New USATF CEO: Max Siegel

USA Track & Field announced Monday that Max Siegel, the marketing consultant it had hired last October, was now its new chief executive officer. Can't say that's much of a surprise.

The question, as ever with track and field in the United States, is its future. During the last week of the Olympic Games, it commands TV time and headlines; the rest of the time, not so much.

Years ago, though, track and field used to be a major sport in the United States. Now it's not. Can it ever be again?

The corollary question for the people who run track and field in the United States -- not Siegel but the people he now will have to deal with on a day-to day, real-life basis -- is whether they will let him do his job.

Here's my dream for the sport: The U.S. Olympic Trials in Cowboys Stadium, with 100,000 people jamming the place, night after night. Why not?

Here's Siegel's mantra: to make a difference in American culture, with the idea of  competition on the field impacting lifestyle, and -- as he put it in a conference call with reporters -- to "over-deliver" to corporate partners "on their expectations."

Siegel takes over from Doug Logan, fired in September, 2010. USATF has been without a chief executive since; Stephanie Hightower, the federation president, had let it be known in an interview with the Chicago Tribune's Philip Hersh that she might be interested in the position, which of course proved problematic.

University of Oregon coach Vin Lananna reportedly emerged as a top candidate for the position. He's still in Eugene.

All the while, Mike McNees, USATF's chief operating officer, a wholly decent guy, was left to run the ship as interim CEO.

Skeptics, of course, will suggest that the hire of Siegel is proof that no one else wanted the USATF chief executive's job.

You know what's great about covering this kind of thing in track and field? You can't spell dysfunctional without f-u-n!

To the credit of the U.S. athletes -- all they do is go out and win. They pretty much ignore this stuff at the world championships and the Olympics. The U.S. team won 25 medals at last summer's world championships at Daegu, South Korea, one shy of the 26 won by the 1991 and 2007 teams.

Even so, everyone close to the sport understands that better governance might lead to even better results on the field of play.

Logan had said all along that 30 in 2012 was eminently do-able.

To his credit, Siegel said Monday on a conference call with reporters, "We have said 30 medals. And we are sticking by 30 medals."

Getting to 30 medals takes contributions from both the business and culture sides of USATF. That takes a profound understanding. That's what Siegel has been doing since October, taking what he called a "deep dive" into the organization, doing a "lot of the foundational and behind the scenes" work.

That sort of understanding, Hightower said on that same conference call, is what made him an attractive candidate.

Along with the fact that Siegel is truly an idea guy; that he has big-time credentials in auto racing and the music industry; as well as experience and contact in the Olympic scene as a member of the boards of U.S. swimming and USATF.

The perception glitch all along, of course, had been that Siegel had been on the USATF board -- until resigning just a month before -- before being hired as a consultant.

Hightower emphasized that he was not on the board when selected. Steve Miller, a USATF board vice-chair, said on the call, "Perception can go two ways. It can be seen as a negative and as a, why not? What we tried to concentrate on is, why?

"… We feel confident we went through the process … and Max simply was the best candidate."

The hire takes effect May 1. His base salary will be $500,000. He also can earn bonuses, Hightower said on the call without providing details.

Siegel notably becomes the only African-American chief executive among the more than three dozen national governing bodies in the United States.

U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun issued a statement that said, "Our relationship with USA Track & Field is very good, and we are particularly pleased with the partnership that we have with them on the high performance side. Having a CEO in place will add a measure of stability as we complete our preparations for London. 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."

Candidly, the USOC -- which for years set the standard for dysfunction -- is arguably now the model for good governance. The USOC board, under the direction of Larry Probst, sets policy and then lets Blackmun run the organization day-to-day.

That's the way things need to go down now at USATF. On the call, they said all the rights things Monday. They said Siegel would have authority.

Hightower said on the call, "We want to become a model NGB as it relates to best practices and model governance," Hightower said on the call.

"I don't want to say we're going to agree on every single aspect on how this organization is going to be run."

She also said, "We trust Max's leadership to move us forward."

Hightower said the time of "chaos" -- "that time is gone, it's over."

One might hope of course that the U.S. relay teams hold on to the baton at the 2012 Games. But should the stick clatter to the ground, could one predict chaos? Would it really be over?

Time, as ever, will tell.