The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Does USA Track & Field Need a New CEO?

Jul 27th, 2010
6:10 am PDT
Jun 26, 2010; Des Moines, IA, USA; USA Track & Field chief executive officer Doug Logan at the USA Track & Field Championships at Drake Stadium. Photo by Image of Sport Photo via Newscom

That seems to be the question on the table amid reports that two years into the position, USATF CEO Doug Logan is being evaluated and is possibly facing dismissal pending improvement by mid August.

The word that he is being evaluated doesn’t come as a surprise as most employees within organizations are given annual performance reviews – and Logan is an employee of the organization. I raise the question of whether or not USATF needs a new CEO more so to take a look at Logan’s performance over the past two years to determine if we do need a new CEO, and more importantly if we do what should we be looking for in a CEO.

To be fair to Logan, his transition to the position came in the middle of the biggest year in track and field – an Olympic year. So he came to the job with US forces under the biggest spotlight the world has to offer every four years. With that said, however, he went to Beijing as just another person in the stands. Sitting and watching all that went on, as opposed to being on the track and field and working with the coaches and athletes and others involved in the process. As someone new to the job with NO experience at all in track and field, it would seem that he would have begun his indoctrination into the sport that he was to govern post haste.  Because the importance of what was taking place at the Games was not merely the wins and losses, but the machinations that take place “off the track” and behind the scenes.

Yet Logan chose to be removed from the athletes, coaches, and others responsible for seeing that performances happen and acted as spectator. The separation from the athletes and coaches is how he came to the sport, and it is that separation from the athletes and coaches that has continued from Beijing forward and has really marked his tenure as CEO.

For example. As a result of what was deemed “poor performance” by the US team in Beijing, Logan put together a task force to examine the state of the US team. This task force, however, contained no input from anyone currently involved with US track and field, and no current coaches or athletes. While the task force had some distinguished members (Mel Rosen, former Olympic Head Coach, Carl Lewis, nine time Olympic gold medalist, and Steve Roush Chief of Sports Performance for the USOC to name a few) those with prior experience in track and field trace their involvement back well over a decade or more. More importantly there was no input from those currently administering programs, coaching or competing – those currently on the front lines and with intimate knowledge of the goings on within US track and field.

The result was a conceptual “think tank” with conceptual think tank type responses. It also served to further the divide between Logan and those he should be working with – today’s athletes and coaches. As THEY are the ones whose task it is to perform and garner medals in Daegu, London, Moscow and other championships going forward. Yet they were given no voice. So, as an example, the relay debacle in Beijing (both US 4×1 squads failing to finish the event) was met with a dismantling of the Relay program – a program supported by the coaches and athletes. The “old” program was replaced with, nothing, and the results in Berlin were two more dropped batons and no medals for the US.

Another result of the “Task Force” was the suggestion for a Head of High Performance to oversee the programs and activities that are supposed to assist our athletes achieve their performance goals. The selection of the individual to head this “program” completely bypassed anyone and everyone involved in the sport currently. As a matter of fact, the selection bypassed involvement within the past decade, and the previous decade. Rather the choice was made of someone whose competitive days ended in the 1980’s and who has since NOT been involved with the sport. No offense to Ms Benita Fitzgerald Mosely, but the entire growth of the sport during the “professional” era has occurred “since” her involvement in the sport ended. As a result, she has been put in the position of severe “On the Job Training”. To complicate matters she has had to work without the benefit of a built in network within her own athlete/coaching ranks. Not an ideal situation to create success for her or those over whose performance she is now charged with improving!

Logan has separated himself from his “employees” in other ways. For example, the matter of Lashawn Merritt testing positive for a substance that we have been told was taken unknowingly via a “male enhancement product” was met with castigation from Logan. Logan essentially threw Merritt under the bus saying that he was “disgusted with his actions”. There was no attempt to soften the blow or show any type of support for Merritt’s lack of “intent”. A move that did not endear him to the rest of the athlete community. Similarly the recent directive’s put out from USATF regarding the creation of a Coaches Registry, was done in a manner that caused great consternation within the coaching ranks. Further separating Logan from the coaching community.

We’ve heard more from Logan about how enamored he is with Usain Bolt and how he wishes he had him, than how excited he is about Tyson Gay, David Oliver, Kara Patterson, Andrew Wheating or any of our female middle distance runners who are making serious inroads into being medal contenders! We hear more about how disgusted he is that Trevor Graham ever coached for the US and how much he detests drugs in sport, than we do about how he plans to ensure the cleanliness of our athletes or exactly how we are going to reach that 30 medal count that he has set as a goal for the US in London in roughly 24 months.

But really, I think what we are seeing is the result of having someone at the helm who came to the sport with NO operating knowledge of the sport. Logan came to USATF having had a background in soccer (1995 to 1999) and as the head of Empresario LLC, a sports marketing and entrepreneurial firm. But having served as commissioner of Major League Soccer for four years, among the reasons given for Logan’s dismissal were shrinking attendance numbers, declining TV ratings, and a loss of $100,000,000 during Logan’s four year tenure. Similarly we have seen a reduction in medal count, meet attendance, and number of elite level meets being run here in the US. Not to mention the perception that we are losing our stature within the sport, as we are eclipsed by much smaller nations like Jamaica, Kenya in global headlines.

