Lynn Swann: Stepping up to LEAD

It's all about USC, and its new director of athletics, becoming the strong leader USC needs him to be. Not that the Pac-12, and the NCAA, both don't need the same thing from the top man at USC sports. Here are some ideas how that might happen.

I think we always knew, and on occasion I would find myself telling someone if they asked: “The AD’s job is probably Lynn Swann’s -- if he wants it.”

And now we know. Lynn wanted it.

It’s something of a curse around here. USC has so many great ex-jocks, so many Heisman Trophy winners and Hall of Famers with golden resumes and law degrees, national broadcasting gigs, business success, friends in high places and much more to them than just football that it makes it really hard to go outside the Trojan family -- and very easy to stay within.

As Max Nikias did Wednesday when he named the Trojan All-American, national champ, multiple Hall of Famer, multiple Super Bowl winner, civic leader, fundraiser, TV broadcaster, corporate board fixture, charity leader and Annenberg School grad as the next director of athletics effective July 1 succeeding Pat Haden after five and a half tumultuous years.

No law degree, however, and that’s a good thing. We like it that he’s a politician, although he ran for governor in Pennsylvania in the wrong year and for the wrong party at the time. Nothing wrong there. There aren’t enough Republicans in academia these days. So good for Max.

We even love it that he’s a big ballet guy. Take that, the rest of college athletics. Bet your AD doesn’t, or didn’t, do ballet.

In a quote released by USC, Swann said: "As athletic director, my goals for the student-athletes will be to graduate, to win and to experience."

No question about the first goal. Everybody says it. USC must do it. But we’d combine the other two into one, something that should be the No. 1 goal for every athletics director: to experience winning.

Now everybody can’t, by definition.

But USC can. Just saw an ESPN stat that noted over the last five years, despite all the goofy head coaching selections and unjust NCAA sanctions, USC averaged six wins a season in Pac-12 football, behind only Stanford and Oregon and ahead of UCLA, Arizona State and all the rest of the conference. Despite it all.

Now what? Do we listen to the words of the gloom-and-doomers about another in-family hire of an inexperienced – as an AD -- Trojan “who gets it” and brings no ability to do what an AD at USC must do and say “Here we go again. Woe is us.”

Why do that? No fun there. And if anything, college sports has to be fun, as much of a multi-million, maybe multi-billion-dollar, big business deal it is today.

But winning is the fun. “Athletics has long been the glue that binds our worldwide Trojan family,” Max rightly wrote in his letter to the USC community. Not just “athletics” but doing “athletics” right. In other words: winning.

That’s the deal at USC. Anything less and you’re not doing it right. Maybe at Duke or Vanderbilt, even Notre Dame and Stanford, you can do it right here or there or even mostly so. Not USC. USC has too much going for it. More so now than ever before. Just look around the campus.

At USC, you have to compete with Alabama and Clemson and Florida State – and the academic elites. It’s a heck of a challenge. Maybe one no one but a Michigan is expected to do.

“Trojan athletics will play an even greater role in redefining and improving the student-athlete experience,” Max wrote and then added that Lynn is expected to bring “charismatic, dynamic leadership to this exceptionally consequential role.”

The key word there is “leadership.” USC must become a leader again in college sports. No more worrying about the unprecedented $6 billion fundraising campaign now that USC has crossed the $5 billion threshold.

But what to do? How to do it?

Here’s Max’s take and he’s on the money referencing USC’s great “champions,” both celebrated Olympians and intercollegiate champs, with the promise that “with renewed vigor, we will seek to bring our experience, expertise and sheer love for intercollegiate athletics to important national conversations and reforms, particularly through our leadership in the Pac-12 and NCAA, Collegiate Football Playoff Association and the Olympic movement.”

As the chair of the Board of Managers of the College Football Playoff Association, Max is speaking from first-hand experience now. But here’s a call for USC, as it brings in of someone who’s been essentially somewhat outside the immediate Trojan family in Southern California, to use that to his benefit.

Do not limit your world to the USC experience, although some of that Annenberg public relations expertise could have helped in recent years. Get outside Heritage and Bovard Halls. Go back to being the pol who listened to all kinds of people. Believe it or not, there are answers outside USC. Find them.

Here’s a suggestion from a smart, interested Trojan alum that came our way and we endorse it wholeheartedly. In the more than two months that Lynn has before starting his job, he should visit with the AD’s at the nation’s top programs – Stanford, Notre Dame, Florida, Alabama, Michigan State – and pick their brains. Have a frame of reference before sitting down with the USC staff in July.

Then listen to your USC people. Find out who they are and what they do. Get to know them so that downward connection allows you to allow them to be the best that they can be. Pretty sure that never really happened much in recent years of a top-down management style.

And then get about the business of making USC’s athletic program all the things that Max Nikias has said it’s been and will be. Here’s another place having Lynn Swann over an established AD with established and successful coaching ties might just be for the best. No need to be looking over Clay Helton’s shoulder with another guy from another school in mind if . . .

But USC can indeed be the lead for NCAA reform, having been the victim of so much that’s wrong with the NCAA and having taken it, to the detriment of the entire USC family, especially its student-athletes, with barely a peep. Now it’s time to talk. USC has very little to gain now – although its good name and a place at the head of the line of those calling for real NCAA reform – wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

And as much as it scares the other 11, USC must assume its role at the head of the Pac-12 pack and start asking all the questions that should have been asked for years now about how Commissioner Larry Scott seems to have very few answers for the Conference of Champions.

Should the Conference of Champions be heading down a high-spending path to a dead-end when it comes to the league’s networks that keep falling farther and farther behind its big-money competitors in the SEC and Big Ten? No need to do this right away but we’d hope it’s on a to-do list in the not-too-distant future.

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