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tidewaterreview.com

Inside job: U.S. track's CEO search finally ends

Post goes to Max Siegel for $500k per year

Philip Hersh

Globetrotting

1:15 PM EDT, April 24, 2012

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Six months ago, USA Track & Field handed Max Siegel a one-year deal as a consultant to give a struggling sport some new ideas in marketing, sponsorship, publicity and communications.

Monday, it announced Siegel will run the whole show.

The USATF board ended a painfully long and embarrassing search for a new chief executive by naming Siegel, 47,  to the job with a two-year contract worth $500,000 a year plus unspecified bonuses, which undoubtedly will be based on whatever new sponsorship revenues he can attract.

"It is substantially less than what we had with the previous CEO," USATF president and chairman Stephanie Hightower said Monday in a media conference call.

That would be Doug Logan, who was fired in September, 2010.  Logan's original base salary was $360,000 but he made more in bonuses.

(Note: Logan's base salary in the first year of his contract, 2008, was $360,000, not $350,000 as I wrote here yesterday. According to letsrun.com and USATF, a contract revision pushed it to $500,000 in 2010.) 

Siegel's deal also is $50,000 more a year than the base salary Scott Blackmun received in a four-year contract when he became CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee in January, 2010.

Siegel said the contractual relationship between his marketing firm, Max Siegel Inc., and USATF would end with his assumption of the CEO job May 1.  He said he no longer will have a role with the firm.

"There is nothing that has any conflict (or) encumbers my ability to do my (USATF) job," Siegel said.

But his selection as CEO still looks like an inside job, no matter that Siegel has strong qualifications in marketing and communications and experience in the Olympic movement.

USATF's first choice for the job, University of Oregon track coach Vin Lananna, turned it down last May.  That eventually led to a new search when the board decided there was not an acceptable alternative candidate.

"I failed miserably in the first search," said USATF vice-chair Steve Miller, CEO of the Andre Agassi Foundation.  "I was hoping we we be able to finish this process much sooner."

Hightower had kicked a hornet's nest within a few days of Logan's firing when, in an interview with me, she did not categorically deny her own interest in the CEO job.  That created obvious potential conflict-of-interest problems because the board is responsible for hiring and firing the CEO.

After Lananna's rejection, the board still considered giving the job to Hightower before leaving Mike McNees, the chief operating officer, in place as interim CEO and eventually hiring Siegel, a graduate of Notre Dame and its law school with impressive credentials in auto racing and the music industry as well as experience with Olympic business as a member of the boards of USATF and the U.S. Swimming Foundation.

"We went through a lot of anxiety-filled times talking about taking a board member and putting that person in place as the CEO and of course ultimately decided against it,'' Miller said.

But as the Associated Press noted last fall, hiring Siegel as a USATF consultant with a six-figure paycheck also reeked of conflict of interest because Siegel had been on the federation's board for 2 1/2 years until resigning a month earlier.

Blackmun told me soon after Logan was fired the USOC would be very critical of any USATF chief executive candidacy from a board member, especially after the mess fellowing Stephanie Streeter's moving from the board to become acting USOC chief executive after its board had fired CEO Jim Scheer.

"Max will have our full support, and we look forward to working with USATF as they continue to refine their governance model and find ways to enhance the effectiveness of the organization," Blackmun said in a statement Monday.

Hightower chose some disingenuous hair-splitting Monday in dealing with the conflict-of-interest situation.

"The real issue here is Max was not on the board when he was selected for this position," she said.

The reality is Siegel was on the board from February, 2009 until a month before he became a consultant, then moved from that to CEO.  That means he was on the board when Logan was fired. Not too many degrees of separation there.

"Perceptions are what perceptions are," Miller said. "I feel we went through the process appropriately." 

According to a person familiar with the search process, the the board chose Siegel over New York Road Runners president and chief executive Mary Wittenberg and USATF chief of sport Benita Fitzgerald Mosley.

Siegel becomes the only African-American chief executive of one of the 38 national federations governing an Olympic sport in the United States.

He has been president of global operations for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.; a senior vice president at Sony/BMG; the owner of Rev Racing and a major player in NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program.

Since coming to USATF, he has worked at shoring up the organization's foundation in areas not publicly apparent, with the plan of making more visible home renovations in the future.

Siegel has concentrated on repairing and strengthening relationships with current sponsors and positioning the organization to capitalize -- hopefully - on the visibility provided by the expected success of the U.S. track and field team at the 2012 Olympics.

Siegel said Monday he would stick to the 30-medal goal for London that Logan had announced.  The U.S. team won 23 medals in Beijing four years ago, 25 medals at the 2011 world championships and last reached 30 Olympic medals - on the nose - at Barcelona in 1992.

"The thing the organization does better than anyone else is field the No. 1 track team in the world," Siegel said.  "We are going to continue to do everything we can to support those efforts."

Doping, disinterest and Michael Phelps have made track second fiddle to swimming in NBC's Olympic coverage.  That was evident in the network's having the 2008 Olympic program changed, putting swim finals in the morning so they would be live in prime time in the United States.  Track was shown on a tape-delay.

"Having gotten to know the organization, who wouldn't want this challenge?" Siegel said.

Track has lost so much ground on the U.S. sports scene that it appears to be sinking out of sight, despite the continued presence of marvelous athletes.  The question now is whether it is too late for Siegel - or anyone - to dig out of that hole, no matter how successful his underground efforts have been so far.