The Method Behind Bohn’s Madness

Mike Bohn’s plan: Clean up USC’s athletic department before tackling football

Clay Helton and AD Mike Bohn share a laugh at midfield after the Trojans’ 52-35 victory over UCLA at the Coliseum in November. (Robert Gauthier /LA Times)

Miracle of miracles, maybe Mike Bohn really does know what he is doing.

Within hours of former beloved Trojan Ed Orgeron winning a national championship somewhere else, and within days of celebrated booster Brian Kennedy calling the football program, “dog … ,” maybe USC finally got something right.

The seemingly ominous narrative that began last month with the stunning retention of football coach Clay Helton came into clearer, brighter focus Tuesday when other longtime Trojans were reportedly swept away.

Three of USC’s most senior athletic officials left the university — separated, resigned, fired, whatever — in what could be the first stage of a remodeling that could eventually reach the football team.

Gone are longtime Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer Steve Lopes, longtime senior associate athletic director Ron Orr and associate athletic director Scott Jacobson.

Taking their place will eventually be new voices that will contribute new ideas to the staid USC culture.

If Helton stumbles in the fall, it is those voices that will help create and nurture a forward-thinking atmosphere that the Trojans hope will lure the best and brightest coaching candidates.

Call this the housecleaning before the housecleaning.

People familiar with USC’s thinking believe that’s the plan, anyway.

Bohn was unavailable for comment, but it seems his blueprint is coming into focus, even if it was initially executed rather clumsily and amid great outrage.

It turns out that Bohn retained Helton not only because of money concerns — the $20-million buyout was clearly a factor — but also because of environmental concerns.

Bohn didn’t want to bring in a new coach until he had cleaned up the toxic surroundings. With USC being the only school targeted in both FBI college athletics probes in the last 18 months, he didn’t want a new coach to have to suddenly be hit with questions about legal issues out of his control.

The university was particularly focused on ridding the school of any officials with potential or alleged involvement in the college admissions scandal.

The university’s goal to get the feds out of its athletic offices cannot be overstated. That has always been their first priority. That is why Bohn was hired. His first job was not to clean out the football team, it was to clean up the athletic department.

“You can’t run a program if you don’t have integrity,” said Carol L. Folt, USC president, in an interview last fall with The Times’ Ryan Kartje.

Bohn viewed the Helton situation through that lens. In terms of the entire athletic department makeover, Helton was actually one of the least of its problems.

Before making a coaching change, Bohn wanted to make an infrastructure change. He felt he needed a revitalized department before he enlisted a new coach. He didn’t want a new coach to be smothered in the ancient USC mind-set that allowed the program to fall into disrepair. He wanted to give a new coach a fighting chance.

So Bohn decided to keep Helton for at least one more season — probably only one more season — while he set his sights on fixing everything around him.

Bohn surely had no idea of the fury that decision would unleash. He undoubtedly underestimated the passion that burns within the Trojans family.

But he was not going to bring a new coach into a chaotic and unsettled situation. And, just for the record, according to USC people familiar with the situation, Urban Meyer was never considered, nor will he ever be considered; it’s that integrity thing.

So Bohn saved $20 million and took the heat and stuck to his plan. Tuesday was the first big step. There will surely be other steps. Employees with any sort of baggage will be removed. New faces will arrive. One now wonders whether coach Andy Enfield of the scandal-touched basketball program will survive.

It’s all leading up to next football season, when the team will be surrounded with new administrators, new ideas, two new major positional coaches and, USC hopes, a refreshing absence of scandal.

Suddenly, the USC football coaching job might become a good one again. Just like that, the Trojans could perhaps attract a top candidate again.

Certainly, Helton and his team could defy the odds and have a terrific season. But he’s on such an incredibly short leash, here’s guessing the Trojans would need to win the Pac-12 Conference championship for him to have any chance to save his job.

If Helton was removed this winter as most everyone wanted, including in this space, the next guy would be in the middle of lingering turmoil that could be a recipe for failure.

If Helton is removed next season, the athletic department would be in a perfect position to set up the new guy for support and success.

OK, so I still say Bohn could have made a coaching change and found someone special and the new guy could have endured a little chaos and eventually enjoyed the assistance of a revived athletic department.

But this way could work too.

latimes.com

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TrojanDailyBlog members  —  Always feel free to add information or topics to the TDB which don’t necessarily pertain to any particular moderator post or member comment.

