'I lived up to a contract': USC AD Lynn Swann explains autograph signing amid admissions scandal

University of Southern California's new athletic director, Lynn Swann takes questions during a news conference at the USC campus in Los Angeles, Thursday, April 14, 2016. Although Swann has no experience in high-level collegiate athletic administration, he is the third straight former USC football player to take the post. The former wide receiver, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, will succeed Pat Haden on July 1. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
University of Southern California athletic director Lynn Swann cares little about public perception, but cleared up why he signed autographs this month. (AP)

USC athletic director Lynn Swann has had a roller coaster three years in the position, the latest low of which comes from the admissions scandal that broke last month.

Shortly after the scandal broke, implicating USC worst of all, Swann received scorn for skipping a voluntary university retreat meant to right the ship for an autograph signing across the country in which he made a nice chunk of cash.

In a wide-ranging Q&A with The Athletic’s Antonio Morales that included topics on the school’s sub-par football and basketball seasons, Swann explained the autograph signing weekend.

Swann ‘skips’ retreat for signing

USC leaders and trustees held a retreat shortly after news of the scandal broke to discuss the issue, and while Swann was invited to attend, spokespeople said he was not required and it was a courtesy. Swann reportedly discussed skipping the retreat with his superiors.

The Trojans also had a spring scrimmage and ongoing athletics to attend.

Instead, Swann was at a memorabilia show in Washington, D.C., with Randy Moss and Emmitt Smith. He signed autographs for $220, prompting backlash for being away from the university at such a crucial time.

Swann: ‘I lived up to a contract’

Morales began to ask Swann about the autograph show when the former Steelers receiver interrupted to ask, “You mean I lived up to a contract?”

“That’s it. Plain and simple,” he said. “I would want my kids to understand it was a contractual obligation and I lived up to it. A lot of respect to [former President] Jimmy Carter as a person, but I’m not going to live my life in the Rose Garden.”

Swann said the last time he did an autograph show was around five years ago and since this one was announced publicly, people had made plans to see him.

From The Athletic:

“There was a woman who drove from Atlanta, Ga., bringing her items that she wanted me to have signed that she had several people sign in the past. She said I was the last one, OK. She makes her plans, she takes off, she drives up there. People flew in from different places. To not show up at the last minute, not honor the contract, for people who had made plans to do that. I think, one, it’s disrespectful. No. 2, I think it shows a lack of integrity. Because something difficult is happening in one place, you decide not to live up to an obligation in another place? You can have all the words in the world and talk about integrity and being responsible but what kids see and what people should understand is your actions speak louder than anything else.

“People want to talk about the perception of it. That’s just a perception.”

Swann spoke a lot about not caring what the perception of him is, from the claims he plays too much golf — he said he’s been six times in the past year, three of which were university related — and the conversation regarding retaining Clay Helton as football coach after its first losing season since 2000.

Swann addresses scandals

Swann said he was “blindsided” when he first heard of the admissions scandal that rocked USC more than any other college. Senior executive administrator Donna Heinel was indicted in the case and faces racketeering conspiracy charges.

It’s not the first time the third-year athletic director found himself in such a predicament, as Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel detailed in a column regarding Helton.

Earlier this year former assistant coach Tony Bland pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in the college basketball corruption scandal.

Swann was asked how much responsibility should fall on him to be aware of it while it was happening. From The Athletic:

“Well, nobody knew what [assistant basketball coach] Tony [Bland] was doing except for Tony and the people involved. Nobody knew what [athletic department administrator] Donna [Heinel] was doing except for Donna and the people involved. As a matter of fact, I think when you look at the indictment, no one discovered it. One of the perpetrators was trying to get a lesser sentence for something else. I wish I had known. But that’s behind us.”

Swann said the No. 1 priority for the athletic department is moving forward.

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