USC athletic director Mike Bohn resigns after criticisms over management

USC athletic director Mike Bohn stands inside the Coliseum
Mike Bohn's resignation comes a day after The Times asked him and USC about internal criticism of his management of the athletics department. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

USC athletic director Mike Bohn resigned Friday, a day after The Times asked him and USC about internal criticism of his management of the athletic department.

Bohn made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female colleagues, including remarks about their dress, hair and weight, that staff members said made them feel uncomfortable, according to two USC sources with knowledge of the incidents. They spoke on condition of anonymity fearing retaliation. They said Bohn’s comments left colleagues — especially women — feeling awkward.

Three USC sources said several people confronted Bohn about comments they felt were inappropriate, but the comments continued.

The Times spoke to six USC sources who raised concerns about his management of the department. Several described him as a poor manager who missed meetings he was expected to attend and was often absent from key events, including USC national championship victories.

Multiple sources alleged employees left meetings with Bohn without direction and that he shied from difficult conversations. Two former USC coaches told The Times that Bohn’s leadership of the department was a primary reason they left.

Bohn said Friday that he would not respond to direct questions posed by The Times regarding their claims.

In a statement provided to The Times in response to those questions, Bohn said that he will “always be proud of leading the program out of the most tumultuous times in the history of the profession.”

“In moving on, it is important now that I focus on being present with my treasured family, addressing ongoing health challenges, and reflecting on how I can be impactful in the future,” Bohn said in the statement.

USC did not immediately announce who would serve as interim athletic director.

USC athletic director Mike Bohn speaks while standing next to USC President Carol Folt.
USC athletic director Mike Bohn speaks while standing next to USC President Carol Folt at his introductory news conference in November 2019. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The university did not respond to questions from The Times about Bohn.

University President Carol Folt released a letter to the USC community announcing Bohn’s departure. She wrote that the university had “conducted a thorough review of the athletics department, including its operation, culture and strategy” ahead of USC’s impending transition to the Big Ten conference.

The university retained Gina Maisto Smith, a Philadelphia-based attorney from Cozen O’Connor, earlier this year to conduct that review, according to multiple people who attended a meeting earlier this year where the review was announced.

During the meeting, USC general counsel Beong-Soo Kim told attendees the review wasn’t targeting a specific person, but instead was meant to ensure the department had a work environment that was compliant with university policy. Smith began interviewing members of the department in March.

Cozen O’Connor describes Smith on its website as “the founder of the nation’s first practice dedicated to the institutional response to sexual and gender-based harassment, violence, child abuse, elder abuse, other forms of discrimination and harassment, workplace misconduct, and criminal conduct.”

Smith’s past work includes high-profile investigations into the handling of sexual harassment and misconduct at Baylor, Virginia and Colorado. Her Institutional Response Group was recently retained by the Cal State university system to investigate its response to a series of scandals involving sexual misconduct, harassment and retaliation.

USC athletic director Mike Bohn, right, hands new football coach Lincoln Riley a USC visor.
USC athletic director Mike Bohn, right, hands football coach Lincoln Riley a USC visor during Riley's introductory news conference at the Coliseum in November 2021. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Bohn was hired in November 2019 after a decade of turmoil and scandal within USC athletics.

At the time, Folt hailed Bohn as a man of integrity, the ideal sort of athletic director to guide USC out of a dark era. Over the past 18 months, USC had hired a nationally renowned head football coach in Lincoln Riley and announced a stunning move to the Big Ten Conference. In between, Bohn was recognized in March 2022 by the National Assn. of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) as one of the top administrators in the nation, the first time a USC administrator has ever earned athletic director of the year honors.

In her letter, Folt said that USC’s athletic department had “transformed into a national powerhouse” during Bohn’s four-year tenure.

That tenure ended Friday amid questions about Bohn and his leadership.

Concerns were raised about Bohn’s conduct at Cincinnati, where he worked before he was hired by USC.

Former Cincinnati head athletic trainer Robb Williams told The Times that he saw Bohn make unwanted physical contact with women on several occasions, including touching their shoulders or backs in a way that made them visibly uncomfortable.

Bohn did not respond to questions about Williams' statements.

Kim McGraw, who served as director of business affairs within Cincinnati athletics from 2009 to 2019, said she saw Bohn make unwanted physical contact with women, including squeezing their shoulders and putting his arm around them. She said the interactions she witnessed made “her skin crawl” and made the women visibly uncomfortable.

Bohn did not immediately respond to questions about McGraw's statements.

Mike Bohn speaks at a news conference after being introduced as Cincinnati's athletic director in February 2014.
Mike Bohn speaks at a news conference after being introduced as Cincinnati's athletic director in February 2014. (Al Behrman / Associated Press)

Two Cincinnati athletic department employees said they heard Bohn regularly comment about a lesbian colleague’s sexual orientation.

Often, McGraw said, Bohn wasn’t present in the department at all. She said she communicated that concern to Cincinnati’s Office of the Controller months before Bohn’s departure.

By that point, she’d already shared her account of what she believed to be inequitable treatment from Bohn with a Title IX officer. Among the issues she shared was her belief Bohn treated her inequitably in offering larger percentage pay raises to two men she worked with, when the three had split a departing supervisor’s responsibilities equally among them.

McGraw said she confronted Bohn in February 2017 and later shared her account with a Title IX officer, but said she opted not to file a formal complaint. She said she retired from the department in 2021, two years earlier than she’d originally planned.

She was one of five women who interacted with Bohn at Cincinnati who told The Times he created a workplace that was hostile, anxious and toxic for women.

At Cincinnati, staffers were stunned he managed to make his way west.

“We all felt as a staff he’d eventually be gone,” Williams said. “We had no idea he’d end up at USC.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.