“Behind the Numbers” is a column by Michael Loy about USC sports.
This week, we’re not looking at numbers. On Monday morning, Lynn Swann resigned as USC’s athletic director. His rocky tenure deserves some historical context.
“There’s a lot of things in life that I planned for,” former USC athletic director Lynn Swann said in his first speech at USC on April 14, 2016. “[Becoming an athletic director] was certainly not one of them.”
Swann’s inexperience as an administrator showed during his two and a half year tenure, which ended in less fanfare than his first steps on campus. In an early Monday morning email from USC President Carol Folt, Swann was not provided the opportunity to make a statement in an announcement about his resignation.
This resignation was a resignation in name only. Resignations don’t happen three weeks into the school semester. Folt’s email also stated there was already a “committee who will conduct the national search for our next, permanent athletic director.” With the replacement search already underway, Swann’s “resignation” looked more like a dismissal.
While I and many others thought Swann’s departure was imminent, some former Trojans were surprised.
“I was a little shocked today hearing about the resignation of AD Lynn Swann,” Rodney Peete, USC’s quarterback in the late 1980’s, said in a statement to Annenberg Media. “I’ve known and respected Lynn for a long time. He did not walk into an easy situation and I believe he worked tirelessly to uphold the tradition of USC and bring Trojan Football back to National Prominence.”
USC’s familiar with new presidents making leadership changes after athletic scandals. In July of 2010, then-USC-President-elect C.L. Max Nikias announced the replacement of AD Mike Garrett. Garrett was a major figure in USC’s mid-2000s athletics scandal when O.J. Mayo and Reggie Bush were accused of receiving improper benefits during their time at USC.
When news broke on March 12 that USC was involved in another athletic scandal, Swann was on the hot seat. The university had still not found a replacement for Nikias, who stepped down the September prior due to another scandal impacting the university. Interim President Wanda Austin deflected questions about Swann, stating that his status was going to be reviewed with USC’s board.
Then came Carol Folt, who is no stranger to taking action after athletic scandals.
Let’s take a look back to 2013 when Folt was hired as the Chancellor of the University of North Carolina. She was tasked with handling the ramifications of a UNC athletic scandal in which athletes enrolled in “paper classes.” These classes required just one student paper for a student’s course grade; mostly athletes enrolled in these courses.
UNC’s athletic director, Lawrence “Bubba” Cunningham, did not resign due to the athletic scandal. In the Wainstein report, a report commissioned by Folt in response to the scandal, Cunningham allegedly “decided that the Athletics Department needed a change in leadership in order to have credibility.” Cunningham and Folt enacted changes to both the programs and review processes impacted by the scandal.
Cunningham only had to deal with one scandal; Swann had several.
First came USC’s basketball scandal, when assistant coach Tony Bland pled guilty to a conspiracy to commit bribery charge. Bland was part of a nationwide ring of coaches and assistants who bribed players to take sponsorship deals at specific schools.
Swann survived the first and second scandals under a variety of leadership, but once Folt took charge, his clock was quickly running out.
Swann was not the first leader to fall under Folt’s reform. Former Provost Michael Quick and Senior Vice President for Legal Affairs and Professionalism Carol Mauch Amir both left following the admissions scandal.
If Swann was unsure about his role as athletic director from Day 1, he should have resigned before his lack of action caught up to him. Perhaps he was too comfortable in his position of power.
USC now has the responsibility to find an athletic director outside of traditional channels. Now is not the time for more former Trojan athletes or USC greats. Swann was not the answer at the time of his hiring, and his legacy will be another note in the long line of former Trojans who couldn’t take control of a storied athletic program.
Swann was accustomed to receiving bad news before the sun comes up. In his response to the admissions scandal, Swann said, “when you get a call this early in the morning, more often than not it’s not good news.”
Yesterday, Swann received an all-too-familiar early morning phone call. This time, the phone was ringing for him.
His column “Behind the Numbers” runs every Tuesday.