Matt Haugen ousted as USAT National Teams coach

Matt Haugen  Credit: USA Triathlon
Matt Haugen has become the latest coaching casualty at USAT. The American federation's first elite coach, George Dallam — originally hired in the late '90s — fell afoul of USAT executive director Steve Locke and was replaced with Haugen. That relationship has soured during the course of the summer, though, and Haugen is now officially among the coaching alumni as well.

Multiple sources inside USAT report that the final straw for Locke came when Haugen overheard a conversation that took place between Locke and the U.S. Olympic triathlon team coach Michelle Blessing soon before the Sydney Olympics.

The discussion focused on the protocol for replacing an Olympic team member in case of injury. The athlete in question was Sheila Taormina, who had pulled out of the Chicago Mrs. T's Triathlon with a muscle cramp shortly before. The athlete USAT was considering as her replacement was Siri Lindley, fresh from a victory at the Lausanne World Cup and in obvious good form.

According to sources, Haugen then passed the contents of this conversation on to Taormina, which resulted in an understandable firestorm. Those in the Taormina camp reacted quickly and vociferously, arguing that Taormina's cramp didn't come close to rising to injury status. Any idea USAT might have had about booting Taormina from the team was then abandoned.

Locke maintains he had no firm intention of replacing Taormina — the U.S. Trials winner who eventually lead a good part of the Olympic women's triathlon before placing sixth — he was just anticipating a possible scenario. Locke considered Haugen's conduct in the matter a firing offense. Certainly the lack of an in-place policy for the disposition of an injured team member added to the confusion.

Within the last two weeks the rift was apparent, and growing, and Haugen tendered his two-weeks' notice in a correspondence sent in the early morning of Friday, Oct. 27. Locke terminated Haugen's position as head coach — originally set to run to the end of the year — later that morning, effective immediately.

USAT has apparently wearied of being in the coaching business, and will replace Haugen not with another head coach, but with what it calls a National Team Director. The new position makes intuitive sense, in that by the time an elite athlete makes a Worlds or Olympic team it is assumed he or she has competent coaching in place. Indeed, most or all U.S. Olympic team members had their own coaches, separate from Haugen. The new hire will have duties that run more along administrative lines.

USAT has been looking for a candidate, and among them is Libby Burrell, a South African coach with stellar credentials. She coaches, among others, South African's only male Olympian, Conrad Stoltz. She was named South Africa's official Olympic coach for triathlon, and joined USAT's Michelle Blessing in Sydney as the only two female Olympic triathlon coaches responsible for both men and women.

Burrell is also a cousin of British (and South African-born) standout Simon Lessing. She would have to clear the impediment of a work visa, however, should USAT continue to consider her alongside the other candidates vying for the position.

It is also not clear whether Burrell herself would consider taking the job, or whether she has formally applied or has been formally recruited. What is clear from multiple sources close the U.S. federation, though, is that she'd be highly coveted were she to become available.

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