A regrettable decision?
Track and Field | NBC Olympics | Saturday February 02
NEW YORK–On Tuesday, Clyde Hart, who coached Jeremy Wariner and Michael Johnson to the last three Olympic gold medals in the 400m, announced that he had ended his coaching relationship with Wariner because of a contract dispute.
Michael Ford, an assistant coach at Baylor University, the school where both Wariner and Johnson competed under Hart, will now coach Wariner as he pursues repeat Olympic gold this summer in Beijing.
The decision has been met with a measure of bewilderment considering its timing – only seven months remain until the start of the Games – as well as the strong connection to Hart shared by Johnson, who serves as Wariner’s agent.
With the move a hot topic of discussion at the 101st Millrose Games, NBC’s panel of track and field experts Ato Boldon, Lewis Johnson and Dwight Stones, engaged in a round-table debate over Wariner’s decision and the potential repercussions.
Lewis Johnson: I spoke with Michael Johnson, and he said that Clyde is disappointed that he doesn’t get to finish out ’08 and Michael wishes that things worked out with Clyde set some boundaries and feels like he needs to trust Jeremy’s judgment. He said that when he was competing, he made some decisions with his agent and now he has to trust Jeremy’s decision. He said Jeremy is comfortable with his decision. He feels like Michael Ford can take him where he needs to go. He said the one thing he knows about Jeremy is that he is able to compartmentalize like he did as an athlete and is able to take direction and put it into action.
Ato Boldon: You can argue both sides of it, but from my own memory what this smells like is Jeremy saying, ‘Last year, you got 10 percent and I made $1 million. This year, I think I’m going to make $2 million so I’m only going to give you 7 percent.’ Then Clyde sees 7 percent, and is like, ‘Wait a second, last year I made 10 percent, why are you cutting me out?’ When it’s not necessarily going to mean a reduction.
Dwight Stones: Over the years, I have the opportunity to watch what happens to guys in situations like these. I’ll say names. Quincy Watts, Kevin Young, Danny Everett, Steve Lewis. None of those guys did anything after they switched coaches.
Ato Boldon: I understand that Michael trusts Jeremy’s decision, but don’t you think as his agent, he should advise Jeremy and say “You have a point, but this is something you’ve had tremendous success with. We should maybe try to find a middle ground and maintain what has been a very successful environment for you.” That’s my criticism of Michael.
Look, I left John Smith in 2002. I had the feeling that the whole training camp, the whole training schedule had turned toward what Maurice Greene wanted. John basically said Maurice is the star of the group, you are the plebs, and I said, “Good, I’m gone.” And I went and trained in Trinidad. At the same time, Emmanuel Hudson told me that he understood how I felt and that I am headstrong, and he said that this is the situation that has brought you all of your success and you should find a way to make it work. By the end of 2002, I went back and finished out the last two years of my career. Even at this point, Michael should be trying to find a way to make this work.
Dwight Stones: Jeremy is very similar to Michael in that Clyde recruited him as pretty much a relay runner. He wasn’t an open 400m star. They both developed into hot-shot open 400m stars. They followed a similar path. To me, it’s up to Michael’s responsibility to step in and play the big brother, the father figure even, and make Jeremy understand.
Lewis Johnson: I think we can all agree, that if Jeremy, even without Clyde Hart, is able to go out and duplicate his performance in 2004, that he will be Olympic champion in Beijing.
Dwight Stones: Yes, but without Clyde Hart he doesn’t break the world record. And that is the next step for Jeremy.
Ato Boldon: The great ones, the ones who become legends, never, ever, switch coaches. Carl (Lewis) didn’t. Michael (Johnson) didn’t. The bottom line is, it’s not broke. Jeremy hasn’t lost a major international race under this guy.
Dwight Stones: In the broad scheme of things, 10 years from now, when Jeremy isn’t running around in circles, what difference is whatever amount of money they are apart going to matter? If Jeremy doesn’t win this gold medal, I think he’s going to have regrets for the rest of his life.
Ato Boldon: Jeremy will hover around 43.4 if I were a betting man right now. If LaShawn Merritt steps up, we can have a good match-up. If Angelo Taylor steps up, we can have a great match-up. But Michael’s record will still be there.
Lewis Johnson: Jeremy is comfortable that he will get what he needs from Michael Ford and if he is close to how he ran in 2004, he’s well on his way to becoming a repeat Olympic champion. But will he get from this gentleman what he needs to break the world record? We’ll have to wait and see.
Ato Boldon: As the most recently retired here, I will say that you never let money get in the way of what works.
Final word. If you’re Jeremy Wariner, do you change coaches seven months before the Olympics?
Lewis Johnson: No.
Ato Boldon: Absolutley not. No chance. Not even after 2009 Worlds are over.
Dwight Stones: No. If you ever make a change, it’s during an off year.