Turnkey Search Recruits Director of Athletics for USC

The Trojans look to turn the page after two years of sports scandals. Mike Bohn comes to Southern California from the University of Cincinnati with a reputation for integrity, leadership and student focus. Turnkey’s Len Perna discusses the placement.

November 11, 2019 – Turnkey Search, a subsidiary of Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, has placed Mike Bohn as the new director of athletics for the University of Southern California. He replaces NFL Hall of Famer Lynn Swann who resigned in September amid investigations targeting the athletic department. In 2016, the school used Neumann Associates (now part of Koya Leadership Partners) to recruit Mr. Swann as USC’s AD.

“Turnkey is honored to assist USC president Carol Folt and the USC search committee led by Suzanne Nora Johnson to identify a new leader for this great institution,” said Gene DeFilippo, managing director of Turnkey Search. “USC now has a great new president, great new provost and great new AD, and good things are in store.”

“In Mike, we have selected an energetic leader who will stay true to our Trojan heritage of outstanding athletic performance,” Ms. Folt said. “He has led athletics programs that are extremely competitive while demanding the highest level of integrity, and he will bring this winning combination to USC.”

With a career that has spanned more than 35 years, Mr. Bohn is known for his integrity, leadership and student-centered focus. Starting at the U.S. Air Force Academy, he has held key leadership roles in different conferences and successfully led athletics departments at the University of Cincinnati, University of Colorado, San Diego State University and the University of Idaho.

Most recently at the University of Cincinnati, Mr. Bohn oversaw an athletics department that won several conference championships and enjoyed postseason appearances in multiple sports, including women’s basketball, women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, women’s track and field, men’s swimming and diving, and men’s baseball.

11 Member Search Committee

USC’s 11-member search committee, chaired by USC trustee Suzanne Nora Johnson, included faculty, staff, alumni and two student-athletes. The committee conducted three listening sessions with 200 student-athletes, coaches and staff, which shaped the candidate criteria that led to Mr. Bohn’s hire.

“It was an unbelievable honor to be part of the search committee, and know that voices from across our students, coaches and staff were being heard,” said student-athlete Anna Cockrell. “I was most impressed with Mr. Bohn’s passion, integrity and real examples of how he has connected with students in the past.”

In his new role, Mr. Bohn will be responsible for the overall culture and operation of the Athletics Department and its intercollegiate athletics programs. The athletic director reports to the president of the university and serves as a member of the president’s cabinet.

USC is a private, not-for-profit and nonsectarian research university founded in 1880, with its main campus in the city area of Los Angeles. As California’s oldest private research university, USC has historically educated a large number of the region’s business leaders and professionals. Its athletics have won 123 total team national championships, 97 for men and 26 for women, including non-NCAA championships.


Sports and Entertainment Expansion Elevating Search Business

Over the last quarter century, the sports sector has grown into a formidable global industry. Historically, professional sports teams operated on a relatively modest level, with league officials, team owners, managers, and coaches surrounding themselves with people they knew and trusted from their own small worlds. College sports teams relied on in-house search committees and word-of-mouth recommendations. Much of that has forever changed.

Teams with tremendous followings like the Dallas Cowboys, Real Madrid and Manchester United have seen their valuations soar into the billions of dollars. That’s attracted search firms – big time. Seasoned recruiters now provide strategic planning advice, in addition to talent identification services, with the capability of applying their findings to speed along the process in the hunt for talent. Here’s some further reading from Hunt Scanlon Media.


USC recently used Heidrick & Struggles and Isaacson, Miller to recruit Ms. Folt, who became the school’s first female president, an unusual pairing of rival recruiting outfits. Former president C. L. Max Nikias stepped down last year after a former campus gynecologist was accused of sexual misconduct.

20-Plus Years of Experience

Founded in 1996, Turnkey Search is a specialized talent recruitment/executive search firm focused on recruiting C-level, senior-level and mid-management-level talent for sports, entertainment and media enterprises. Over the past 20-plus years, Turnkey Search has filled more than 1,000 positions across these three sectors. The search firm helps teams, leagues, stadiums, arenas, theaters, college athletic departments, events, sponsors, agencies, media companies, private equity firms and other clients identify, recruit and hire top management talent.

Turnkey’s clients include the University of Alabama, the Atlanta Hawks, CitiGroup, the University of Denver, Louisiana State University, the University of Michigan, the Milwaukee Brewers, the University of Mississippi, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the University of Nebraska, the Oakland Raiders, Richard Childress Racing, RocNation, Rutgers University, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Temple University, Ticketmaster, Townsquare Media, the United Center, VStar Entertainment Group and the Washington Nationals.

Mr. DeFilippo has 39 years of experience in intercollegiate athletic administration and higher education. He has served as athletics director at Boston College, Villanova and the University of South Carolina-Upstate.

Len Perna, founder, president and CEO, manages all aspects of Turnkey Search. A top executive in the sports industry since 1985, he began his sports career as a business attorney for Cap Cities ABC/ESPN and also served as a top executive for the Detroit Red Wings/Tigers and the Dallas Stars/Texas Rangers.

Mr. Perna recent sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss the search in more detail. Following are excerpts from that discussion.


             Len Perna

Len, about how many candidates were viewed for this position and where did you hunt for candidates?

More than 80 candidates were considered for the USC role, with the vast majority of them currently working in intercollegiate athletics. The new president of USC, Dr. Folt, tasked us with recruiting a sitting Division I director of athletics with a minimum of at least 10-15 years of experience as an athletics director and 20-plus years’ experience in NCAA intercollegiate athletics.

What made this role so appealing to candidates?

USC is a stunning and storied place with many, many NCAA Championships, Pac-12 Championships, Heisman Trophies, etc. Last year alone, USC won six NCAA national titles in six different sports. USC typically finishes in the top five or top 10 in the Directors’ Cup, which is the award given to the school with the best all-around ranking across all sports. Also it helps that it is located in Southern California/Los Angeles with amazing weather, amazing resources and alums, etc. I can go on and on.

“More than 80 candidates were considered for the USC role, with the vast majority of them currently working in intercollegiate athletics.” 

Ultimately, what made Mike Bohn the best choice for this role?

Mike Bohn was selected because of his integrity, his NCAA student-athlete focus and his people skills. USC is in a place right now where it needed an individual to engage more deeply with student athletes, engage more deeply with coaches, engage with faculty and staff, engage with alumni and donors, etc. Deeper more organic day-to-day engagement with all stakeholders. President Folt was looking for a people person with strong interpersonal skills for building engagement, followership and galvanizing the USC community. Mike Bohn is a passionate, engaged team player and that ultimately made him a great choice when considering his deep NCAA experience.

Can you share some other AD searches Turnkey has conducted?

In addition to USC, Turnkey has done Alabama, Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Georgetown, Denver and about a dozen other athletic director placements within the past three years.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor  – Hunt Scanlon Media

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