After a Quarter Century in Troy, Jovan Vavic Fired as USC Men’s & Women’s Head Water Polo Coach

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USC former head coach Jovan Vavic in happier times; celebrating the 2018 NCAA title. Picture Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

“Operation Varsity Blues”—the massive federal indictment of college administrators, coaches, parents and advisors—has just claimed the biggest name in American collegiate water polo. According to a statement from USC, Jovan Vavic, the winningest water polo coach in the history of NCAA men’s and women’s competition, has been fired from the job he has held for the past 25 years.

FROM THE USC PUBLIC RELATIONS STATEMENT:

We are aware of the ongoing wide-ranging criminal investigation involving universities nationwide, including USC. USC has not been accused of any wrongdoing and will continue to cooperate fully with the government’s investigation. 

We understand that the government believes that illegal activity was carried out by individuals who went to great lengths to conceal their actions from the university. USC is conducting an internal investigation. Donna Heinel and Jovan Vavic have been terminated and the university will take additional employment actions as appropriate.

USC is in the process of identifying any funds received by the university in connection with this alleged scheme. Additionally, the university is reviewing its admissions processes broadly to ensure that such actions do not occur going forward.

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Jovan Vavic with USC’s Amanda Longan, 2018 Cutino Award winner. Photo Courtesy: (c) Catharyn Hayne

This represents a stunning turn of events for one of the greatest coaches in the history of American water polo. Over a career that spanned a quarter century, Vavic won ten men’s titles—including an unprecedented six straight from 2008 through 2013—and six women’s titles. His Trojans are the reigning national champions in both the men’s and women’s bracket, and the Women of Troy are currently riding a 35-match winning streak.

Vavic, who was arrested this morning by FBI agents in Waikiki on a charge of racketeering conspiracy, will now leave the women’s team in the hands of Interim Head Coach Casey Moon. Long-time Vavic associate Marko Pintaric—who was a former player for the Trojans that played on USC’s 1998 NCAA champions, has been named as the interim head coach for the men.

This is a breaking news story and will continue to be updated.

49 comments

  1. Tim Johnson

    Receiving bribes and false reports to get kids into college… yeah maybe DIII school will hire you

    • Charlene Tallen

      Tim Johnson what an insensitive and insulting remark to those of us with D3 athletes and to the athletes as well.

    • Sandy Drake

      Tim Johnson yes what an ignorant thing to say about D3 schools. My son swam at a D3 and had an excellent coach with morals. This was Greg Earhart who is now the Executive Director for CSCAA.

    • Tim Johnson

      I swam at DIII School. I didn’t mean it as an insult. I meant no school with scholarships for athletics will ever trust him, only schools like D III could take the chance on him

    • Tim Johnson

      By the way I loved my time at my school and wouldn’t change a thing.

      • avatar
        Michael Randazzo

        Glad to hear that; I’m a HUGE fan of the Trojans and – like most polo fans – respect what they / Coach Vavic accomplished. It appears (let’s be careful here) that he made a mistake; it will take some time to unravel AND let’s hope a fantastic program is not harmed in the process.

        We’ll see…

        Your correspondent

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Actually, after arguably the greatest coaching career in NCAA varsity polo history, I’m not sure Coach Vavic is working for anyone again. PLUS, let’s not forget all the collateral damage; his son Marko is a star for the men, and there was a fourth child who was likely ticketed for the Trojans.

      What I don’t agree with is that there was NO pause here; I gather the evidence is damning BUT why wouldn’t Dr. Austin take a deep breath?!

      Your correspondent

    • Lisa O

      He should not be allowed to coach at any schools

      • avatar
        Michael Randazzo

        Uh, I don’t think that’s his biggest worry at the moment. BUT, he could certainly consider a career somewhere—depending upon what happens next…

        Your correspondent

  2. avatar
    Nerf Guy

    Really Michael, a “mistake”…. sorry, but no…. shooting your friend in the eye with a nerf gun is a mistake. This is criminal, call it as such.

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Hi:

      Yes, I suppose that’s exactly the wrong way to characterize Vavic’s alleged actions—and let’s not forget the comment that referenced 24 years of activity. BUT, isn’t this all surreal? Would anyone have expected that the one of the greatest coaches in NCAA polo history would be arrested for helping actresses and wine sellers get their kids into USC? Seems like something out of…Hollywood.

      And where does that leave the nation’s top-ranked team?

      Your correspondent

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      … and, to your point, if convicted Vavic will lose a lot more than his job…

    • avatar
      Jim Kenney

      If you read the affidavit, he was different then others and didnt use the funds for personal use and put it into the USC water polo team fund. For all I care, nothing wrong with that and accepted a donation. NOT illegal for a Private institution.

      • avatar
        Anonymous

        Did you miss the part where they paid his kids Tuition at a private high school?

      • avatar
        Michael Randazzo

        Actually, there’s a passage in the indictment that I saw which alleges Vavic did use the funds for personal expenses—private school tuition is what was mentioned.

