USC AD Bohn sees Trojans’ quick turn around under Riley ‘special’

Late last November, the night above all Mike Bohn, who had switched for USC football, stared out at a sea of ​​red, empty seats scattered throughout the Coliseum. The few rows that were filled that Saturday night were mostly Brigham Young fans, all dressed in blue and white.

It was a depressing scene at the end of a depressing 4-8 season for USC. But in the meantime, a more promising development was playing out on a TV in the athletic director’s box, where Oklahoma State had just knocked Oklahoma out of contention for the conference title, and opened the door for a chat with the coach Bohn cares most about the opening of USC coveted .

Twelve hours later, Lincoln Riley agreed in principle to be USC’s next coach, initiating one of the most impressive single-season turns in recent college football history.

Twelve months later, with USC’s first-ever College Football Playoff bid within reach, Bohn gazed in awe at the same stadium as he defeated Notre Dame last Saturday. The stands were full. The Colosseum rocked. The future for USC football seemed incredibly bright.

Even for the man who pulled it all off, it was hard to believe how much had changed in such a short time.

“Seeing it all come together like this was something very special last Saturday,” said Bohn. “I mean, really, really special.”

Exactly a year after Riley’s hiring, the athletic director is sitting on a couch in his Heritage Hall office praising his football coach, who turned the Trojans from a disastrous disappointment into an 11-1 playoff contender on the precipice of a Pac-12 title . Pondering this sudden transformation, there’s no shortage of colorful adjectives Bohn can string together in 20 minutes to describe his admiration for Riley after year one:

“The way he runs the program is just so beautiful.

“He’s just extraordinary.

“Far beyond the special.”

Who could blame Bohn for basking in a little afterglow after two years of turbulent years leading up to this program-changing moment. USC’s athletic director had led the department through the pandemic, rebuilding its infrastructure, and faced a lot of criticism in the process. But his tenure at USC had to be determined by whoever he hired to replace Clay Helton. The delivery pressure was enormous.

He still won’t reveal many of the more important details of that fateful November night. But after speaking to Riley’s agent, Bohn said he fell asleep feeling optimistic. However guarded.

“Until things are final, they’re never final,” Bohn said. “I’ve been involved in some unique searches in the past, and sometimes you get surprises. You must always guard against developments that are beyond your control.”

But the contingency plans prepared by Bohn and his former chief of staff, Brandon Sosna, would not be necessary. A Zoom call was held early this morning with Bohn, University President Carol Folt, and Board Chairman Rick Caruso. The last pitches were made, the last details were drawn.

USC coach Lincoln Riley speaks to his players on the sidelines during the fourth quarter against Notre Dame.

USC coach Lincoln Riley talks to his players on the sidelines during the fourth quarter against Notre Dame Saturday at the Coliseum.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

When USC introduced their new coach the next day, Bohn boldly described the hiring as “one of the greatest moves in football history.”

“It sends a loud and strong message to the college football world that this sleeping giant is wide awake,” he explained.

Looking back, Bohn admitted that he himself hadn’t thought USC would be woken up so quickly.

“Absolutely [this is what I had in mind]’ said Bohn, smiling, ‘but I’m not sure [I thought] year one.”

That rapid rise, Bohn noted, is also a product of the tone Riley set behind the scenes. Every little detail within the program is now intentionally handled. Bohn described an “infectious sense of everyone working together” throughout the athletic department, one he says was inspired by Riley.

“He’s an elite master at bringing all aspects of a college football operation together to a point that I’ve rarely seen in the business,” Bohn said. “He has an incredible sense in his gut and heart that he is always connected to [making] Decisions. I think that’s why he’s an elite coach and an elite leader.”

His debut season definitely did wonders for relieving the tensions that once existed within USC’s frustrated fanbase. Fans who once demanded Bohn’s job are now eagerly patting him on the back.

The tone of the Trojans is certainly different today.

“There’s a collective sense of pride,” Bohn said. “People are really comfortable [the program], and it’s real. And I think that’s really an essential part of an elite program if everyone is like that.”

Bohn won’t speculate much about what’s next. NFL contenders will be calling for Riley soon enough. As USC prepares for the Pac-12 title game, its athletic director plans to live in the moment like his coach.

But after seeing what could be accomplished in just a year, Bohn couldn’t be happier about where this story is going.

“It’s going to be one that people are going to be writing about for a long, long time,” Bohn said, “and I think the coaches are going to try to figure out, well, how the hell did they do that?” USC AD Bohn sees Trojans’ quick turn around under Riley ‘special’

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