FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida, November 17. MARK Schubert believed that his job as USA Swimming's national team head coach was never in jeopardy, despite one-time expression of displeasure by the organization's executive director, Schubert said today in a press conference.
"I'm pretty shocked with the actions that have taken place over the last month," Schubert said today at the International Swimming Hall of Fame. "The executive director of USA Swimming (Chuck Wielgus) expressed displeasure with me at the Pan Pacific championships, but said I could remain as national team director through 2016 or 2020 if I wanted to."
Watch the full press conference in the video player at the end of this article.)
Neither Schubert nor his attorney, Michael Bernstein, would comment on the specific reasons Wielgus was unhappy with Schubert at the Pan Pacific championships. Schubert did say it was the first time Wielgus told Schubert of any issues with his job, and that the negative comments were offset by kind words about Schubert's overall job performance at the meet.
"After the Pan Pacific championships," Schubert said, "he (Wielgus) shook my hand several times, looked me in the eyes and said ‘Great job, coach.'"
Schubert was put on a 60-day leave of absence on Sept. 16. Since then, Schubert said he'd had no contact with Wielgus.
Schubert and Bernstein did stress that Schubert's firing is in no way connected to the sexual abuse scandals rocking USA Swimming. However, Schubert said his proposed changes to the Athlete Partnership Plan that would allow athletes to keep their image rights were met with disapproval by the United States Olympic Committee, but he heard of no complaints directly from Wielgus.
Bernstein said the issue at hand is the "breaking of the contract" agreed on by Schubert and Wielgus in 2006. That contract, Bernstein said, was scheduled to end on Dec. 1, 2013.
"Based on my initial investigation, I am coming to a conclusion that the firing was not justified by the terms and conditions of the contract," Bernstein said. He added that he and Schubert could seek monetary damages not only for wrongful termination, but the effect the situation has had on Schubert's reputation as one of the sport's most revered coaches.
Schubert has had a long association with USA Swimming's various incarnations through at least four decades. On the deck, he coached scores of swimmers to Olympic berths from 1976 to 2004, many of whom would win gold medals. At his first Olympics as national team head coach, Michael Phelps won eight gold medals, and the American swimmers won 31 total medals.
Schubert had been the head coach at the University of Southern California – a position he repeatedly called "his dream job" – when he was approached to be USA Swimming's national team head coach. He took the job, he said, "to work for the athletes, … and to win all the gold medals at the 2012 Olympics."
When Swimming World posed the question about the boundaries between the dry side and wet side of the sport, Schubert said that when Dennis Pursely took the first position as national team director in 1988, the position was autonomous as recommended by USA Swimming's Steering Committee and the American Swim Coaches Association.
"I was hired under that premise," Schubert said.
The emotional toll on the past 60 days became evident twice during the press conference. Schubert broke down when talking about the effect the leave of absence and subsequent firing have had on his wife, Joke, who has worked as a volunteer for more than a decade, and when mentioning he was unable to attend Fran Crippen's funeral last month.
USA Swimming released a statement Tuesday from Chuck Wielgus who said, "I continue to have the highest admiration and respect for Mark Schubert and for his accomplishments and contributions to the sport. I am saddened by this parting of ways as I was the one who sought out and recruited Mark for the job at USA Swimming. I know Mark still has much to give to the sport he loves and wish him the best in his future endeavors."
In the days since the announcement of his termination, the swimming community has rallied to bring Schubert back to his job. When asked about the grassroots campaign, Schubert said "it feels pretty good" to know that coaches who have agreed and disagreed with his actions in the past support his return.
Schubert said he'd be willing to return to his former position right away to prepare athletes for the 2012 Olympics.
"If the athletes and coaches want me back, and the executive director wants me back, I'm ready to go back to work," he said.