Dave Roberts won’t make Clay Helton decision
“If I paint the whole Van Gogh and it’s up on the wall, [a new athletic director] might say, ‘I don’t like Van Gogh,’ ” Roberts said. “I’m very aware of that.”
With the search firm “just getting underway” in its effort to find USC’s next athletic director, Roberts is still uncertain how long he’ll stay in his interim role.
To make such a major move, Roberts said, would be “unfair” to whomever is hired as Swann’s replacement.
“I think it’s a fair statement to say that between now and the end of the season, unless something extraordinary happened, Dave Roberts isn’t going to be stepping in there, making the decision that really I think would be the province of a new AD.”
The same, Roberts suggests, is true for any other USC senior administrator, including Steve Lopes, the longtime senior associate athletic director who was passed over by Folt for the interim job.
“What we don’t want to do is have a situation where we’re out recruiting [an athletic director] and they feel actions taken by me, before their appointment, tie their hands,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of a unique dance.”
That dance has left the interim athletic director unable to make much change during his short tenure, outside of soliciting feedback for his eventual replacement.
Roberts has met with every varsity team over the last month in hopes of finding ways to make the department more efficient. He also hired a deputy athletic director in Paul Perrier, who worked with him for six years in USC’s compliance department. But otherwise, Roberts’ role as interim has been limited to mostly “low-hanging fruit.”
When Roberts first joined the athletic department in 2010, his vision was far more straightforward. As USC’s vice president of athletic compliance, Roberts helped rebuild a culture of compliance within a department that desperately needed it in the wake of NCAA sanctions.
His work earned him respect from many longtime administrators, among them Folt, who was inaugurated as USC’s president last month. In an interview with The Times after Swann’s resignation, Folt referred to Roberts as a “steady hand at a moment of transition.”
But even Roberts, who speaks to Folt regularly, wonders when that hire might take place.
“I could envision a situation where there’s a pretty quick selection,” Roberts said. “But even if the selection is made pretty quickly, when will the person be onboard? Will it be after bowl season? Or after the academic year? Those sorts of decisions play into what we’re able to do.”
For the moment, that uncertainty means not settling into his office. Or firing a football coach.
But reminders of the department’s turmoil are ever-present. As Roberts considered his role in determining Helton’s future, the brass section of USC’s marching band blared loudly outside of his window.
Still, amid all the uncertainty, the interim athletic director remained resolute on one thing: He won’t decide the direction of USC’s football program.
“The new AD should be the one to decide,” Roberts said. “But if Clay has a successful season, I think he’ll be in good shape.”