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USOC repeats past mistakes 

For a week now, logical people in and around the U.S. Olympic movement have been waiting for an explanation for the upheaval that took place on Black Thursday, March 5.

These same level-headed people wonder why the U.S. Olympic Committee's public-sector board "forced" the sudden removal of chief executive officer Jim Scherr, the closest thing to an ideal everyday leader that the USOC has ever had. (The company line called it a mutual decision, but that's not how it looks.)

Knowledgeable insiders and observers have done their best to figure out what warranted such a traumatic change at such a fragile time, with every basic performance indicator showing Scherr had performed superbly in six years on the job.

We've waited to hear the rest of the story. Instead, nothing.

The truth is ugly, and it's USOC history repeating itself, just as when two previous CEOs, Norm Blake (2000) and Lloyd Ward (2001-03), waltzed in from the corporate world and failed miserably. The board members were different then, but they acted the same.

Scherr's departure is not about some kind of breakdown, serious mistake or malfeasance. He was pushed out, numerous sources say, because board members from big business who see the USOC as a typical large company instead of a unique operation requiring its own skill set viewed Scherr as incapable of doing the job.

Never mind that he was the first former Olympian to work through the ranks, fully comprehending the movement's best and worst traits before taking the reins at Olympic House. And never mind that ...

under his guidance, U.S. athletes performed admirably especially at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, where they won 110 medals, more than everyone including China, while so many other nations fell short of expectations;

the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver are just 11 months away, requiring special expertise to deal with all the unexpected details and surprises;

after so many other times when the USOC has borrowed money to start a new four-year cycle after the Summer Olympics, Scherr brought a hefty surplus into '09;

though Scherr could be tough and blunt in facing problems, the member sports and athletes felt the man in charge knew what they were going through;

Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics is at the delicate stage when stability of leadership can be decisive, and sources say losing Scherr will hamper the bid.

None of that mattered. Instead, we hear that new USOC board chair Larry Probst, with support from others including Stephanie Streeter, had given Scherr 90 days to prove he could lead a total insult. We hear the board, at recent meetings, had begun going into executive session and sending Scherr, the CEO, out of the room. We also hear that Streeter had never gotten along with Scherr.

They did what happens in the business world: make life hell for the CEO until he leaves. And now his replacement is Streeter, who indicated in a recent conference call that playing college basketball 30 years ago at Stanford University gives her all the insight needed for adapting her credentials to the sports world.

Also, the board obviously sees no problem with an absentee CEO running the USOC by phone, in Wisconsin, two flights from anywhere. Even though she doesn't know the local operation, doesn't know the member sports' leaders and is starting from scratch with the International Olympic Committee.

It simply doesn't make sense.

The local question, of course, is whether this coup will affect the USOC's relationship with Colorado Springs, particularly in moving forward with the deal forged in 2008 that relocates the offices downtown and keeps the organization here for at least 25 more years. By all accounts, USOC staffers still are working closely and diligently with project planners.

That's positive. But the USOC's new leadership team has other issues, such as securing and keeping corporate sponsors, preparing for Vancouver and repairing badly damaged staff morale. So far, the justifications that the USOC needs someone with different skills, and more business acumen have been hollow.

Jim Scherr loved his job and had many more years to give the USOC. Instead, he was tossed aside without even a press conference. Just a cold news release.

That's not just wrong. It's irrational.

routon@csindy.com

  • It's hard to explain why Jim Scherr was ousted as CEO on the Black Thursday of March 5.

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