So, if Logan is dismissed, what should we be looking for?  Well, one thing I hope we’ve learned is that track and field is unique enough that it requires someone with experience in or around the sport to run it at this level. One of the key elements to any successful CEO is the ability to surround him or herself with quality people to help get things done. But it is the CEO who should bring the “vision” of where the organization is to go – and an individual must understand the organization and it’s place within the competitive marketplace in order to lead it in a proper direction.

To that end, I think USATF should give strong consideration to someone formerly with the sport here in the US. Former athletes like Sebastian Coe and Sergei Bubka have done much to help with the athletics programs of Britain and the Ukraine, in large part due to the knowledge gained during their athletic careers. An Edwin Moses, for example, I think would do wonders for the sport here.

I also think that if a new CEO is sought out that that individual should have strong ties with coaches and’/or athletes – or have the requisite skills necessary to develop those ties. The athletes and coaches are our “product” – just as the I Phone and Accord are products of Apple and Honda. At the end of he day they are what determine our success or failure against the rest of the world and they should be nurtured and cultivated. To wage war against them is to wage war against our ultimate ability to succeed.

We also need to have someone capable of interfacing with corporate America. In order to put the programs in place to assist our athletes and coaches, and to assist our communities in putting together world class competitions that can draw big name competitors and fill our stadiums, it will take assistance from corporate America. We will need someone that can sell this sport to other corporate CEOs.

Finally we need someone with a vision for this sport that includes hosting both the World Outdoor and Indoor Championships, as well as an American “Circuit” that can both attract international talent as well as serve as development for domestic athletes. I’m talking about New York and Eugene level meets, held in various venues around the country that provide an alternative to those meets held in Europe post US Nationals. Certainly if there can be meets worth competing in in Karlstad, Salamanca, and Heusden, we can develop meets in any number of the many cities we have here in the US. Los Angeles, Berkeley, Atlanta, Phoenix, Dallas, Boston, New Orleans, and San Jose are just a few of the cities that I know have track and field fan bases that would support a “quality” meet.

It will be interesting to see where the evaluation of Doug Logan leads. If those in charge at USATF are serious about us regaining our swagger and status around the world, then it should lead to changes that point us in that direction. I suppose we will find out within the next 30 days or so.

3 Responses to “Does USA Track & Field Need a New CEO?”

  1. Martin says:

    I agree with most of your comments on what we should do going forward, but your observations on Project 30 are a bit scewed. It may not have been perfect, but Logan is not as far removed from the athletes as you make him out to be. You said he had no current athletes on the board or people with knowledge of the inner workings of track. Take a look at the list of task force members again and you'll see that two of the nine members were current athletes and 2008 Olympians (Deena Kastor and Aretha Thurmond).

    Like you noted, I would have rather seen more current coaches on there. I think the main proposal from Project 30 (more money to athletes) is probably not the best long term approach. As an athlete, money is good and we need it. But as a fan of the sport, we need to invest more in coaching. Money for athletes helps in the short term, but training coaches will help more athletes in the long run. There was a T&FN article earlier this year about the lack of scientific understanding of the sport my most modern coaches (many college jobs require a fast PR as much as they do coaching experience). But looking at the long term will be hard for any CEO that is reviewed anually.

  2. Conway Hill says:

    I saw Kastor and Thurmond on the list .. But Kastor is really a road person and there is a huge divide between how the road section of the sport operates as opposed to the track ..

    Aretha has been around for over a decade and at a high level for us .. So I was a bit slack there ..

    But frankly when I think of athlete representation, I think of those more high profile athletes for an assignment like this … As well as their coaches … As they are more on the "front lines" … And maybe that's just my own bias speaking …

    Why was someone like Allen Johnson or Brooks Johnson ?? Clyde Hart, John Smith, Jon Drummond, Bobby Kersee, Vin Lananna, or Alberto Salazar ??? All with a rich history in the sport and currently involved …

    It just seems to me that the obvious was overlooked …

  3. Martin says:

    I think Aretha was a good choice. She is the type of person we need to turn into a medalist: an Olympic finalist in a field event that isn't well funded. Coincidentally or not, she was named as recipient of a Project 30 grant. I think most of the names you named would be great, but other than Kersee, they are all running coaches. I think most would agree our potential for more medals is the highest in the field events. (or fixing exchanges on relays, but that shouldn't be too comlicated). Clyde Hart's athletes and Alberto Salazar's athletes probably don't know what resources are needed to turn athletes into medalists since they already have every resource available to them (or at least have the money to acquire it). The field events are another story, so it would have been great to see some more contemporary field event people on the committee or even some non-big time running coaches (perhaps a college coach).

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