Lynn Swann’s football story began playing on youth league teams, continued through All-American honors at both San Mateo (Calif.) Serra High and USC and culminated with winning four Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Following his playing days, Swann was enshrined into both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame and has been a member of the National Football Foundation’s Board of Directors since 2011. He worked for ABC Sports from 1983 through 2006, an endeavor he prepared for with offseason graduate classes in broadcasting at USC.
Swann also has served on corporate boards with H.J. Heinz, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and Hershey Entertainment and Resorts. He was national board president of the Big Brothers and Sisters of American from 1993 to 1995 and President George W. Bush appointed him Chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness from 2002 to 2005.
Now, at age 64, Swann is writing a new chapter to his life-after-football story. All that he gained from football “has come full circle” now that he has returned to USC this year as the Trojans’ athletics director.
This new phase coincides with two sons in college. Shafer Swann is a sophomore at West Point playing wide receiver for Army. Braxton Swann is a freshman at USC who has considered continuing his football career with the Trojans as a walk-on. They both played at Pittsburgh Central Catholic.
Swann, of course, follows the progress of his sons, but he was reluctant to talk about them for this interview, explaining their surname is enough pressure. But since his philosophy is to treat USC’s athletes as his own sons and daughters, it’s easy to see what he and his wife Charena have taught them as parents.
“What I impart to them is how I want to see them grow up and take advantage of opportunities,” he said. “Not to tell them what they should become but to help them with what they desire to be and to give them the path and the tools to make that come true.”
FOOTBALL MATTERS: How has football influenced your careers?
LYNN SWANN: Football and sports are at the core of everything I’ve done. Football was about fun and from that experience you develop a sense of teamwork and standing side-by-side with other kids. Had I not been recruited, I might not have been exposed to the University of Southern California. Through football I earned a USC degree and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. I also came back to USC once I decided broadcasting would be a good career for me. All of it was based on my football career and name recognition that helped. Now, to be able to come back to my alma mater as the athletic director, I can apply what I’ve learned through ABC, corporate boards, trustee boards and charitable organizations. It’s my hope here to help the young men and women understand the value of sports and how it can be the foundation for so much more in life.”
FOOTBALL MATTERS: USC coach John McKay and Steelers coach Chuck Noll were great mentors. How did they influence you?
LS: I’m fortunate to have played for great coaches. My high school coach, Jesse Frietas Sr., was a great coach, too, that played for the San Francisco 49ers (1946-47). John McKay was one of the great coaches of college football. Chuck Noll is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Each one of them taught me about leadership and dedication to what you’re doing to give you a sense of confidence about who you were and what your skill set was and to go achieve it. In addition, they were people who listened. You could say things and they would incorporate it into what we were trying do. That’s a valuable lesson for young people. You can have great ideas, but you’ve got to have leaders who are willing to listen.
FOOTBALL MATTERS: When did you decide to pursue a career as an athletics director?
LS: It wasn’t one moment in time. All the things you learn in life — the dedication, the teamwork and your preparation – have to do with being part of a team. If the team has success there is greater recognition for the contribution the individual made. But every individual who makes a standout contribution is standing on the shoulders of the team. So it’s all tied together. Those are the lessons that carry you forward when you have opportunities.
FOOTBALL MATTERS: How do you envision your role with USC’s athletes?
LS: Some things still apply to them and some things don’t from when I was at USC from 1970 to 1974. You have to understand that when you work with young people. I have a great staff here at USC. The accumulation of knowledge from our staff can make this a great place to live, to get an education, to win and to have a great college experience. There is still a lot for me to learn, but I think the staff will help me grow into this position and the school will do well.
FOOTBALL MATTERS: What motivates you to take on a new challenge rather than settle into your retirement years?
LS: What motivates me is I can have a positive impact on kids. I can give them a head start on having a sense of what their possibilities are and to open doors. The college experience is very important. You get outside of the box that you grew up in and you gain a different perspective.