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USOC boss vows transparency. Maybe even in CEO search?

October 29, 2009 |  3:14 pm

There were two noteworthy aspects to the United States Olympic Committee's announcement Thursday of the nine-member search and selection committee charged with finding a new USOC chief executive by the end of the year.

One is the committee, as previously promised by USOC board Chairman Larry Probst, includes representatives of every USOC constituent group, including two members of the Athletes Advisory Committee.

The other is that it does not include any of the U.S. sports federation (NGB) leaders who have been publicly critical of the current USOC leadership --  Probst and acting CEO Stephanie Streeter.

But there are valid reasons for not having the two most outspoken NGB leaders, Steve Penny (gymnastics) and Skip Gilbert (triathlon).

Since Penny's name has been bandied about as a candidate for CEO, it makes sense that he would not Mary Lou steve and carly be on a search committee.  Gilbert was not interested in the role. And the NGBs backed the choice of USA Hockey boss Dave Ogrean -- a former USOC deputy marketing director -- as their representative in the search process, for which the USOC announced Thursday it has hired Spencer Stuart as its search firm.

And the search committee does include the one USOC board member, Mike Plant, willing to be loyal opposition -- both to the previous chairman, Peter Ueberroth, whose ideas had been essentially rubber-stamped by a board full of Ueberroth appointees, as well as to Probst.

Penny and Gilbert were, however, among several NGB leaders who met with Probst on Tuesday at his office near San Francisco. Probst also had a private meeting with Gilbert, who recently had called for him to resign as chairman. The feeling that emerged, sources said, is that Probst does not bear grudges.

During the general meeting,  Probst let all the NBG leaders candidly air their grievances and suggestions. A key one was that the new CEO needs real familiarity with the world of sports (and preferably the Olympic movement) to avoid a long learning curve. Whether Probst agrees remains to be seen.

Streeter and two of her three immediate CEO predecessors, Lloyd Ward and Norm Blake, all came from corporate backgrounds, were unsuited for the USOC post and spent little time in the job.

Maybe that is why the USOC won't a) pay the search firm until 18 months after the CEO is in place and b) retained the right to set the amount of the payment.  If the result is another short-term stiff, the USOC should stiff Spencer Stuart, selected from nine search firm candidates.

The search committee can recommend one or more CEO candidates to the board.

Probst reiterated to the NGB leaders what he had told the media when Streeter announced Oct. 7 she did not want to be considered for the permanent post:  That he now is willing to devote full time to the chairman's job and that he is in it for the long haul, which presumably means his four-year term that ends after the 2012 Summer Olympics. 

The most significant promise Probst made at the Tuesday meeting was for more transparency in the USOC board's activities, a move NGB leaders have been advocating for the last three years.  That will include having NGB leaders among  outside observers at the board meetings and publishing minutes of the meetings.

Now everyone interested can only hope the board doesn't sidestep that scrutiny by going into executive session to discuss everything.  I want to know what they ordered for lunch.

--Philip Hersh

Olympic all-around champions Mary Lou Retton (left) and Carly Patterson, with USA Gymnastics Chief Executive Steve Penny, a potential candidate to lead the USOC.  Photo: USA Gymnastics.

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