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Good USOC news, finally

End Zone

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Month after month, this turbulent year of 2009 has brought bombardments of bad news for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

You want insurrection? That came in March, when the USOC volunteer executive board suddenly and inexplicably ousted CEO Jim Scherr despite his record of success in leading the daily operation.

You want controversy? How about that same board installing one of its own members, Stephanie Streeter, as interim CEO, until she ran head-first into vehement opposition from the member sports' national governing bodies and decided not to pursue the permanent position (even after moving her family, including twin toddlers, from Wisconsin to Colorado Springs).

You want failure? Unable to put forth a united front, and with its image and its ties to the global movement in serious disrepair, the USOC could only watch helplessly Oct. 2 as the International Olympic Committee shunned Chicago and selected Rio de Janeiro as host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

You want indecisiveness? After focusing on delays in starting a U.S. Olympic cable TV network as one of Scherr's shortcomings, the USOC leadership announced in July that the network would become reality after the 2010 Winter Olympics. Then, amid powerful anger from the IOC and NBC (which felt threatened because it's televising the Vancouver Winter Games as well as the 2012 Summer Games in London), the USOC meekly backtracked in August, putting off the cable plans indefinitely.

After all that, you'd expect another dose of disappointment in the Olympic Committee's first steps toward finding a new CEO to take charge in 2010.

Instead, there's a glimmer of fresh hope.

OK, not everything about the process makes sense. The board approved hiring the search firm Spencer Stuart, which certainly wasn't based on past dealings. Spencer Stuart took on the same task in late 1999 and came up with Norm Blake, a stranger to the sports world whose nine-month "reign of terror" (I wrote those words at the time in the Gazette) before resigning in October 2000 could only be described as a disaster.

One more excerpt from my part of covering Blake's departure: "It means an end to the ruthless, insensitive upheaval at Olympic House, during which Blake all but cleaned out the USOC's previous upper management, destroying many dedicated staff members' careers with no regard to their lives or past performance."

If that sounds similar to the USOC board's antics in removing Scherr, led by new chairman Larry Probst (who had no Olympic-related experience), it should.

Hopefully, Spencer Stuart will learn one vital lesson from 10 years ago: Hiring someone from the business world, no matter how gifted and successful that person might be, will never work for the USOC. Its CEO must be knowledgeable about the American Olympic scene, understanding of the USOC's many unique dynamics, and capable of serving multiple constituencies. The board also should give its CEO a long leash, without any semblance of micromanagement.

The best news, though, and the most positive development from the USOC this year, is that Spencer Stuart won't be handling this search alone.

The nine-member CEO search committee is worthy of respect, including the likes of Micki King, former Olympic champion diver (1972) who spent years training and coaching at the Air Force Academy; Mike Plant, now a top executive with the Atlanta Braves but former president of USA Cycling and an Olympic speedskater; Matt Van Houten, an attorney and respected former Olympian in team handball; and Dave Ogrean, USA Hockey executive director with a long résumé of positions, including leadership of the Colorado Springs Sports Corp.

Those people, and others on the search panel with years of dedication and involvement, should find a new CEO who can rebuild the Olympic Committee and stay far into the next decade, even beyond. Not as a caretaker, but as a strong leader who can turn chaos into harmony, not to mention more Olympic medals.

The athletes, the member sports and the USOC staff deserve nothing less.

routon@csindy.com

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