New USC AD Mike Bohn has intriguing record of hiring football coaches

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images /

What kind of hiring record does new USC athletic director Mike Bohn bring to the table? There has always been a rhyme to the reason, with clear recent success.

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The 2019 USC football season has featured a pair of lingering, inquisitive clouds. Who will be the next athletic director? And what role will they play in deciding the future of head coach Clay Helton?

On the eve of the Trojans’ biggest game of the season against No. 7 Oregon, a little sun broke through, with word Cincinnati athletic director Mike Bohn is headed to Los Angeles.

Now comes a laundry list of hypotheticals, almost all of which pertain to hotseat-dwelling Helton. A pivotal November likely will help a much-experienced Bohn decide his fate.

What can USC expect to get out of its prospective athletic director should the time come to make a change? Direction, if his history says anything. It’s something the Trojans have lacked dearly.

Let’s walk through Mike Bohn’s history as a hiring athletic director over the last 20 years.

Tom Cable (Idaho FB): Big West-winning Chris Tormey left Moscow in 2000 for Nevada, needing Bohn to make his first-ever football hire. He settled on Idaho grad Tom Cable, who at the time, was well-traveled offensive line coach without head coaching experience. He was coming off stops at UNLV, Cal and Colorado. It didn’t work out. The Vandals went just 11-35 in four seasons, before Cable went on to have a high profile career as UCLA offensive coordinator and the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. For a first-time athletic director hire, picking an inexperienced alum is safe, comfortable and unremarkable. But to Bohn’s credit, he identified a coach with potential, as evident with Cable’s career post-Idaho.

Dan Hawkins (Colorado): Bohn made his first big move as a Colorado athletic director when he hired Hawkins from Boise State after the 2005 season. Hawkins was one of the most desirable up-and-coming coaches in the country, having won four-straight WAC titles, featuring three Top 15 finishes in the Coaches Poll. He was a disaster at CU, winning just 19 games in five seasons, but the ambitious move could prove noteworthy for any potential USC coaching search.

Jon Embree (Colorado): If there’s a misstep on Bohn’s hiring record, it’s Jon Embree. He was hired to replace Hawkins after the 2010 season and won just four games in two seasons, before being fired prior to having an opportunity to rebound. Embree, the first Colorado grad to be named head football coach since 1962, lacked any previous head coaching experience. He was a longtime assistant with both college and pro experience, and Bohn gave him the tall task of rebuilding CU’s football program from the ground up post-Hawkins. It’s a kind of move USC won’t be looking to repeat.

Mike MacIntyre (Colorado): With a crucial need of turning the Buffs around, Bohn looked to another up-and-comer head coach in 2012, when he hired Mike MacIntyre away from San Jose State. In only three seasons with the Spartans, MacIntyre worked wonders. He led SJSU to a 1-12 record in Year 1, only follow it up with 5-7 and 10-2 seasons. While Bohn was fired at CU before the move paid off, MacIntyre panned out by leading the Buffaloes to a Pac-12 South crown in 2016. The hiring of a trending-up head coach is noteworthy for the Trojans, given a history of hiring stagnant coaches.

Luke Fickell (Cincinnati): After moving on from Tommy Tuberville after the 2016 season, Bohn landed upon longtime Ohio State defensive coordinator and interim head coach Luke Fickell. While he lacked full-time head coaching experience, his time as the Buckeyes’ caretaker following Jim Tressel’s resignation served as a key resume enhancer. For a school like Cincinnati, Fickell was worthy gamble. He’s paid off majorly, turning the four-win Bearcats into a 10-game winner in just two seasons. Fickell has them currently in the running for the top Group of Five team in college football.

What’s it all mean for the Trojans? If nothing else, Bohn’s track record is one of making ambitious moves in line with what he’s had to work with.

He’s yet to hire a well-proven high-profile head coach, but he’s never conducted a coaching search from a position of strength. Hiring at Idaho and Cincinnati is a completely different animal than even Colorado, and surely different than USC.

Bohn’s forte has been focusing on the right profile of coach, despite various success after their appointment.

Dan Hawkins in 2005 was a buzz-worthy head coach prospect, much in the same realm as modern day Matt Campbell. Mike MacInytre fit exactly what Colorado needed in 2012: a coach who had proven he could rebuild a lethargic program. Luke Fickell was Cincinnati’s best opportunity to tap into a national championship culture.

They were seemingly hires with a purpose, something USC hasn’t routinely pulled off throughout its history.

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