More fuel for USATF CEO speculation

Ever since deposing Doug Logan as CEO nearly 18 months ago, USA Track and Field has been led only by an “acting” CEO, Mike McNees. It’s a weird situation to have an “acting” leader for that long.

Last May, I reported a rumor I got from Garry Hill, managing editor of Track and Field News, which is that the position will be filled after the 2012 Olympic Trials. Not Olympic Games, but Olympic Trials. Hill speculated that the reason for the wait is that the “perfect candidate” would not be available until then, which led me to speculate that the person in question is none other than Vin Lananna, Oregon head coach and co-chair of the Olympic Trials organizing committee.

A lot of speculation there. But it did turn out that Lananna met with USATF and initially accepted the job but quickly changed his mind. I have not forgotten this, especially during the various brouhahas that erupted around USATF in the last few months.

In this context, I found the headline yesterday to Ken Goe’s Oregon daily track & field rundown very interesting. It asks “What’s left on Vin Lananna’s ‘to do’ list at Oregon?”, and the accompanying writeup says the lone thing missing is an NCAA Outdoor Championships team title. It sounds almost as if he’s ready to close up shop and move on, and needs to finish up tasks before he does. Whether or not that’s actually the case is more speculation, but it struck me that way.

This is Lananna’s seventh year at Oregon. Before that, he was Athletic Director at Oberlin College for two years (2003-2005), head coach at Stanford for eleven years (1992-2003), head coach at Dartmouth for eleven years (1980-1992), and head coach at C.W. Post (1975-1980). He doesn’t settle in one place and stay there, so no one should be surprised if he takes off from Oregon to do something else.

The other thing that makes me think that Lananna might be moving on is the lack of any decisions regarding future Olympic Trials and USATF Championships. By this time four years ago, we already knew that the 2012 Trials would be in Eugene, but right now we have no idea where the 2016 Trials will be. Future USATF outdoor championships sites are similarly up in the air. If Lananna were to remain at Oregon, it’s likely we’d already know if these meets will be in Oregon or not.

Would Lananna as CEO be good for track and field in the USA? Almost assuredly. He is known as a very good coach, but even more than that he has always been an organizer. He put on an Olympic Trials that one writer likened to “track and field going back to church” in that it offered soul-raising support to help a troubled sport get back on its feet. He’s put on great championship meets at Oregon and Stanford and brought the IAAF Grand Prix series to northern California. He created Stanford’s Farm Team and the Oregon Track Club Elite, both hugely important vehicles for getting US distance running back to group training and international competitiveness. He won the bid that will bring the first IAAF World Series “stadium” event to the USA (the 2014 World Junior Championships), and while at Stanford he got this close to winning an IAAF World Championships bid. His close ties to Nike’s Phil Knight are a major asset, and decades on university campuses must have taught him the skills to deal with the kind of administration and bureaucracy he’ll face at USATF.

Oregon track will go on being successful, with or without Lananna. The support systems first dreamed up by Bill Bowerman have been revived, strengthened and expanded under Lananna. Eugene will still be a destination for track fans of every stripe. But domestic track on the pro level desparately needs his leadership.

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4 Responses to More fuel for USATF CEO speculation

  1. Red says:

    I was struck in the very same way in reading between the lines of Goe’s piece. And I understand the particular trait of some individuals who find gratification in getting projects off the ground and then feeling the urge to move on to new challenges.

    During a very brief conversation with Lananna in Nampa, I was impressed with his global connections as he referred several times to his smart phone. Much as I would be a little disappointed to see him leave Oregon, he is already up to speed for the USATF job and would do wonders there for American T&F.

  2. pjm says:

    I agree with your analysis overall. The only real point it doesn’t answer is, “Would someone like Lananna want to take on the squabbling circus of USATF,” which I suppose is fundamentally unknowable anyway. Someone with a better knowledge of the organization and its dysfunctions might have specific ideas about how to deal with them.

    One quibble: I don’t think not knowing where the 2016 Trials will be yet actually tells us much. Recall that in 2008 when USATF announced that Eugene would be getting the 2012 Trials, there was a certain amount of dismay and disbelief from other potential sites; essentially, the feeling was that the 2012 award was almost premature, that nobody else had had an opportunity to even pitch. It’s more likely that the 2016 process (a) will have a more formal process, and/or (b) USATF would prefer something that big not be handled by an interim CEO, hence it will happen post-2012-Trials, regardless of whether that CEO is Lananna.

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