Lynn Swann resigns as USC athletic director effective immediately

USC Trojans Athletic Director Lynn Swann in the first half of a NCAA basketball game between the USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins at the Galen Center on Saturday, January 19, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)
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USC athletic director Lynn Swann tendered his resignation on Monday effective immediately, university president Carol Folt announced in an email, a shocking update just two games into football season.

“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,” Folt said, in the email. “We appreciate Lynn’s leadership of the department over these past three years and will continue to be grateful for his historic contributions to USC.”

Former USC vice president of athletic compliance Dave Roberts will serve as the interim athletic director. Roberts, a current special adviser to Folt, was in the compliance role for six years from 2010-2016.

Swann’s tenure at USC comes to an end after three years and five months. He was an All-American wide receiver at USC and was a part of the 1972 national championship team. But he had no previous experience in collegiate athletics administration prior to his appointment by USC in 2016.

And while the statement announcing his departure attempted to highlight the academic achievements during his time at USC, Swann’s tenure was marked by scandal and two FBI investigations involving the athletic department.

Former assistant basketball coach Tony Bland pled guilty in January to felony conspiracy to commit bribery in the college basketball and shoe company scandal that has swept the sport. Bland admitted to making payments to try to land top recruits at USC

Then USC was swept up in the college admissions scandal earlier this year, when senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel and water polo coach Jovan Vavic were alleged to have received bribes to help parents use athletic admission standards to get into USC.

Heinel was the third-ranking official in the USC athletics department before she was fired following her arrest. She has pleaded not guilty on a charge of racketeering and is accused of accepting $1.3 million in bribes.

During Swann’s tenure as athletic director, USC won one bowl game in football and reached the NCAA tournament in men’s basketball once.

Swann made his last media appearance in August when USC showed off the new renovations that had been completed at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He spoke about the future for the USC football program and his optimism for the 2019 season.

“Really looking forward to this season,” Swann said at the time. “The expectation is always the same. That never changes. The expectation is that we’re going to win the Pac-12 championship. … We’re going to make that first step and move it that way.”

But after USC’s 2-0 start to the football season, highlighted by Saturday’s win over a ranked Stanford team, Swann is out as athletic director.

As for what this means for USC head football coach Clay Helton, that remains to be seen.

Helton was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach in 2015 by Swann’s predecessor, Pat Haden. USC went 5-7 last season but Swann opted to bring Helton back for 2019 after the head coach underwent much scrutiny during the losing campaign.

In a phone interview with Southern California News Group on Monday, Roberts said that he spoke with Helton following the announcement of Swann’s resignation. Roberts described the conversation as short, stating that Helton congratulated him on the interim position and Roberts did the same to the coach for Saturday’s win over Stanford.

Roberts said he doesn’t believe the change in leadership in the athletic department will be a determining factor in Helton’s future with USC.

“Clay is going to stand on his record as a football coach,” Roberts said. “We don’t judge anybody by one game, by two games. It’s his career portfolio here. They had a great, great win here Saturday night. I haven’t seen the Trojan football team look that good in some time. If he keeps that up, I think Clay will be in good standing.”

For now, Roberts will take over Swann’s responsibilities. Roberts currently serves as the vice chair of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions.

“His experience, relationships and understanding of collegiate athletics, including as a student-athlete at UC Davis, make him well-qualified to lead the department during this period,” Folt’s statement read.

Roberts said that Folt approached him in the past several days to broach the possibility of him serving as the interim athletic director. Roberts described himself as flattered when he was first asked.

“Athletics has always been near and dear to my heart, especially the Trojan family,” Roberts said. “Any way that I can help accelerate their success, which we’ve always had here, and enhance the student-athletes’ experience on and off the field, it’s a pleasure and an honor to do that.”

For his part, Roberts doesn’t want to be considered for the full-time position. He joked that at his age, he ought to be working more on his golf game than in an office.

Instead, he views himself as a bridge to the next AD. He plans to evaluate the department and look for areas of improvement.

“I want to work with the staff, the students and coaches and identify areas where we can enhance our performance and prioritize those issues,” Roberts said.

Meanwhile, the search is on for a full-time athletic director. Folt’s statement said that USC will undergo a national search. The past three USC athletic directors have been former Trojan football players.

Roberts said he won’t be involved in the search itself but shared insight into what USC wants in the next leader of its athletic department.

“They’re going to look for somebody who’s progressive, practical, pragmatic,” Roberts said. “Somebody who’s able to relate to student-athletes and see the world through the lens of the student-athletes’ eyes.”

The interim athletic director said there is no strict timeline for USC to finish the search, though it took the university two months to land on Swann after Haden announced his resignation in 2016. Roberts said that USC will not rush into or prolong a decision this time around.

“They certainly don’t want it to take longer than it would ordinarily take in a process with a lot of good candidates,” Roberts said. “But I know that’s what they want to do. They want to look at the candidate field, evaluate them and then come up with the best choice for USC.”

Folt has already assembled a search committee to find USC’s next athletic director. The group will be headed by USC trustee Suzanne Nora Johnson and include fellow trustees Jeff Smulyan, William McMorrow and board chair Rick Caruso; alumni Bill Allen; provost Charles Zukoski; VP for student affairs Winston Crisp; faculty athletics representative Alan Green; and academic senate president Rebecca Lonergan.

Two student-athletes will also be selected to help with the process.

“We will keep our tremendous Trojan heritage and tradition of strength going forward in all of our athletics programs,” Folt wrote in the email.