Q&A: Where does the USC athletic director search stand? Vetted candidates and more

Carol Folt takes questions after being named USC's president in March 2019
USC President Carol Folt is leading the search for a new athletic director as the school prepares to move to the Big Ten in 2024.
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

It’s been three months since Mike Bohn abruptly resigned from his position as USC’s athletic director.

USC President Carol Folt now finds herself less than a year away from the Trojans’ move to the Big Ten and just days from USC football’s opener against San José State. All last season, she waited with Bohn after games to greet Lincoln Riley as he walked off the field. The question remains: Who will be her choice to stand by her side and steer the athletic department through a crucial transition?

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

The search for Bohn’s successor has been pretty quiet, but, of course, that’s how these things are designed. Some buzz has trickled out recently.


USC reportedly showed interest in Texas Christian athletic director Jeremiah Donati, but the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Donati withdrew his name from consideration. Missouri athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois, meanwhile, has knocked down persistent fan message board chatter linking her to the vacancy. A Missouri spokesman told The Times any reporting she pursued the USC job is inaccurate.

The Times talked with sources who have knowledge of the search and potential candidates. The sources were not authorized to speak publicly as USC strives to run a quiet search.


How does this search compare to one that landed Bohn?

Carol Folt shakes hands with Lincoln Riley
USC President Carol Folt greets football coach Lincoln Riley during his introductory news conference in November 2021.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

In the fall of 2019, the USC athletic director job was not drawing the industry’s best and brightest. The Trojans were saddled with an embattled football coach in Clay Helton, and they were coming off the embarrassment of the “Varsity Blues” scandal, plus several other highly publicized scandals across the university. It had been more than a generation since the USC athletic department was led by an experienced administrator rather than a former Trojan football hero.

Folt hired TurnkeyZRG to present and vet candidates. After about two months, Turnkey landed on Bohn, the Cincinnati athletic director, right around the time when some internal investigations into Bohn’s behavior were starting at his current school, Times reporting later revealed. Turnkey did not detect any major red flags during its vetting, which made it surprising to some at USC when questions were raised about Bohn’s behavior while leading the department.


After athletic director Mike Bohn resigned amid scrutiny, USC president Carol Folt named an interim athletic administrator and Big Ten transition team.

May 24, 2023

Turmoil may still exist at Heritage Hall, but the job should be much more appealing now than in 2019. Under Bohn’s watch, USC hired Riley, who led the Trojans to 11 wins in his first season and coached quarterback Caleb Williams to the Heisman Trophy. Plus, USC is headed to the Big Ten in August 2024. Though figuring out life in a Midwest-based league is going to be a challenge for the next athletic director, the Trojans’ coffers will be full of cash from the Big Ten’s new media rights deal soon enough.

After the way things soured with Turnkey, there was a question as to whether Folt would use a search firm again. But USC decided to interview firms and hired Parker Executive Search, an industry mainstay like Turnkey.


Who is being considered for the job?

Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle presents a jersey to men's basketball coach Ben Johnson during a news conference.
Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle presents a jersey to men’s basketball coach Ben Johnson during his introductory news conference in 2021.
(Jim Mone / Associated Press)

The Times confirmed that three USC athletic director candidates have been vetted: Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle, Florida State athletic director Michael Alford and Florida Atlantic athletic director Brian White.

This isn’t a complete list of USC candidates, but rather athletic directors whose ties to the Trojans’ search have been confirmed by multiple sources interviewed by The Times.

Florida State athletic director Michael Alford passes fans while walking into the stadium before the Cheez-It Bowl
Florida State athletic director Michael Alford passes fans while walking into the stadium before the Cheez-It Bowl in December 2022.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

Coyle has been the athletic director at Minnesota since May 2016. He was hired to clean up a mess after former Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment. That experience would serve Coyle well, plus he obviously knows the Big Ten.

Coyle spent just one year at Syracuse before going to Minnesota. He was athletic director at Boise State prior to leading the Orange.

Michael Alford has been the athletic director at Florida State for 18 months. Before taking over that position, he worked as the department’s lead fundraiser. Much of his experience in college athletics has been as a fundraiser, including 2012-17 at Oklahoma, where he overlapped with Riley’s first two seasons in Norman. Alford knows how big-time athletic departments are run, having also worked at Alabama in 2004-07 and at USC before that, in the athletic department’s marketing office.

Other than his brief tenure at Florida State, his only time as an athletic director came at Central Michigan, from 2017 to 2020.

