Listed at the bottom of a U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association (USSA) press release announcing U.S. Nordic Combined Head Coach Dave Jarrett’s retirement are his coaching highlights. It’s a long list defined by two things: Olympic and World Championship medals and longevity. Jarrett will forever be linked with the iconic names of U.S. nordic combined, including Billy Demong, Johnny Spillane and Todd Lodwick. His coaching legacy rewinds back to the 2002/2003 World Cup season.
Before that, as a nordic-combined athlete, Jarrett was a member of the U.S. Ski Team from 1992-1996 and is a two-time Olympian. He’s a lifer. And for lifers, separation from what they have always known remains difficult.
“I have been doing it a long time both as an athlete and and a coach,” Jarrett, 46, told FasterSkier on the phone. “It is now of those things where all of sudden it hits you, like, you are tired. You’re not able to go give everything and do everything. And certainly, it’s hard to justify a lot of time on the road. Missing family things, but also on the athletic side you are not able to give to the athletes everything that you need to give.”
Until 2014, USSA managed the U.S. Nordic Combined Team. The team is now run by USA Nordic, yet Jarrett’s position has remained under USSA’s umbrella — they continued to pay his salary. With the 2014 split, Jarrett’s responsibilities grew as he took on both coaching duties as well as some of the logistics of running a team.
“Honestly, it’s amazing he lasted as long as he did,” U.S. Nordic Combined A-team member Bryan Fletcher said on the phone from his home in Park City, Utah. “He’s definitely a trooper, for sure. It was pretty intense because he was still employed by USSA and still had bosses there, but he also had bosses on USAN and had obligations on both sides of the coin. That combined with continuing his education research for coaching stuff, it adds up quick. And then doing all the travel logistics for not only World Cup but for World Cup and B-team and then having to be there in person, it was insane.”
Taylor Fletcher, another longtime U.S. Nordic Combined athlete and Bryan’s younger brother, also noted the stress on Jarrett.
“He had definitely been challenged … he had to go from a full-time coach to a full-time coach and a team manager,” Taylor explained on the phone. “He was in charge of doing a lot of the fundraising, and all the aspects to keep our sport alive in the U.S. And that really took a toll on him and that was definitely difficult on all of us. But also, I think it put way more weight on his shoulders than he really needed.”
Diminishing funds correlates to increased non-coaching responsibilities for coaches, less on-snow time and more connecting the non-competitive dots for athletes. Jarrett weathered that type of job description metamorphosis. Ski coaching at the elite international level is an all-encompassing life, and he lived it for 15 years.
“For me and my wife, we got married while I was still an athlete and so this is a lifestyle, the only lifestyle we have ever really ever known,” Jarrett said. “Both of my children were born in 2002 and 2004. Again this is a lifestyle that’s all they have ever known.”
Demong, USA Nordic’s executive director for the last year, has spent nearly his entire international-skiing career under Jarrett’s wing. The two became teammates back during the 1996/1997 season when Demong bumped up to national-team status.
“DJ had a good understanding of physiology, so he and I bonded over that in the beginning,” Demong said. “Especially given the fact at the time we had a really good team culture developing but we didn’t have the physiological expertise in our training programs and that sort frustrated both us. So we sort of found a commonality there right out of the gate.”
After completing his competitive career, Jarrett went on to earn a degree in exercise physiology and kinesiology from the University of Colorado. He was able to bring his education into play as he joined the coaching ranks.
“When he came back to coaching it was really a breath of fresh air,” Demong said about Jarrett’s academic and nordic-sports knowledge. “We had built this great culture and were all working really hard, but we still didn’t have the plan training-wise that I felt we needed.
“Going back to my high-school running days, we peaked when we wanted to peak for states and federations, and when we were doing our nordic training I felt like we were sort of doing what other nordic-combined skiers did, which was get up, ski, or get up, go jump, have lunch, go ski, go home,” he continued. “And DJ brought a ton of new ideas and concepts that he had learned in school as well as from networking with other sports. DJ really helped pioneer a lot of things on the physiological side and take our team from good culture, talented hard working athletes, to champions.”
