Three months after Mike Bohn resigned in disgrace as USC’s athletic director, university president Carol Folt still won’t talk about the scandal-ridden school’s most recent embarrassment.
“I’m not talking anymore about that,” she said, as if she ever did.
Shortly after she introduced Jennifer Cohen as the new athletic director at an on-campus news conference Monday, Folt was presented with an opportunity to explain what she learned from the botched search 3½ years earlier that led her to Bohn.
She was offered a chance to share how those lessons sharpened her vision for USC’s future.
She was given a platform to serve as a model of accountability for the hundreds of athletes who compete under the USC banner.
Instead, she resembled a third-rate politician who speaks exclusively to partisan cable news networks.
The continued silence on Bohn’s departure pointed to Folt counting on the USC community to overlook the first notable mistake of her tenure because the football team is coached by Lincoln Riley and is now a national championships contender.
To be fair, she’s probably right in her assumptions, the Trojans returning a loaded roster that includes Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams.
Nonetheless, is this the kind of behavior a university wants from its leader, especially a university that dramatically improved its academic standings in the last couple of decades to where it is no longer viewed as the University of Spoiled Children?
Folt was hired to clean up USC when the school was recovering from college-admission and sexual-abuse scandals that rocked its reputation.
But now that she was linked to a controversy for which she was partly responsible, this is how she reacted?
It’d be one thing if Bohn’s resignation had something to do with wins and losses, and Folt found herself with the unenviable task of balancing athletic performance with the university’s greater mission. But that wasn’t the case here.
Bohn resigned a day after Ryan Kartje, The Times’ USC beat writer, submitted questions to him about his management of the athletic department. Bohn was accused of making inappropriate remarks about the physical appearances of female colleagues, Kartje reported, citing USC sources with knowledge of the incidents.
The comments made staffers uncomfortable and some even confronted him about his behavior, according to Kartje’s reporting.
There were also complaints about Bohn as a manager, Kartje spoke to sources who said he missed meetings and was absent from important events.
Subsequent reporting later revealed that when Bohn was hired by Folt in 2019, he was under investigation for his conduct at the University of Cincinnati.
At the time, Folt raved about Bohn’s integrity, describing him as the ideal person to lead the department out of a particularly dark period in its history.
Folt never acknowledged the reports.
In a letter she wrote to the USC community about Bohn’s resignation, she thanked Bohn for his contributions and said she was “proud” for the progress the athletic department made under his watch.
She maintained her head-in-the-sand approach on Monday, declining even to say why Bohn resigned.
“That’s his right to talk about those things,” Folt said. “You know, we really have FERPA protections and all sorts of protections. We just don’t talk about people, their reasons.
“I’m happy to talk about other things with you.”
I swear, if Folt were an athletic director, she would be Lynn Swann.
As I was explaining to Folt that details of Bohn’s resignation could contextualize Cohen’s appointment, university spokesman Emily Gersema interrupted and asked if I wanted to speak to Cohen.
“She’s waiting over here to be interviewed,” Gersema said.
I asked Folt if she was sure she didn’t want to talk about Bohn.
“I think I’ve said a lot,” she said.
This, of course, was flagrantly untrue.
“When Mike resigned, our goal was to move forward,” Folt continued.
If I ever screw up and end up in court for the wrong reasons, I’ll try that line. I’ll let you know how that works.
“I think we should move on,” Gersema said to Folt.
I gave Folt one last chance to speak, telling her that she looked as if she was avoiding responsibility.
“This is a day of celebration for Jen,” Gersema said, gifting me another line to use in my hypothetical court date.
With that, they were gone.
They had the No.6 football team in the country. They had Lincoln Riley as their football coach. In another year, they’d leave the sinking Pac-12 and join the Big Ten.
In their world, that’s all that mattered. And if it wasn’t, an anticipated victory over San Jose State in their season opener on Saturday would give them a reprieve.