By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
While other former NFL players have become university athletic directors, none had the gridiron success of legendary wide receiver Lynn Swann.
Chosen by Pittsburgh in the first round of the 1974 NFL Draft out of USC, Swann would help lead the Steelers to four Super Bowl championships over a six-year span, and was the MVP of Super Bowl X. A three-time Pro Bowl selection and a first-team All-Pro in 1978, Swann was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.
What makes him most proud of his nine-year playing career, all with the Steelers?
“Part of it certainly is having won four Super Bowls, but the other part of it is the relationships that were built as a result. Friendships,” Swann said. “John Stallworth and I both being in the Hall of Fame, both coming in in the same Draft class. Maintaining that bridge. The relationship and the opportunity to have played for Art Rooney, Sr. and the Pittsburgh Steeler organization. All of those things are impactful over a lifetime.”
Swann’s life since retiring as a player in 1983 has been equally as successful as when he wore Pittsburgh’s iconic black, gold and white uniform. Among other fields he has excelled in are broadcasting, civic engagement and philanthropy.
Swann is a past president of the national board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. He has also appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as the chairman of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, which he did from 2002 to 2005. And in 2006, he was the Republican nominee for the office of governor of Pennsylvania.
Last year, Swann’s alma mater, USC, approached him regarding its athletic director position.
“I was called and asked if I would be interested in having a conversation with the university president (C.L. Max Nikias) about the job. And certainly, as a courtesy and curiosity, I took the meeting,” Swann said. “I tried not to react actually. I was just really trying to get more information in terms of understanding where the president was coming from, and what the school was looking for. To be able to make a decision as to whether not I wanted to entertain the idea of being a candidate.”
After meeting with Steelers owners, the late Dan Rooney and his son, Art II, to talk “about their philosophy, about how they viewed and looked at things from an ownership point of view, which translates into upper management here at a collegiate institution,” in April 2016, Swann accepted the job offer and became only the eighth athletic director in USC’s rich athletic history.
“There are a lot of things about the job at the end of the day that I think were a good fit,” Swann said. “But most certainly after having spent 30 years working with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America, which is America’s premier mentoring organization, and being chairman of the board for two years, I felt like an opportunity to work with the athletes and the coaches to take what I’ve learned through my college and professional and business experience to bring it back to these young kids and to help them grow was a great opportunity.”
On the job now for 20 months, what has Swann found to be most challenging?
“Well, there’s always challenges,” he said. “I have 630 adopted children and they’re between the ages of 17 and sometimes 24, 25. They present great opportunities for the future; they present great opportunities in the current time frame. Managing a number of people on the staff is always a challenge and you meet those every day.”
And what has he found to be most rewarding?
“Every day is rewarding. Every day is rewarding to come to work and work with these young people and work with the coaching staffs to improve and get better,” Swann said. “To still be in a competitive environment, to still be in a mentoring environment I think is outstanding.
“And then to be engaged with so many different sports (21 women’s and men’s athletic teams), I’ve always enjoyed other sports. I ran track in high school and played basketball. I get out and watch the women’s lacrosse team and the soccer team. My best friend in college was a swimmer, so I’ve always been around water polo and the swimming team. So, this is exciting every day to come to work and every day to watch them compete and every day to see them grow and try to build for a national championship is exciting.”