Alford has been vocal recently about Florida State’s need to leave the ACC. It wouldn’t be surprising if USC’s move to the Big Ten would appeal to Alford, but it’s unclear how much interest Folt has in him.


FAU athletic director Brian White swings a net he cut down after the Owls reached the Final Four
Florida Atlantic athletic director Brian White swings a net he cut down after the Owls reached the men’s basketball Final Four in March.
(Al Bello/Getty Images)

Brian White, the youngest of the known candidates, is coming off Florida Atlantic’s run to the men’s basketball Final Four. He’s also led the Owls from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference, where they’ll start play this fall. White was at Missouri before taking over FAU in 2018.

White comes from a powerful family in college sports. His father, Kevin, was the longtime athletic director at Notre Dame (where Brian got his bachelor’s degree) and Duke. His brother Danny is the athletic director at Tennessee. His other brother, Mike, is the head men’s basketball coach at Georgia after a stint at Florida.

Kevin White is now working with Huron Consulting, the college sports consulting group that USC hired to help guide the department after Bohn’s resignation.

When Danny White was hired as athletic director at Central Florida in 2015, Parker did the search that placed him. When he was hired as Tennessee’s athletic director in 2021, Parker did the search.


At FAU, Brian White has hired two football coaches — Willie Taggart in 2019 and Tom Herman after last season. Both searches were handled by Parker.

Danny White’s success at each of his stops has certainly been a boon to Parker’s hiring reputation, and it appears Brian White could be on a similar path.

How did the Pac-12 die? These surprising decisions by USC, Oregon, Washington and others thwarted efforts to save the conference.

Aug. 16, 2023


Is anyone with deep USC ties being considered?

USC executive senior associate athletic director Brandon Sosna stands next to USC football coach Lincoln Riley
USC executive senior associate athletic director Brandon Sosna stands next to Trojans football coach Lincoln Riley during a USC basketball game against Arizona shortly after Riley was hired.
(Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Many around USC were hopeful that Folt would consider Brandon Sosna, Bohn’s chief of staff who led the search that landed Riley and helped Bohn execute the Big Ten move before leaving for a post with the Detroit Lions.

Within the department, there would be support for Sosna, but it is unclear at this point if he is a candidate.


A source not authorized to speak publicly about the search told The Times that Parker inquired about the interest of Villanova athletic director Mark Jackson, the former USC senior associate athletic director who notably oversaw the football program’s administration under Pete Carroll from 2001 to 2004.

Jackson’s name will continue to come up any time USC has an athletic director opening.


Is the UCLA athletic director a candidate?

UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond holds a basketball while standing in Pauley Pavilion.
UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond dismissed rumors he was interested in the USC athletic director job.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

When UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond was asked about rumors that he expressed interest in the USC job, he told Times reporter Ben Bolch, with a laugh, that it’s best not to believe everything you read or hear. Jarmond said he hasn’t interviewed anywhere and is focused on shepherding the Bruins’ move to the Big Ten while strengthening every aspect of the athletic department, adding that he loved being at UCLA and was excited about the work he was doing.


How will the looming Ohio State athletic director vacancy impact USC?

Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith answers questions during a 2018 news conference
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith’s decision to retire could impact the number of top candidates available for the USC athletic director search.
(Jay LaPrete / Associated Press)

Longtime Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, one of the most influential leaders in college sports, said he is planning to retire at the end of the 2023-24 academic year.


The Ohio State job may be the most highly sought-after position in the country, and some of the candidates USC may covet for its opening could prioritize going for the Ohio State job over making a riskier move to Los Angeles.

Jarmond, Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke and Washington State’s Pat Chun all worked under Smith at Ohio State, among many others across the industry. Jarmond was viewed as Smith’s right-hand man before he left for Boston College, so, yes, it would be shocking if Jarmond is spending much energy thinking about his current crosstown rival when he could seek a move to Ohio State.


What other hurdles does USC face?

Other than the Ohio State opening coming soon, one source not authorized to discuss the search said that the question of how long Folt will remain in her role as president is a concern among potential candidates. Folt is 72.

“The question in the industry is, how long is the president going to be around?” the source said. “You attach yourself to the president as much as you attach yourself to the institution. Then you’re rolling the dice about who’s coming next.

“But it’s still USC. It’s too good of a job, brand, location. … It’s a brand that allows you to immediately recruit coaches, recruit administrators, recruit athletes and raise money. I think it’s a top-five job. It’s no worse than top 10.”


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