Jarrett plans to open a strength and agility center in Heber, Utah, where he lives with his wife and children, the youngest of which will be entering eighth grade; his oldest will be a freshman in high school. As with any change, he said he looked forward to what the opportunity might bring and remaining close to his family. Yet looking back, Jarrett said he’d miss the small daily aspects of the sporting life.
“It’s the everyday victory I’ll miss,” Jarrett said. “I’m psyched to see the work that the athletes are putting in. The work that the coaching staff are putting in to see those everyday victories — those personal best, in testing, first time getting Continental Cup points, or first time getting World Cup points, or a World Cup podium. You can say the hardware is why you do it for sure, but I will miss is the everyday camaraderie and training.”
U.S. NoCo Moving Forward
Demong said the program remains stable heading into an Olympic season; Jarrett had been discussing a transition for the past several seasons.
“It had been something that has been on my radar for awhile and DJ certainly communicated early enough for me to to start planning, and quite honestly, we do have a good safety net,” he said.
U.S. Nordic Combined Assistant Coach Martin Bayer will step into the role of head coach. Bayer hails from the Czech Republic and began coaching domestically in the U.S. in 2000. He is currently based in Planica, Slovenia.
Demong said Bayer is entering this position with the institutional knowledge to make the coaching change seamless.
“Martin has worked his way up through the club system to the development team coach,” he said. “He has basically coached everybody onto the national team with the exception of Bryan, who is just a little bit older. So he has already a great relationship with all the athletes that are on the team. He knows all the athletes in the pipeline. … He knows the environment and he is familiar with how we operate, and there is a level of trust both from my end and with the athletes.”
Nick Huber will remain the program’s head ski-jumping coach. On the cross-country side of the sport, former U.S. national-team biathlete Jeremy Teela is advising the team. “He has agreed to come in and help us with domestic cross-country coaching and plan writing,” Demong said.
Jon Schafer, who had been U.S. Nordic Combined’s high-performance director for the last year, has also stepped down.
“Jon is a great and a good friend and very very exceptional high-level strategic thinker,” Demong said. “I think our organization is not at the point right now where we can take advantage of his talents and capacities fully, and quite honestly, we just need more boots on the ground. At this point, we are not going to fill that position. He has, however, written us a very detailed plan that we will be using as a road map going forward. It is a living document. For us, it is like everything from recruitment to medals and everything in between as it relates to coaches, education, and national-training centers.”
A business executive, Schafer brought management experience to USA Nordic, and on the sporting side, he was previously an elite-level rower and coach.
“My decision to step down was a very difficult one and one that I most certainly did not take lightly,” Shafer wrote in an email. “I loved working with the athletes and even after my departure, I am still very concerned about their success. It can be very difficult working in an environment of highly constrained resources, in particular with almost no support from USSA.
“Every position or idea simply cannot be funded and every shot has to be a kill,” he continued. “People are going to disagree about the best ways to spend highly limited funds and the tighter the budget, the harder it is to balance all of the different agendas. The organization has a lot of operational needs and the executive director and a few members of the board felt it was more important to have staff selling t-shirts, writing newsletters, marketing copy and other very ‘boots on the ground’ tasks, than a High Performance Director setting strategy and working with coaches and athletes at a higher level. I disagreed with this approach and since they couldn’t afford both, I tendered my resignation. I think this move is good for everyone, as the overall organizational dynamic proved to be a bit too bruising and tumultuous for an honest, easy-going, soft-spoken Midwest boy like me. I want to be very clear here too — my departure was a smooth and respectful one on both sides and I wish them nothing but the best.”
Always the jokester, Schafer (FasterSkier’s gear-review guru) added, “One big upside of this change for me too, is I now anticipate having much more time to write about how long you can wear your underwear without washing it. And perhaps teaching my Great Dane to finally respond to his name.”
The U.S. Nordic Combined team will meet in early May for an all-team camp, which will include all staff and any athlete with a chance of qualifying for the Olympics.
“It’s really going to be focused on learning more about ourselves, learning more about each other, learning how to communicate better and be tougher,” Demong said of the camp.