T-Time: USC should look outside its ranks to choose new athletic director

Many anticipated that new USC President Carol Folt would clean house within the athletic department once she assumed office July 1. It took some time to come to fruition, but ultimately it happened. 

On Monday, Lynn Swann officially resigned from his position as athletic director months after an embarrassing admissions scandal. The football and men’s basketball teams also finished with losing records in the same season that the scandal took place.

“I am writing to share my sincere appreciation for Lynn Swann, who has decided to resign from his position as the Director of Athletics effective today,” wrote Folt in a message to the USC community. “Lynn has been a leader on and off the field at USC for nearly five decades, and he will forever be a valued member of the Trojan family.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, Folt’s, or, um, Swann’s decision had nothing to do with the scandal that resulted in the arrests of several coaches and senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel. It’s fair to take that information with a grain of salt. Swann’s tenure has been marred by scandals surrounding teams that have won (like water polo) and ineptitude from teams that have stayed clean (like football). It was never a sustainable combination for an administrator operating one of the most heavily scrutinized programs in the country. 

Many reporters, myself included, have written about the admissions scandal and the Tony Bland FBI investigation in length. So instead of looking back on Swann’s uneven tenure, I’m going to look forward at the type of person Folt should hire to bring USC’s athletic program back to national prominence — for the right reasons. 

First things first, she should avoid hiring someone with the “USC” tagline. The school’s past three athletic directors were all “USC guys” to their core. Mike Garrett, Pat Haden and Swann were all former Trojan football players who had limited administrative experience before becoming athletic directors. All were successful broadcasters and had some success in the business world. Accomplished men for sure, but so is Lee Corso. No one’s asking him to run an athletic department. 

It’s time for USC to stop hiring people who symbolize USC’s rich athletic past and hire someone who can propel the program into the future. The University needs to hire a true administrator who can seek out dynamic coaches while navigating the NCAA’s stringent amatuer rules. Bringing in someone with USC ties should be viewed as more of a negative than positive. That strategy simply hasn’t worked out in the past. 

Look at what head coach Clay Helton did in thinking outside the box and hiring offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. USC is traditionally a run-heavy team, with four Heisman Trophy-winning running backs in school history (five if you count Reggie Bush, which you should). 

Understandably, fans were concerned the Trojans would shift too far away from that tradition by hiring an Air-Raid offensive coordinator. So far, Helton’s bold decision has paid off: The offense looked unstoppable last weekend against Stanford, humming its way to 492 total yards. 

In finding someone to save the offense — and, by extension, his job — Helton didn’t hire someone from within or look to someone from the heralded Pete Carroll era to restore glory. He went against the grain, and it’s looking like it could be one of the best decisions of his tenure. 

Folt needs to make a similar move in order to save the athletic department. And the answer isn’t “hire Urban Meyer,” as many fans have speculated on the internet. While Meyer has had success at every school he’s coached at, his ability to oversee an athletic department should be questioned given his mishandling of the Zach Smith debacle at Ohio State. USC needs to avoid scandals going forward, and Meyer has been at the center of far too many over his career. Plus, it would create an ultra-uncomfortable situation for Helton in the middle of the season. He’s already on the hot seat. The last thing he needs is to be answering to his potential replacement. 

Folt would be wise to start her search by looking within the conference. Take Colorado’s Rick George and Washington State’s Patrick Chun. Both inherited athletic programs in dire need of upgrades and were able to raise the money to make it happen. Imagine what they could accomplish with the abundance of resources at USC. 

Whatever direction Folt decides to go, she made a smart and bold decision in moving on from the Swann era. Now it’s time to ignore history and make a groundbreaking hire that brings USC Athletics into a brand new era. 

Trevor Denton is a senior writing about sports. He is also a former sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “T-Time,” runs every other Thursday.