In the wake of Mike Bohn’s resignation — and more coverage of how poorly he behaved behind the scenes at both USC and Cincinnati — it’s true that Bohn has embarrassed the University of Southern California. That is a simple reality that cannot and should not be ignored.
One could therefore respond by saying that Bohn was a failure at USC and that the USC brand has been further damaged by Bohn’s actions. Such a response is logical and reasonable.
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On the other hand, Mike Bohn hired Lincoln Riley, Lindsay Gottlieb and Andy Stankiewicz. He moved USC to the Big Ten (with help from Brandon Sosna). You could therefore respond by saying that Mike Bohn was a successful athletic director at USC. Such a response is logical and reasonable.
The purpose of this short article is to get a point across: how we talk about and evaluate Mike Bohn’s tenure requires a simple but important distinction that should apply to numerous situations in other workplaces: people can fail in their work and yet achieve very real results. goals that improve situations tangibly and materially. Complicating Mike Bohn’s story is that he was able to score points at USC and Cincinnati and hire some great coaches – Lincoln Riley at USC and Luke Fickell at Cincinnati, plus Gottlieb and Stankiewicz in others sports at USC – which indicates great social skills. But when he worked with colleagues in the athletic department, Bohn’s social skills were non existent and/or terrible. His knowledge of people was applied very selectively. He was and is so complicated as an athletic director.
How do we talk about someone like Mike Bohn? The right balance is this:
Bohn was not a success. He was not a good athletic director or leader. He failed in so many aspects of an athletic director’s job…but he succeeded in the one aspect of the job that so many people pay attention to: hiring great coaches.
Bohn damaged the morale of a workplace. He directly hurt female colleagues with his behavior towards them. No one who does those things is successful in a greater, more truthful, or more meaningful sense. Still, Bohn’s tenure and some of his key decisions can be linked to really good (improved) results on the playing fields and courts. It’s not like performance on the field didn’t improve; it did.
Ultimately, Mike Bohn embarrassed USC. He hurt the reputation of the school. He hurt other people. He was rightfully pushed out. In all likelihood, the school realized this rather than sweeping it under the rug, and that’s a credit to Carol Folt.
Still, the value of the job as USC’s athletic director is greater than ever before, with football, basketball (men’s and women’s), baseball, and other sports rising to the top of collegiate athletics. This is a prized position in part because of what Mike Bohn did. We can’t exactly say that USC is in a worse position than it was before Bohn arrived. Bohn definitely improved the athletic department in a way that Pat Haden and Lynn Swann never did. No one can discuss that point strictly in relation to football, women’s basketball, and baseball performance. It’s not a defense of Bohn, just a simple comment on the status of sports programs at the school over time.
USC’s reputation has been damaged, but its position has improved. That’s a complicated pair of realities coexisting.
How do we talk about Mike Bohn? It’s complicated.
Bohn cannot be considered a success as a person and as a professional. He should not be described as a successful person, someone who did his job well.
Mike Bohn did a few specific parts of his job (hiring coaches, also fundraising) well, but he neglected most parts of an athletic director’s job description. We could simply say that Brandon Sosna and other tireless workers in USC’s athletic department deserve most of the credit during Bohn’s tenure for what has happened over the years. That’s probably the best way to look at all of this, minimizing Bohn’s presence and not allowing success on the pitch to unnecessarily glorify Bohn for an anything but glorious tenure in which he has done so much damage (damage exposed in a steady stream of new reports).
But if we’re being completely accurate, we can’t simply say that Bohn had no role or influence in achieving one of those tangible successes. That wouldn’t be entirely true, and so his failures shouldn’t lead us to whitewash his achievements.
The right tone, the right balance, is found this way: Don’t call Mike Bohn a success or a successful athletic director. He was fundamentally a failure. But despite that failure to run an athletic department and represent a university with integrity, some really good things happened with the help of some great people who worked under him under very difficult circumstances.
If a coach wins games but presides over ugly scandals, that coach was not a success, but the greater failure does not mean that the coach was not good at the actual aspect of coaching on the field. So it is with Bohn. We shouldn’t increase the skill of doing one or two things, but neither should we pretend that skill never existed or never achieved anything.
We can leave it at that without glorifying Bohn or pretending his achievements never existed. We can allow darkness and light to coexist.