Body language means a lot at times like this. New USC AD Lynn Swann is really comfortable in his own skin, even as a newbie to the world of managing intercollegiate athletics.
”A lot of things in my life I planned for,” Lynn said in his Thursday press conference at the McKay Center, named after Lynn’s legendary USC coach, John McKay. “This is not one of them.”
But when USC called, Lynn said he told his wife, Dr. Charenna Swann, “I’m going for this,” even if it wasn’t a slam dunk and even if “I may have put my skis out over the edge” on this one.
But USC came back to him. And of the more than 200 candidates vetted by Pres. Max Nikias’ search firm, Boston-based Brill Neumann, and Nikias’ close friend, Nick Brill, and of the seven finalists interviewed by Max, the call went out to Western PA and by Sunday, it was a done deal.
But not before Max said he’d experienced some “restless” moments over his call. And as Clay Helton was his call. And Pat Haden and Compliance Director Dave Roberts all his calls, Max said experience doing the actual job was not a priority.
Leadership is. “For leadership positions reporting directly to me,” Max said, “the best training for leadership is leadership itself.” And if you’re interested, he said, check out the classics – Xenophon’s book on Cyrus the Great’s leadership skills is the best there is, Max says.
And if you’re looking for a leader to show himself, you can’t do any better than what Lynn told the USC staff before his presser and what he told us at the end of it: “I don’t have to be the smartest guy in the room,” Lynn said.
On many of the nitty-gritty, NCAA-type things, he knows he won’t be.
”He did ask us for our ideas,” one staffer noted, saying that maybe wasn’t always the way in recent years. Also noteworthy was the fact that AD Pat Haden, who will have the job until July 30, and then transition to a year overseeing the Coliseum renovations and fundraising, was not here.
”Pat’s not going anywhere,” Nikias said, although noting that he told Pat of his decision just five minutes before sending out the letter to the Trojan family Wednesday announcing Swann. This was his call. No one on the Board of Trustees was told, either.
I’m glad he came to me,” Swann said. ”I was not expecting this . . . but it seemed to fit in so many ways.”
But he didn’t tell his parents, the folks who moved from Alcoa, Tenn., when he was 12 to San Mateo for a better life and got him to Juniperro Serra High there, until right before the announcement. Said they weren’t good at keeping secrets.
He also didn’t tell his sons, Shafer, a first-year student at West Point, and Braxton, a senior at Pittsburgh Central Catholic headed to USC as a top walkon wide receiver and corner back. Swann noted that they might have figured out something was up when they started to get the house on five acres in Sewickley, Pa., near the airport, painted up and fixed up in a way that was more than the traditional spring cleaning. He wanted to be ready.
But Lynn says he’s pretty sure he won’t be able to find a comparable spot with that much acreage within commuting distance of USC.
That he’s a Trojan, Nikias said of Swann, is “a big value-added” proposition. But it wasn’t a necessary part of what Nikias proudly called “an out-of-the-box appointment.”
And out of sight, to some extent. Could he keep up with USC via the Pac-12 Networks, Swann was asked. Big smile.
“Not in Pittsburgh,” he said. And yes, he knows that’s a problem and he acknowledged that some in the Pac-12 are not so sure about the TV deal they signed up for.
“I’ll take a look at it,” Swann said. “I have people I know who can help me there.”
Now that’s an encouraging nugget for a guy who said straightaway that he’s “not going to clean house” here and he’s already been able to “needle” – his word – basketball coach Andy Enfield for running to Max for a two-year extension before the new AD hit town.
Said “if there are members of the staff who want to be AD’s,” he’ll do whatever it takes to help them get there. “But they’re not going to get my job,” he said, “but I’ll help them.”
Helton has his 100 percent support, Swann says, and he thinks football “USC football is in a good spot . . . he’s got a great opportunity in front of him.” And then he talked of his challenge for expanding the impact, and attendance, for USC’s top two sports. And that’s his job. And with his background, he plans to be measured by results.
It’s what he did when he was national president of the Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America board, an organization he’s been with for more than 30 years. He may also get another challenge to perform. Nikias said he’s nominating Swann, who studied ballet as a teen, for a professor’s position in the Kaufman School of Dance.
One place Swann wouldn’t go near was a question about the NCAA stuff when asked about how he and USC might be impacted by a high-profile Todd McNair vs. the NCAA trial in an LA court room his first year here.
he smartly answered “all that happened before I got here” and he’s “not going to comment on ongoing litigation.” Max added that “as far as I’m concerned,” well, it’s pretty much over and USC survived.
But what if there’s a high-profile trial, Max was asked. “I’m sure it will be in the news every day,” he said with a laugh. “But let’s take one year at a time.”
Just don’t take that to mean Max isn’t paying attention in great detail to all of this. He noted on seeing me that I’d told him at a January basketball game how the one leak on the search – supposedly for Louisville AD Ron Jurich – had gotten out.
“Your guy wasn’t one of them,” he said of the AD candidates in the mix. As for leaks, well, there weren’t any, Max said, and he’s pleased about how that went since some of the candidates he interviewed “were sitting AD’s and deathly afraid their presidents would find out.”
Same for Swann, although he said he was getting tweets and messages including one at the Masters this past week in person from top NFL executive Gene Washington, a former Stanford player, who walked by Lynn at Augusta and then stopped and said: “You should be the AD at USC,” before it happened.
A couple of days later, Max Nikias said the same thing.
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