week in Opinion.

Nov. 13, 2021

And now, the Mike Bohn scandal, which Folt should handle in two ways.

First, release the result of Smith’s review. It’s been done in other places. Do it here. Open the books. Be transparent about what exactly happened under Bohn as a sign that you’re serious about it never happening again.

Second, when you hire a new athletic director, don’t dare throw around that word “integrity.”


Integrity is something to be earned. And once again, USC athletics has squandered it.