When USC hired program legend Lynn Swann to be its athletic director in 2016, the university took a calculated risk.
His visibility and recognition were clear positives for a school eager to benefit from his fundraising potential. Swann, an All-American receiver in the 1970s, had zero college administrative experience, but perhaps he could figure it out along the way.
Little more than two years into his tenure, that lack of experience is putting USC on the brink of implosion.
Kliff Kingsbury could've been the head coach of the future or at least revamped an offense in desperate need of improvement. Instead, he lasted five weeks as the Trojans offensive coordinator before painlessly leaving the school.
His departure was too easy. And in the process, USC lost its premier prospect, Bru McCoy, from a recruiting class already reeling from a seven-loss campaign in 2018.
The time for patience is over. The panic button shouldn't be far away. The university's marquee team is deteriorating, and Swann hasn't shown he's prepared to navigate the trouble.
In 2018, USC stumbled to 5-7―the program's worst finish in 18 years. Given the expectations, a coaching change would've been reasonable. That didn't happen in part because of Clay Helton's massive buyout, Arash Markazi reported for ESPN.
Helton's three-year extension in February 2018 was the reward for a Pac-12 championship, but it wasn't needed. Nobody was lining up to steal Helton from USC, yet he managed a $15 million buyout in that contract.
Swann must've put the decimal in the wrong spot for Kingsbury.
Although he was fired at Texas Tech―his alma mater―offense was rarely Kingsbury's problem. During his six seasons, the Red Raiders held top-25 rankings in points per game five times. Immediately after his dismissal, Kingsbury-to-NFL hype began.
When the inevitable interest came for USC's offensive coordinator, Swann did not grant the Cardinals or New York Jets permission to interview Kingsbury, per ESPN.com's Adam Schefter. That attempt to retain him was laughably ineffective for a simple reason.
According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, Kingsbury's buyout was $150,000. That's a stunningly low number for an offensive mind of his caliber, and it allowed Kingsbury to easily sidestep the rejection.
The coach in no demand landed a $15 million buyout. The coach monitored all over the football world barely merited six figures.
Not only did USC take its sweet time hiring Kingsbury's replacement, but the delay also overlapped with an important recruiting period.
Bru McCoy quietly sent in his paperwork during the early signing period and announced at the All-American Bowl he would attend USC. Three days later, Kingsbury left. McCoy enrolled but understandably had a change of heart, departing for Texas after less than three weeks.
He's not the only prospect the uncertainty has affected.
Four-star running back Jordan Wilmore decommitted. Four-star receivers Kyle Ford and Puka Nacua are verbal pledges but are considering other schools as national signing day nears. Without a clear direction for three critical weeks, how could you blame them?
Plus, the transfer portal is littered with USC players. Randal Grimes, Josh Imatorbhebhe, Trevon Sidney, Bubba Bolden and Oluwole Betiku all decided to move on.
Debate the ceiling of those players all you'd like, but a program in good condition doesn't watch players leave like this.
Perhaps the only redeeming news is the search ended with a promising solution. New offensive coordinator Graham Harrell―a former Texas Tech QB, like Kingsbury―helped Seth Littrell build a tremendous attack at North Texas, which had previously been a disaster offensively.
Not rushing a hire can be important, and it's possible USC landed on the right person. But there wouldn't have been a better moment to reinforce what Swann touted: Helton's "plan in place" to improve staff and schemes.
Instead, it was another mishandled situation that stung the future of the program, something all too familiar lately.
If the Trojans' results don't improve in 2019, a different administrator and coach will likely be working to make those changes.