It’s a meaningful word to most, but we have a special obsession with the term in sports. Athletic legacies can be built in a matter of days or even seconds: A group of anonymous amateurs can become national heroes after three fateful weeks and one Miracle on Ice in the Adirondack Mountains. Just four days ago, a 19-year-old benchwarmer transformed into a college football legend in the span of a couple hours (condolences to Georgia native and new sports editor Trevor Denton).
But most lasting marks on the world of sports are made through years of excellence — and they end in plaques, whether in Heritage Hall, or Canton. Athletic Director Lynn Swann knows this better than almost anyone. His outstanding career as a Trojan and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver earned him spots in both USC’s and professional football’s halls of fame. He expanded his legacy even further following his playing days, making a successful transition into broadcasting, earning a gubernatorial nomination in Pennsylvania and serving in President George W. Bush’s administration.
Now, Swann seems intent on creating a legacy as his alma mater’s AD. It’s been just under two years since he succeeded Pat Haden as USC’s athletic director, but Swann has already rocked the boat. Though the alleged violations in the men’s basketball corruption scandal occurred under his predecessor, Swann made the choice to extend sophomore guard De’Anthony Melton’s suspension until the end of the season after the University concluded an internal investigation this week. It was an unpopular decision. Nevertheless, with the NCAA’s long history of heavy punishments for petty crimes, Swann prioritized protecting the program’s long-term reputation, even if it came at the cost of Melton’s development as a player.
The new AD has gotten busy in other areas as well — namely, coaching changes. His first move came last March, when former women’s basketball head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke resigned following another rough season in which the Women of Troy finished 5-13 in conference play. The eventual return of former Trojan Mark Trakh has so far proven to be a masterstroke: Under its new coach, the team has rebounded to 11-4 so far this season.
But then came five-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year Richard Gallien’s sudden departure from the women’s tennis program. After 22 years at USC, Gallien said he would not be returning on March 24. Three-time Pac-12 champion Zenon Babraj also resigned as head coach of the women’s rowing program in May. Finally, Swann fired Mick Haley in December, letting go of an active AVCA Hall-of-Famer after he delivered two women’s volleyball national championships.
Swann replaced Gallien with Alison Swain, a coach with a spectacular track record at the Division III level, having won eight national titles in 10 years with Williams College. He then poached Josh Adam from Washington State to take Babraj’s place as rowing coach. On Wednesday, Brent Crouch — head coach of the University of Portland for the last four seasons — was named as Haley’s successor.
It may seem odd that Swann, who played under stalwart John McKay at USC and spent all nine of his NFL seasons in Pittsburgh, decided to do away with the stability of more than a half-century of Trojan coaching. Maybe water polo’s Pac-12 Coach of the Century and 14-time national champion Jovan Vavic needs to watch his back (I’m only joking, of course, but I would’ve made the same joke about the aforementioned trio a year ago). Regardless, one thing is clear: Swann has already stamped his mark on USC athletics. This is now his show — his legacy.
It’s neither a surprise nor a coincidence that, despite their sparkling resumes, Haley, Gallien and Babraj hadn’t delivered the ultimate prize in more than a decade when they were let go (Haley last earned the NCAA crown in 2003, while Gallien and Babraj never won it all at USC). After winning two Rose Bowls, one national title as a Trojan and four Super Bowls in Pittsburgh, perhaps Swann believes that that success should translate into silverware more often than it has in recent years. Whether that’s a manifestation of his championship mentality or simple delusion, only time will tell.
Ollie Jung is a senior studying print and digital journalism. His column, Jung Money, runs on Fridays.