Gold: USC's next AD hire is too big to screw up...again
Here we are again, with USC’s reputation tarnished and its athletic department rudderless.
The terrific reporting by Ryan Kartje of the Los Angeles Times may have ushered former athletic director Mike Bohn out the door, as he shockingly announced his resignation in a classic Friday news dump after Kartje raised questions on Thursday about his handling of the athletic department. Updating his reporting throughout the day, Kartje then detailed a department in disarray, with allegations of workplace harassment, a culture of absenteeism and poor leadership.
Our story on Mike Bohn’s resignation was updated last night with key info https://t.co/2881lmL55D
— Ryan Kartje (@Ryan_Kartje) May 20, 2023
It painted a stark contrast between the plague of internal mismanagement while projecting a string of public successes — an Elite Eight run in men’s basketball; the hiring of Lincoln Riley; the transfer of Caleb Williams; the departure to the Big Ten; a big first season for Riley and Williams, culminating in an 11-3 record and a Heisman Trophy; Bronny James’ commitment.
On its face, this was a department thriving, ushered into a new age by the first outsider in charge in more than a quarter-century.
In the background was some of the same dysfunction that has plagued USC for decades.
Dysfunction that must be flushed out, now that the Trojans are heading to the bigger, badder, better Big Ten.
From 1993 to 2019, the USC athletic department was helmed by a Trojan Man, a former legendary football player who knew what it was like to lead Southern California to the glory with which it had been accustomed. From Mike Garrett to Pat Haden to Lynn Swann, USC’s athletic directors were all cut from the same cloth, almost quite literally — Haden and Swann were one year apart and teammates on the Trojans’ 1972 championship team, just seven years after Garrett won the Heisman as the first in a long line of legends at Tailback U.
So you can imagine just how strange it was when then-new USC president Carol Holt hired Bohn in 2019, after a successful half-decade in Cincinnati. It’s one thing to hire an outsider. It’s another thing to tab one with no major Power 5 experience. This was not Alabama hiring the up-and-coming Greg Byrne back in 2017.
Bohn had prior AD experience at Colorado, from 2005-13, and at San Diego State, where I got to know him as an Aztec from 2003-05. His 1st season in San Diego was my second year as a student and as a member of the Daily Aztec newspaper. Over the next few years, I’d grow to become sports editor and managing editor of the paper, necessitating a handful of sit-down interviews with the then-young AD.
Bohn was studious and strategic, level-headed and realistic and SDSU at the time was a budding department finally seeing some of the fruits of a wave of investment that began with the opening of Cox Arena, the hiring of Steve Fisher and the growth of the campus’ sports facilities. But the basketball program went just 25-34 in his tenure while the football team went 15-20.
Nothing of our interactions then suggested to me that I was listening to a dynamic leader who would one day guide the preeminent program in the west. He wasn’t particularly charismatic, or a bold visionary.
If anything, he was a bit old-school, and a bit paternalistic.
Two traits that came up in Kartje’s reporting on Friday.
Other traits: Arrogance, narcissism and a culture of complacency that has no business in the hallowed corridors of Heritage Hall
So now what? Where does USC go from here?
Well, we already know where the Trojans are going: In just more than a year, USC will venture to the Big Ten, a bold venture architected by Bohn that will have repercussions for generations to come.
With so much on the line, the Trojans must nail this hire.
I will always be appreciative of Mike Bohn for his role in bringing us to USC & certainly wish both he and his family all the best.
With the current state of the programs in our Athletic Department, there is a really special opportunity ahead for all of us Trojans.
— Lincoln Riley (@LincolnRiley) May 20, 2023
This has nothing to do with Lincoln Riley and a USC football team that has massive goals for 2023. This is not about Andy Enfield and ascendant basketball program that just reeled in the top prospect in the country, Isaiah Collier, to go along with Bronny James, the biggest name in the class.
This is about class itself.
This is about legacy.
This is about USC entering the next stage of college athletics as it should be: A nine-figure enterprise that walks, talks and acts like a Fortune 500 company.
“Over the last four years, the USC athletics department has transformed into a national powerhouse,” Folt said in a release announcing Bohn’s resignation, which made no mention of improprieties. “In our singular pursuit of excellence, I am committed to ensuring we have the right leadership in place to achieve our goals. As part of that commitment and as we prepare to move to the Big Ten, we conducted a thorough review of the athletics department, including its operations, culture, and strategy. Having built a strong foundation over the last few years, now is the time for new direction grounded in our values and in expertise needed to fulfill our aspirational vision for Trojan athletics.”
If I’m USC, I try to bring in someone with a youthful energy that matches UCLA’s Martin Jarmond, while maintaining an air of gravitas that is the Trojans’ hallmark. Possible successors include Bohn’s former Chief of Staff and Executive Senior Associate Athletic Director Brandon Susna, who last year joined the Detroit Lions as Senior Director, Football Administration; as well as a pair of potential Pac-12 replacements in Washington State’s Pat Chun and Colorado’s Rick George.
Sosna may be in the driver’s seat — he reportedly played a major role in bringing Riley to California from Oklahoma — and he would indeed be an inspired choice.
But only if USC ditches the nepotism and the narcissism that led to the position it’s in.