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Rock2112
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Looking at our just released schedule, I see us going into Eugene at 7-1, followed by losses to Oregon, Washington and Notre Dame. We’ll finish 8-4, again. Only, without a South loss, we will win the South with that, and go lose the Pac-12 Title Game, probably to Oregon, again, which will assure another year of Oregon raining on our recruiting parade. We’ll go into a bowl at 8-5, lose, and finish 8-6. Clay will finally be fired, but we’ll all just be really pissed that we wasted another season and killed another recruiting year.

Jamaica
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I’m sorry, but after so many years of reading Bill Plaschtke, I can’t believe all that he writes. He weaves the truth into his own beliefs/makeups. LA Times is like any other Big City newspaper anymore, they feel they must “make the news” as much as report it. I only wish TJ Simers was still around to make Clay Helton’s life as the USC HC miserable. And he would have done it too, enjoying every minute. This article is full of spin like some of us believe, whether it is from the USC PR or Plaschtke himself. I don’t buy… Read more »

ATL D.D.S.
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Hey Boner, if you think Ron Orr and Steve Lopes are the big problems in SC athletics, you are just really way wrong. You and Madame Napoleon are officially the troll captains of the SS Titanic that Trojan Football has become.

Scipio
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Has there been any movement in the glacier located in HH? Climate change is happening right on USC campus! grin

Steveg
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For what it is worth the AP 2020 preseason poll is out. Everyone take a copy of it and save it for next seasons end and see how many top 10 remained in the top 10 and how many fell out of the top 25 completely. For the detail minded keep track of how many of the top 25 are gone, and the topper, who will come into final polls out of nowhere. Such a waste of time, polls are to be ignored.

Rock2112
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Plashcke’s article is, as usual, moronic. How hard is it for a new coach, when asked — “what the hell is going on with your school’s athletic department … all these changes,” to respond, “you’ll have to talk to Mike Bohn about that … I’m coaching a football team.” End of story. You know what this article smacks of? Bohn talked to Plaschke off the record, and said Plaschke can tell this story but without attribution, please. That’s why Plaschke is peddling these things as facts, and not suppositions. However, Plaschke is allowing himself to be used like the tool… Read more »

TrojanMPA90
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I figured that Bohn has a plan to what he is doing and that most of us aren’t able to see it from the outside looking in. Probably still did what he did and hire a new coach to change the culture at the same time. Isn’t that what NFL teams do?

ATL D.D.S.
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Keep pumping sunshine, ’90. I’m not buying any of it here.

Golden Trojan
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It didn’t take Plaschke to point out the administrative cluster f… SC has been in. I would not be surprised at all that Folt and Bohn are trying to clean up the messes, count the obligations before moving forward with a new football program. You want to get all the junk out of the garage before you try to park your new Ferrari in there. wink

danielmcd1
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Moe and Larry are not going to tell Curly that his stay as HC will be only until we clean all the garbage from the garage then we will get a better coach. The recruits for 2020 and 2021 would flee even faster than we are seeing them go to Eugene Oregon, the garden paradise of the world, sure. I do not know what I can totally believe anymore but this makes for great conversation with the Trojan family that truly give a rip about the Trojan football program like most everyone here does. If it is best to remove… Read more »

UtahTrojan
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The problem is Plaschke makes an awful lot of assumptions leading to a dream scenario. I am sorry, but that Kool-aid soured a long time ago. I don’t give Bohn that much credit until he proves otherwise. Will he fill out his staff with a bunch of family and friends, the way Helton fills out his coaching staff?
The only thing I think this article got right is that Bohn (and Folt) drastically underestimated the USC fan-base.
So for now, we are all stuck with the three stooges running the show.

trojan92
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I completely agree, the first thing I thought after reading this article is:
“He’s giving Bohn way too much credit”

Paul_Muad_dib
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Funny. I feel like other schools would have hired a new HC for their football team despite the FBI probes. All he has to to is answer media questions truthfully. A new football coach would have nothing to worry about seeing as how he had nothing to do with anything before his arrival.

RialtoTrojan
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Wonder of Wonders, Miracles of Miracles Mike Bohn is now Fiddler on the Roof? Wolf posted odds for the National Championship and SC is 100/1. I joked that Bohn will place $100K bets around the area and then hire Urban Myer then collect when Myer waves a magic wand and makes those 3 star players over achieve. Use the money to buy out Helton.

volunteerTrojan
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Or as Hawkeye on MASH once said, “There’s a madness to his method.”