        And, I’m not a lawyer BUT accepting a bribe is different than a donation to a program; that’s why he got fired.

        Your correspondent

    • avatar
      Anonymous

      Easy there…..you do know the difference between being charge and being found guilty, right? The presumption of innocence is still stands.

  3. Rachel Leach

    Kari Lupton Leach Jason Leach Jill Lupton

  4. Rob Duguay

    Will they be going after football and basketball coaches as well?

  5. Helen Rhee-Minkin

    Disgrace & Unethical to admit students to pocket bribes is just wrong!!!

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Helen:

      I have to agree; for me it’s hard to reconcile the absolutely focused coach who I’ve covered for the past six years (admittedly, often from afar) with the transcripts that have been revealed. Clearly there was more to USC success than meets the eye—and the Feds have been the ones to unearth it.

      Your correspondent

    • Keri Sullivan

      Neil Joseph right!! I am surprised they are just discovering this now

  6. Colleen Hazlett

    Ever wonder how the men’s team got so many foreign players?

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Not sure I agree; this territory is already being mined on Water Polo Planet. Programs out East—including St. Francis Brooklyn—have far more foreign-born players that USC and they are MUCH smaller athletic programs.

      IMO, it’s more likely that good polo players jumped at a shot at an NCAA title—and they found ways to get into USC / pay the tuition ($250K doesn’t go very far for an institution that costs $60K a year…).

      Your correspondent

    • Lisa Hanf

      Colleen Hazlett cause International Water Polo players have lots of experience in the Water Polo community. They start very young.

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      I sense that the tenor of comments are beginning to trend in two directions; moralistic and vindictive. No surprise; I’ve already seen references to USC as “Un-Sophisticated Cheaters (not here) and now inappropriate language is filtering in.

      I agree that a message board is an open forum; however, in the rush to judgement I’d remind everyone:
      – These are allegations (we know that the media gleefully gets things WRONG—just look at the Bob Kraft massage parlor story)
      – College coaches have NEVER been known as a paragon of virtuous folks (St. Joe Paterno, anyone?!)
      – This case is SO absurd (read the Deadspin article) that it’s surreal
      – No matter how much people want to hate on Vavic, he’s still one of the greatest WP coaches in NCAA history (and no allegations of cheating w/players have surfaced)

      Your correspondent

      • avatar
        Marie Curie

        I take it a step further – dishonorable, both as an administrator of the program and a trainer/teacher/coach of athletes at any level.

        For this to have occurred, it means some unknown but otherwise qualified athlete was denied admittance in favor of a non-athlete who will never contribute to the sport. Take whatever slant you want on whether he personally was paid or the money went to the school, but the bottom line is that in his role as a guide, trainer and coach, he allowed his responsibility to those he coaches to be overshadowed by something else – greed, influence, stupidity, what have you.

        How can he be trusted after such an event? Either as a trainer of young athletes or a custodian of any university’s sports program? If guilty, it means he was putting neither the university nor his sport first.

        And if you *do* trust him. What does that say about your own standards?

      • avatar
        Michael Randazzo

        Hi Marie:

        My apologies for the delayed response. I’ve been working on an amazing story (all good!) about water polo in South Florida, and it (thankfully) took my attention away from the Vavic story.

        I have met Coach Vavic—though would not say we are friendly—and this situation does not fit with the person I covered for almost six years (as I’ve said, mostly from a distance). At the very least, it appears he has engaged in bad judgement (he has been accused, not convicted, and he’s wisely not saying anything to the press). It’s up to the courts to determine exactly what he crimes he’s committed.

        So, I am hoping to be neutral (as much as is possible).

        Is it possible his moral compass has been compromised? Absolutely; if you visit Water Polo Planet they’re up to 278 posts trying to deconstruct Vavic’s legacy (and there’s more coming!).

        I would suggest you’re opening up a larger conversation about the role of coach as mentor, support and perhaps an ethical touchstone in a sea of NCAA morass. As you might gather, my opinion is that identity is mostly a myth in the world of big time athletics. And—even for a boutique sport like water polo—EVERYTHING athletic at USC is big time.

        To put a wrap on this, I have heard (and occasionally seen) that Coach Vavic was tough on his players. But, I have also heard how much those same players enjoyed playing for AND developed a strong bond with him. So, I cannot judge him on his role as guide, trainer or coach—and would be wary of anyone who says they can.

        Your correspondent

  7. Mark Ascencio

    USC can’t catch a break these days. A student getting killed and now a huge recruiting scandal. There is just to much pressure on where to go to college and the costs.

  8. avatar
    Milos

    Jovan Vavic is a good Serb and Serbs don’t do such things

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Actually, he’s from Montenegro (if you ask him he’ll tell you that!)

      I would say that the shock is that a coach / individual of Coach Vavic’s stature should have to stoop to what he’s alleged to have done. BUT, history is littered with stupid choices…

      Your correspondent

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