Over the past few months, USC has been searching for a new athletic director, and just about everyone expected the hire to be a home run. After all, when you give one of the most resource-rich athletic departments in the country a full two months to make a move, you'd think they'd go big, right?
Well, not exactly.
Because in a move that only USC could make, they eschewed all the people with actual experience running a major college athletic department, or even experience working in college sports at all, and instead, went with ... Lynn Swann.
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Yes, Lynn Swann.
The former USC wide receiver and Super Bowl champion, whose only previous experience "working" in college athletics was as a sideline reporter over a decade ago. The same Lynn Swann whose single greatest qualification for the position is that, um ... he once played football at USC.
The hire, announced Wednesday, was typical USC. Unfortunately for Trojans fans, no program sticks to its roots and relishes in its glory days quite like the Trojans do. And no athletic program has suffered more over the past decade or so because of it.
Excited to welcome Lynn Swann back to Heritage Hall! #FightOn— Clay Helton (@USCCoachHelton) April 13, 2016
It all began about a decade ago, when USC was at the height of its power on the football field. The man in charge at the time was Mike Garrett, a former Trojans' football player turned AD. Thanks to his gross oversight of his program, USC was put on probation for both football and men's basketball (don't forget O.J. Mayo!), yet when he was asked about his sanctions, his only response was that other schools were "envious" of USC. Because everyone is envious of a school with a two-year bowl ban.
Garrett was eventually forced out, but things only got worse from there.
One of Garrett's last acts as AD was hiring Lane Kiffin -- naturally, a former USC assistant -- and Kiffin was later inherited by the new AD, Pat Haden. By the way, Haden -- a former USC football star -- came from a successful corporate background, but had no experience running an athletic department.
To his credit, Haden guided the school through the NCAA sanctions, even if it was a comedy of errors to get there. While Kiffin was the head coach, the team didn't win that much, always seemed to find itself in some silly controversy, and even when Kiffin was fired in September 2013, it happened in the most goofy, haphazard way possible -- on the tarmac at the airport after a road loss. In Haden's defense, he probably wasn't quite sure how to handle the situation, since he had never fired a football coach before.
And while Haden did some good while at USC (namely hiring Andy Enfield as basketball coach), what can't be argued is that he botched the single biggest decision he had on the job. With Kiffin gone, Haden had a chance to start fresh, to think outside the box and make an innovative hire for the school's next head football coach. The fact that he had a two-month start on the process (after firing Kiffin in late September) led many to believe that Haden would make a home-run, grand-slam, can't-miss hire.
Instead, Haden made one of the single most uninspired hires in recent college football history, tabbing University of Washington coach Steve Sarkisian in the same role with the Trojans. The former USC assistant had seemed to cap out at 8-4 in Seattle that season, with many speculating that he would have ended up on the hot seat had he not beaten Washington State in his final game there.
So yeah, Sark wasn't exactly riding to Los Angeles on a white horse. Believe it or not, his most obvious qualification for USC -- one of the five best jobs in college football -- seemed to be that he worked there during the glory years.
After numerous alcohol-related issues led to Sarkisian's dismissal in October 2015, Haden announced four months later that he would be stepping down this summer. Would that have happened if Sarkisian had been the second coming of Vince Lombardi? Only Haden knows for sure, but it's harder to envision.
Which brings us back to Swann.
For all we know, he could be the right fit for the job, and it will be years (not months or weeks) before we truly get an answer on that.
At the same time, it isn't really so much about Swann, as the circumstances around the hire.
After two full months to vet candidates, to scan the country for the right man or woman, it's hard to believe that Swann could have possibly been the best candidate. After all, this is USC we're talking about, a school with every resource at its disposal (rich boosters, a beautiful campus, top-notch facilities) and yet somehow that athletic department is rolling the dice on a guy with no experience before?
Even if he was the best candidate, doesn't anyone at USC have the sense to say "maybe we should stay away?" "Maybe we shouldn't hire another former Trojan?" "Maybe we'll look really bad if this guy doesn't work out?"
Maybe so, but while these appear to be things that are common sense to college football fans across the country, common sense is lacking at USC, especially when it involves the cardinal and gold.
Who knows, maybe in time, Swann will turn out to be the answer, some combination of Arkansas' Jeff Long and Michigan State's Mark Hollis, innovative, outside-the-box creative thinkers who have led their programs to unprecedented success.
More likely though, Swann will be just another forgettable former Trojan, given a job for which he was unqualified, simply because he once played for the school.
And if that does happen, none of us will be surprised.
At that point, the only question will be who is USC's next AD from there?
Reggie Bush or Carson Palmer?