Investigators say U of U swim coach should have been fired earlier

Posted at 1:05 PM, Jul 02, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-03 00:33:42-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A former University of Utah swim coach should have been fired long before the school let him go because he was too drunk to do his job, according to a report released Tuesday.

Investigators hired by the U of U said the school failed to take action against axed coach Greg Winslow, despite evidence to suggest they should.

Winslow was suspended in February, and about a week later, the university announced his contract would not be renewed. Upon his departure, former swimmers and their parents came forward, alleging the school failed to adequately respond to complaints of abuse they had lodged against Winslow years prior.

“I want to apologize. I’m sorry. I’d like to apologize to any of our current and former swimmers who feel I have not done my job,” said U of U Athletic Director Chris Hill during a press conference at the law offices of Snell & Wilmer.

The university hired three independent investigators to look into Winslow’s conduct during his time at the school, as well as review how the athletic administration responded to students’ concerns. The attorneys spent nearly four months interviewing more than fifty people who had some knowledge of what happened within the swim program from 2007-2013, which is when Winslow served as coach.

According to a report, the most significant issue uncovered was Winslow’s blatant and repeated abuse of alcohol that continued even after he was instructed to seek help.

“His use of alcohol had a corrosive effect on the team. It impaired his coaching. It interfered with effective discipline. It was an embarrassment to the team and the University,” said Alan Sullivan, one of the investigators.

Sullivan and his team found that the athletic administration did not appropriately address Winslow’s drinking problem, which he described as a pervasive problem evident to both athletes and assistant coaches.

“By late 2011 or early 2012, he was unfit to coach. He should have been terminated at that time,” Sullivan said. “The reality is that no one supervised his treatment, no one held him accountable for a treatment program. No one from the athletics department followed up or monitored him.”

Hill acknowledged he was in part to blame for any action the U of U failed to take, but he also contended that a break-down in communication contributed to the problem.  According to him, the associate athletic director at the time, Pete Oliszcak, did not properly convey to him how troublesome Winslow’s behavior had become. Oliszcak agreed to resign from U of U in October.

The report indicates that Oliszcak notified Hill of at least one warning sign, though, via email.  In July of 2011, Oliszcak reported there was an “altercation” between Winslow and an assistant coach during a work trip. A copy of the email, provided by investigators, shows Oliszcak informed Hill that Winslow punched the coach while he was drunk, and then later admitted he needed treatment for alcoholism. Hill conceded he should have responded more seriously to the information.

“I made a big mistake, OK? I got that email in the summer of 2011,” Hill said. “Altercation should have been defined for me.  I should have looked at what an altercation was. Once I found out the details of that I should have either fire him or suspended him or demanded alcohol treatment. That’s where the problem is.”

Accusations that Winslow physically abused his swimmers were harder for investigators to prove, but interviews with former athletes did suggest his coaching tactics caused psychological damage to some.

“He traumatized swimmers, who told us years after they left the team that they still live with the consequences,” Sullivan said.

FOX 13 News spoke with one swimmer, Vlas Lezin, who was at the U of U on a full ride but lost his scholarship when Winslow dismissed him from the team. He hopes to be repaid in some way for what he believes Winslow cost him.

“The University should really go back to those people who have been wronged and who have been damaged, in one way or another, by the actions and lack of actions by the department, and this damage should somehow be fixed,” Lezin said.

Investigators acknowledged Tuesday that something is being done for certain swimmers coached by Winslow, but they would not elaborate. Instead, the university hopes to rectify the problems found by implementing new policies within its athletic department, which include stricter monitoring of practices and coaching tactics.

“We enthusiastically embrace the recommendations from the independent investigators to first adopt written standards for safe and effective coaching methods in swimming and diving. And to secondly, ensure that there is oversight to be sure that these standards are being followed and enforced,” said University President David Pershing.

The U of U also plans to create two positions that will serve student-athletes, but run independently of the athletic administration.

When asked if Hill would face disciplinary action for any failure to respond to claims, Pershing indicated he would not.

“I think that overall Chris has shown tremendous leadership during his time at the university,” Pershing said. “In his 26 years, he has been sure that we were in compliance, he’s worked hard with the NCAA and that’s been very positive and that’s hard. His is a tough job, and what I hear from other presidents in the region is that he is regarded as one of the best AD’s in our region.”

The catalyst for Winslow’s suspension was an investigation in Arizona by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors alleged that Winslow had sexually abused a 15 year old girl while he served as coach of a swim club in 2007. In June, the office announced they would not be seeking criminal charges against Winslow.

FOX13 attempted to contact Winslow for this story, but was unsuccessful.

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