How did Mike Bohn climb the college ladder? The mentor defends his protege

When Mike Bohn walked into the room for his job interview with the president of the University of Cincinnati in 2014, he saw a familiar face.

Cincinnati hired Chuck Neinas, Bohn’s mentor and a prominent college athletics consultant, to guide the search for its next athletic director. Neinas previously participated in searches in San Diego State and Colorado that landed Bohn as athletic director.

“I was there when he was interviewed,” Neinas told the Los Angeles Times in 2019. “At the end of the interview, the president was throwing softball questions at him to make him look good.”

Cincinnati offered Bohn the job, and he accepted. Five years later, he turned his success in Cincinnati into a more prestigious position at USC.

Bohn resigned from USC last Friday, a day after The Times asked him and USC about internal criticism of his handling of the department and his conduct as athletic director of horses. of Troy. The news came as a surprise to Neinas, who has served as Bohn’s steadfast guide and support throughout his career.

“Well, I would say, number one is bull—but I’m biased,” Neinas said in an interview with The Times on Thursday morning.

“He brought in Lincoln Riley, which was a hell of a move, and transformed the football program, created a lot more interest in Trojan athletics. And then the opportunity to triple their income by going to the Big Ten Conference, putting the institution in a very solid financial position, and he was voted athletic director of the year by his peers. You would say the guy is on a roll, right? »

Mike Bohn resigned as USC athletic director last week.

(David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

Concerns raised about Bohn included inappropriate comments that made staff members uncomfortable and Bohn’s absence from key USC meetings and sporting events.

“First of all, he inherited a staff [at USC]”, Neinas said. “He really didn’t get a chance to…I think he brought a few people from Cincinnati, so he inherited a staff. He didn’t hand-pick his staff And Mike is a very outgoing type of director. He’s not a closed-door office type. He’s trying to do PR for Trojan Athletics, trying to raise money. He’s not someone who is sitting around the desk. That’s not his MO. From what I understand he was successful. He seemed to reach out to people who were more than happy to donate to USC again.

The Times found that concerns had also been raised about Bohn in Cincinnati. Five women who worked with Bohn during his five years in Cincinnati told the Times that he created a hostile, anxious and toxic workplace for women.

“I can’t believe this,” Neinas said. “You can talk to anyone in the college sports business, and they’ll tell you Mike Bohn is one of the friendliest people in the business. … He has a great sensitivity about her, which makes accusations about his treatment of women suspicious in my opinion.

Few in the industry have wielded more influence over football coaches and athletic managers than Neinas, the former commissioner of the Big Eight Conference in the 1970s, whose power only grew as a senior manager of the College Football Assn. in the 1980s and 1990s.

Neinas and the CFA are credited with encouraging the University of Oklahoma and the University of Georgia to sue the NCAA for the organization’s control over schools’ media rights, a landmark case that resulted in the 1984 Supreme Court ruling that gave conferences and schools the ability to sell their games to TV stations and reap the benefits. Neinas’ fingerprints are everywhere in the evolution of college sports into big business.

In 1997, Neinas left the CFA and soon began advising athletic departments on football coaching and athletic director hires. His 1999 search at Oklahoma landed at the school of legendary Bob Stoops, who led the Sooners to a national championship in just his second season.

Bohn’s three employers before USC—Cincinnati, Colorado, and San Diego State—relyed on Neinas’ guidance to conduct research that resulted in Bohn’s hiring.

Mike Bohn, far right, shakes hands with Chuck Neinas after he resigned as Colorado athletic director in 2013.

Mike Bohn, far right, shakes hands with Chuck Neinas after he resigned as Colorado athletic director in 2013.

(Helen H. Richardson/Denver Post via Getty Images)

For those who knew Neinas was part of Cincinnati’s search process and Bohn was a candidate, Bohn getting the job was just a formality.

“When Chuck took over the research and Bohn was involved, it was over,” said a former college athletic director who asked not to be identified because discussing the research could negatively impact the teams. future job opportunities. “He was a father figure.”

“Chuck Neinas is extremely powerful,” said B. David Ridpath, professor of sports business at Ohio University and a member of the Drake Group, a college athletics industry watchdog. “[He] has a lot of influence in college football circles and certainly if Chuck Neinas is pushing for someone or shooting for someone, that person will potentially have a leg up.

