USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg breaks down the latest Amway Coaches Poll.
USA TODAYFor all the national championships in their trophy case, the movie-star appeal of its cardinal-and-gold brand and the deep-pocketed Hollywood moguls who have shoveled millions into their program, no athletics department in the country has spent the last decade as poorly managed as Southern California. Finally, mercifully, that’s about to change.With the resignation of Lynn Swann on Monday — an inevitability that college athletics insiders had been expecting for months — new USC president Carol Folt is going to do what the Trojans should have done years ago: hire a professional to do a job that the school has wasted on people who didn’t know what they were doing. “She’s not messing around,” one person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment publicly. While college athletics has long since transitioned from the days when the athletics director position went to retired football coaches or notable figures whose only qualification was nostalgia, USC has treated the job of managing a nine-figure athletics budget as if it were captain of the letterman’s club. There’s no doubt USC’s last three athletics directors — Mike Garrett, Pat Haden and Swann — were all successful as alumni, NFL players and in their post-football careers. But none of them would have been hired to lead an athletic department anywhere but their alma maters, and it showed in the impulsive, naïve and disastrous ways they ran USC football into the ground. But the insular Trojan world is about to get exposed to something new and different in the next several weeks: A real athletics director who will be tasked with making a decision on football coach Clay Helton and then who to hire if Helton’s surprisingly solid 2-0 start is exposed as a mirage the way most people would expect. Folt, who comes from North Carolina, has spent the last few weeks gauging interest of potential candidates, according to one person with knowledge of the search who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The timing of Swann’s resignation suggests Folt has some confidence she can land an experienced, sitting athletics director.It would, however, likely take a staggering financial package to land someone like Bubba Cunningham, the athletics director she worked with at North Carolina who is considered among the most competent in the industry. Though the potential to restore USC football to national prominence will have some allure to candidates, many of them who currently have jobs at Power Five programs will have some concerns about the lifestyle and cost of living in Los Angeles.Many of the top athletics directors, after all, already make around $1 million a year living in smaller college towns with a 10-minute commute to work. For that group, it’s harder to make the move worthwhile — especially for a more complicated job that will require a deft touch with the old guard as the operation gets modernized and overhauled.Make no mistake, this isn’t an easy job. USC’s next athletics director will spend much of their time dealing with the fallout of the so-called “Varsity Blues” admissions scandal that ensnared a longtime athletics administrator working directly under Swann and a potential NCAA investigation related to the activities of former assistant coach Tony Bland, who made a plea deal with federal prosecutors after being caught in the FBI investigation into college basketball corruption. Folt said Monday the admission scandal did not contribute to the decision to part ways.So even if all those factors prevent USC from landing a so-called “big name,” the job will surely be attractive to a promising, younger athletics director who will have fresh ideas on how to change the culture of administrative incompetence under Swann and Haden.What happened on their watch that led USC football to this point was not only inexcusable but also easy to prevent.Haden, after taking a swing with Lane Kiffin that had some moments of promise but ultimately ended in embarrassment, compounded the mistake by short-cutting a real search and giving the job to Steve Sarkisian despite some well-known red flags both on and off the field, which manifested themselves with a drunken public appearance at a booster event and a firing five games into the 2015 season after his alcohol abuse grew more severe. Then, instead of hitting the reset button and conducting a wide-ranging coaching search, Haden made removed the interim tag from Clay Helton after he led USC to a 5-2 record down the stretch and made the Pac-12 championship game.Though Helton went 21-6 his first two years, including a Rose Bowl win, Swann’s decision to sign him to a massive contract extension following a conference title in 2017 was a major gaffe. First of all, there was no real market for Helton with other jobs. He wasn’t going anywhere, so there was little urgency to hand him a huge extension. Then, even as USC won a weak Pac-12, it lost to Notre Dame by 35 points and got throttled by Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl, an indicator the Trojans were a cut or two below elite status. Then in 2018, with top quarterback prospect Sam Darnold having departed for the NFL, the bottom fell out as USC sunk to 5-7. Though beating Stanford soundly last Saturday was a pleasant surprise for Trojans fans, the program is struggling to generate much juice among fans or in recruiting, where USC is currently ranked 43rd by 247 Sports with no five-stars and two four-star prospects committed.But Monday’s announcement that Swann is leaving a job he wasn’t known to work particularly hard at in the first place clears the way for a real athletics director to be in place by the latter stages of the season when any coaching decisions would need to be made. USC fans should take all of this as a good sign. For once, there’s actually a plan in place. AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext Slide