Lynn Swann is a USC football legend. He's smart. He's charismatic. He's a member of the NFL Hall of Fame after a brilliant career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's been successful after his football career ended, as a sports commentator and in the corporate world.
What he hasn't been is an athletic director at a Power 5 school, but that is what he is now as USC announced Wednesday that he will replace Pat Haden as of July 1.
Swann's résumé is notably similar to Haden's and the man Haden replaced, Mike Garrett: USC football legend. Smart. Successful outside of football.
And zero experience in athletic administration.
This is another seemingly outside-the-box hire -- no one saw this coming -- that is decidedly inside USC's box, its comfort zone. USC wants to keep things in the family. While most view Haden's and Garrett's tenures as, to be charitable, producing mixed results, with nice successes and massive failures, that "USC Football Family First" model remains in place, documented moments of success running an athletic department be damned.
USC could have taken a different approach. As a preeminent national football power, it could have asked a simple question: Who are the nation's best athletic directors? And then gone after one of them. What about Chris Del Conte at TCU? Or Tom Jurich at Louisville? Or Greg Byrne at Arizona? Or Mark Hollis at Michigan State? Or John Currie at Kansas State?
It might have made sense to call Utah's Chris Hill. Or Duke's Kevin White. Arizona State took a flier on NFL executive Ray Anderson in 2014, and he has been dynamic leading the Sun Devils.
There is something to be said for USC thrusting out its chest and luring a successful Power 5 athletic director to Heritage Hall, something it hasn't done with any of its past four football coaching hires. It could have reminded the nation that USC is a major player, its iconic football program chiseled onto the sports Mt. Rushmore besides Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, etc. ...
USC fans didn't get their "Nick Saban, Urban Meyer or Jim Harbaugh is coming to save us!" moment with any of the recent football coaching hires, and now they don't get a simple "home run!" judgment from college football observers upon hiring their next AD.
In its news release announcing Swann's hiring, USC noted that "More than 200 candidates were considered for the position of USC athletic director, and the pool was diverse and highly qualified."
Really? USC folks are telling their alumni and fans that after reviewing and/or interviewing more than 199 other candidates, it was a consensus decision to hire someone with zero experience in athletics administration?
Not to be snarky, but has anyone noticed that at times over the past few decades or so, a lack of administrative skills has been a problem at USC?
Though Garrett received retroactive and deserved praise for his fourth choice to lead the football program, Pete Carroll, working out well, little else during his tenure did. Though Haden presided over many positives outside of football when he stepped in as the program was blown apart by NCAA sanctions, football's continued struggles, including the embarrassing midseason firing of Steve Sarkisian, fall on him.
"To his new role, Lynn Swann will bring the heart and soul of a Trojan," Nikias said in a statement. "He shares our profound dedication to combining academic excellence with athletic excellence."
You could say the very same thing about -- no exaggeration -- hundreds of former USC football players.
But can you say that Swann knows how to evaluate and hire a football or basketball coach? Or that he's a creative fundraiser who can charm wallets open, and not just once -- over and over again? Is he the sort who understands the complex politics of an athletic department? Is he the sort who can charm, say, an angry water polo coach as well as a billionaire booster? Does he understand the nuances of Title IX compliance?
Maybe. It's entirely possible that Swann will preside over a new golden age of USC sports. It's possible that USC will win a national football championship during his first five or so years, either under new coach Clay Helton or under Swann's hand-picked successor.
Yet this is another uncertain move that won't energize the fan base, just as when Garrett hired Lane Kiffin to replace Carroll, and Haden tapped Sarkisian and Helton. It might work out, but no one will be surprised if it doesn't.
USC football has meandered around since 2008. It's flirted with returning to national relevance but ultimately proven incapable of mastering itself enough to sustain success.
Hiring Swann doesn't suggest a seriousness about unquestioned competence. It suggests that USC hasn't learned any lessons from its recent past.