Connect with Us:  

Nugent: Head Coach Job Not For Me

Mar 20, 2013  - Craig Lord

Swimming Australia will appoint an interim head coach after Leigh Nugent told the federation: enough - I quit. He stood down during talks over a new structure for the sport Down Under in the wake of the Stilnox saga and a breakdown in team culture on the way to the London 2012 Olympic Games.

In a statement, federation president Barclay Nettlefold confirmed that Nugent, at the helm of fine efforts in the development of Australian talent, had "indicated that he no longer wanted to continue in the role of head coach" when the two spoke last week.

"Leigh actually approached us to discuss his future and where he would best fit into the new structure of the high performance unit," Nettlefold told reporters. "In those discussions it soon became very clear that while he still wanted to remain involved in the sport, he didn't want to continue in the position of head coach."

"The last four-six months have been very heavy (for Nugent)," added Nettlefold. "It was his decision. He came to us. We commend him on his decision. He was convinced that he needed to move on ... He said he was tired and exhausted."

The interim coach will be appointed to cover the period until and during the world-title trials in Adelaide, from April 26 to May 3. The aim is to "maintain focus" at the helm of the national-team programme. The World Championships get underway in late July.

“The role of Head Coach is both physically and mentally demanding and has evolved so much since I first took over the reins in 2003,” said Nugent. “The time is right for me to step aside and let someone else take over.  It’s been an honour and a privilege to coach the Australian Swim Team at the highest level, and I’m just pleased that I’m able to stay involved in the sport that I love."

He added: "I have every confidence that our elite swimmers and coaches will embrace the challenge of returning our sport to the lofty heights that we are capable of, and if I can play a small part in that from a development sense, then I will."

Nettlefold told Reuters that Mark Anderson, head of the hockey fed Down Under for the past four years, is the preferred candidate for Swimming Australia's CEO role. An announcement is due next week. Anderson, who is completing a course at the Harvard Business School in the US.

Among those to take on the interim head coach job is Michael Scott, who left Britain after the Olympic host nation last year fell shy of its targets at London 2012.  Nettlefold, meanwhile, said that the "new leadership structure" would be in place before the national championships in Adelaide.

It remains to be seen just how changes agreed by management and dryland folk will impact the actual business of developing world-class swimmers capable of taking on the best of the rest of the planet. Even in 2012, Australia fared far better than most, the upheaval that followed 2012 far more striking than the perceived lack of results.

Australia returned home from London with one gold - the women's 4x100m free relay - at the helm of 10 medals. The men's 4x100m free, James Magnussen and James Roberts were among the biggest disappointments in terms of the two gold and a third medal that Aussie sprint form in 2011 and March 2012 indicated.

That disappointment sparked a root-and-branch review, which threw up allegations of  drunkenness, bullying, poor team culture anda prank in which five members of the 4x100m relay squad took a Stilnox sleeping pill after the Australian Olympic Committee had barred all athletes from taking the substance over dependency concerns. "Toxic" was how one review described the national-team environment. Some on that team, including Nugent, felt that word went too far. 

Olympic 100m back silver medallist Emily Seebohm accused Nugent of not taking her concerns seriously when she complained of harassment by her male teammates on pre-Games camp. The bad behaviour took the form of pranks such as knocking on dorrs late at night.

Nugent, who helped Australia's swimmers bring home their second-best Olympic medals haul at the 2004 Athens Games, said that he had made an error of judgement in failing to act but at the time had not appreciated the harm that was being done by the behaviour of men tipped to bring home the bacon for Australia.

Nettlefold said that Nugent would be welcomed back into Swimming Australia's coaching framework in a "mentoring" role for up-and-coming swimmers. It was in that area that he enjoyed some of the best moments of his career.