Neinas laughed off the claim that Bohn got jobs because of their relationship. He noted that he was not involved in the USC research. Turnkey Search — not Neinas, who is 91 — guided the search that led USC to hire Bohn in November 2019.

“He earned the Cincinnati job,” Neinas said Thursday. “Under his watch there, they redid the basketball facility, they hired Luke Fickell [as football coach]and he took Cincinnati to the [College Football Playoff]. Not bad.”

Neinas and Bohn first crossed paths in 1992, when Bohn was Associate Athletic Director at the Air Force Academy. Neinas was looking to expand his staff at CFA to include someone to handle promotions and sponsorships, and John Clune, the Air Force athletic director, brought Bohn’s name to Neinas. With Boulder, Colo.-based CFA and Boulder-native Bohn, the pairing seemed natural on both sides.

In 2003, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Neinas served as a key reference for Bohn when San Diego State hired Bohn from the University of Idaho, his first athletic director position.

On April 19, 2004, the Union-Tribune reported that Bohn had sent a letter to San Diego State President Stephen Weber requesting a department-wide evaluation and recommending Neinas Sports Services.

“It is essential,” Bohn wrote, “to have an independent third party reviewing all aspects of the Athletic Department. … Mr. Neinas is a former executive for whom I worked nine years ago. His candid style , uncompromising and direct will not be compromised by our previous efforts.”

The state of San Diego paid Neinas nearly $11,000 for an 11-page report that is “double- and sometimes triple-spaced and includes few concrete administrative criticisms or suggestions,” according to the Union-Tribune.

“It’s a tribute to Mike Bohn for recognizing the need to be proactive and develop a TEAM concept,” Neinas wrote. “I have considerable confidence that Mike Bohn and the other members of his team will develop imaginative and successful marketing and fundraising programs.”

Two months after San Diego State released Neinas’ evaluation, Colorado hired Neinas to lead its search for an athletic director. The winning candidate would be tasked with cleaning up a department reeling from allegations of sexual misconduct against football players.

Big 12 Conference Acting Commissioner Chuck Neinas speaks during a press conference.

Acting Big 12 Conference Commissioner Chuck Neinas speaks at a press conference announcing West Virginia’s entry into the conference in November 2011.

(David Smith/Associated Press)

According to the Union-Tribune, Neinas was asked by Colorado to provide three nominees to a selection committee. But when asked about all of the finalists, Colorado officials said only Bohn’s name was passed on by Neinas to acting chancellor Phil DiStefano.

Colorado paid Neinas $39,000 to conduct his research.

San Diego State hired Neinas to find Bohn’s replacement and paid him over $30,000.

Under Bohn’s leadership, Colorado hired Neinas to consult on the selection of two football coaches: Dan Hawkins in 2005 and Jon Embree in 2010. Hawkins went 21-39 in five seasons before Bohn fired him while Embree went 4-21 in two seasons before Bohn. let him go.

In May 2013, after eight years in Colorado, Bohn led an emotional press conference where he defended his record and insisted he had been forced to quit.

“I want to make sure you know,” Bohn wrote in an email to Colorado staff obtained by the Boulder Daily Camera, “as stated in my formal separation agreement, that I have not committed any irregularities, breaches NCAA rules, violation of university policy, or any immoral, dishonest, or other type of misconduct.

Thursday morning, when asked by The Times about Bohn’s departure from Colorado, Neinas laughed and said, “He was more popular than the president.”

Bohn told The Times in 2019 that he was caught off guard by his exit from Colorado and worked with Neinas as he considered his next steps.

Eight months passed before Cincinnati asked Neinas to advise on his research. Cincinnati hired Bohn as athletic director in February 2014.

Bohn went to USC and on June 30, 2022, about three years after the Trojans hired him, USC and UCLA rocked the college sports landscape by announcing they were leaving the Pac -12 for the Big Ten.

That day, Neinas told The Times he was supposed to golf with Bohn the next day. Instead, Neinas said Bohn called him earlier that morning to tell him the Big Ten presidents had approved USC’s big move.

Neinas gushed with pride over what Bohn had accomplished at USC.

“For the first time in years, USC has an honest-to-God athletic director rather than a former football player,” Neinas told The Times in 2022. “I think he’s proven himself.”

On Thursday, Neinas doubled down on that position.

“Remember,” Neinas said, “I learned very early in life, envy is a horrible thing. Do you think some people envy Mike? [Of] what has he accomplished?

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