There are very few coaches for whom taking a job with the U.S. Ski Team (USST) is a step down in intensity. But after 300 days on the road last year as head coach of the Central Cross Country (CXC) program, that might just be the case for Bryan Fish.
Last week, Fish was announced as the USST’s new Continental Cup coach, completing a USST staff reorganization that began in April when Chris Grover took over head coaching duties from Pete Vordenberg.
Next year, Vordenberg will focus on younger athletes as the head development coach, while Matt Whitcomb will work primarily on the World Cup as a replacement for Justin Wadsworth, who left the USST to coach the Canadian team. Fish will fill the shoes of both Whitcomb and Pat Casey, who, according to Grover, was dismissed earlier this spring.
“I have a lot of respect for the work Pat does and did for the ski team,” Grover said. But the fit, he added, “wasn’t right…and we had to make a change.”
Casey did not respond to a request for comment.
In his new post as Continental Cup coach, Fish will report to both Grover and Vordenberg. In the past, staff members in Fish’s position have spent much of their time supervising USST B-team athletes—overseeing training sessions and providing race support. But with a small B-team for next year, Fish’s responsibilities will be more disparate.
As a liaison between the USST and local clubs and regions, Fish will help identify and support promising young athletes at camps around the country. He’ll spend time as service staff at international races like the World Junior and U-23 World Championships, and at smaller European events. And he’ll also assist Whitcomb with the USST’s coach’s education program.
As the head coach of CXC’s elite team since its inception in 2006, Fish has overseen the growth of the program into a regional powerhouse; it sent its first athlete to the Olympics this year in Garrott Kuzzy, as well as four others to the World Cup races in Canmore, Alberta.
“He’s done good work for that program, not only in terms of having athletes qualify for World Championships and Olympic teams, but also [in] raising the whole standard of that CXC group,” Grover said. “What it really came down to was my responsibility…to go out and find the very best person I could hire. And to me, right now, that’s Bryan Fish.”
For the next three months, in order to smooth the transition for the two programs, Fish will split his time between CXC and the USST.
He’ll attend part of the inaugural National Training Group camp in Park City in June, which is for the country’s top developing athletes, as well as a portion of the new J2 camp in Michigan later this summer. He’ll also be present at the Regional Elite Group session in the Midwest.
Another of Fish’s responsibilities will likely include oversight of a new national development program, which was proposed by CXC Executive Director Yuriy Gusev at the recent meetings of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association in Park City.
Under that program, each of the nation’s regions would appoint a coach to work with its most talented junior athletes. Fish would then serve as the link between those programs and the USST.
With all the transitions occurring this spring, and with Vordenberg on vacation in Nepal for nearly two months, each USST coach’s exact responsibilities have yet to be finalized. Grover said that roles during his first season at the helm would be “a little bit fluid.”
“We’ll come out of this year with a slightly modified staff, with a much better idea of where everybody fits into the job descriptions,” he said. “I’m not concerned that in the meantime, we won’t be able to provide excellent service for the athletes and the community.”
Fish’s departure leaves CXC without a head coach for next year, which Grover said was his only concern about making the hire—especially since the team had achieved such success under Fish’s tenure.
But Gusev said that one of the aims of his program is to develop coaches, not just athletes, for the USST program. The team is already in the late stages of choosing a replacement, and Gusev said that he will select a new coach next month.
“We’re pretty much just finalizing—we have great candidates,” he said.
For Fish, the decision to leave the program was an agonizing one, after all the time he’s invested in his team and its athletes.
But in Fish’s view, high-level coaches have “finite careers,” with their jobs entailing such demanding levels of work and travel. And a job offer from the USST doesn’t come along every day.
“Recognizing that, and walking away from those strong ties and those strong bonds is difficult,” Fish said. “But the reality is, an individual like myself might get one opportunity in his life to take a role with the USST, and see what you can do with it.”
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Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.
May 18, 2010 at 7:57 pm
See my earlier comments here: http://blogs.fasterskier.com/continentalcup/2010/05/13/fish-hired-as-new-usst-continental-cup-coach/
This is an organizational catastrophe for USSA.
USST took an incredible step in the right direction when they shifted continental coaching and support to the clubs (“2011 Vision”) , but I literally don’t understand how they could hire a position called Continental Cup Coach after making it clear that they are not providing national team support for continental cup races. This is not the right move no matter how you spin it.
What jobs will Fish find for himself to do as a coach, without actually coaching or supporting any athletes? “Fish will help identify and support promising young athletes at camps around the country”…but… “Vordenberg will focus on younger athletes as the head development coach”. That’s not role fluidity, that’s role confusion. First, Vordenberg will be fine by himself; and second, Fish has proven himself as a team manager and coach, not a talent identifier/assistant. If Farra and Grover expect to get meaningful results out of their hires, they need to act like legitimate managers by clarifying the goals and expectations of the positions that they’re hiring for– in doing so, I think they’ll see that this is a botched hire.
USST – why the talent grab? A healthy NDP stands on the legs of strong club coaches. This hire should’ve raised Farra’s eyebrows as he supervises the hiring decisions – and cause him to consider that this impulsive grab may be a sign of weak or uncertain leadership trying to cover (his) tracks.
The most promising part of the article is where Gusev mentions a new NDP where standout regional athletes working with appointed standout regional coaches. USST will want a staff coordinator to keep tabs on that, but I really think Vordenberg can handle that one by himself, especially as there is little/no direct athlete support involved.
At best, it seems to me that Fish is being hired as a floater. There’s no sense in yanking Fish from CXC where he was a great coach, team manager, and one of the strongest contributors to the national talent pool, and making him a USST all purpose, no accountability b*tch. It’s a waste of funding and a waste of talent. Plus, its an abuse of using the “USST” name to make Fish think he’s getting a promotion, when all he’s really getting is sucked into a confusing, trip over your own two feet organization.
And Fish, how do you expect to get promoted out of that role if your managers can’t define a successful season for you? Plus, moving to the USST and citing a step down in intensity as one of the reasons: uh, hello – when you get to the national team, you’re supposed to be more committed, not less.
Earlier I advocated for giving Fish back to CXC. I still think that’s the right move. Fish was killing it at CXC. USST doesn’t need more floaters. If USST needs an extra hand between Euro cup race support and development legwork, hire an assistant, not Fish.
To USST – get a grip on your staffing needs; to USSA – get control of your managers. Decisions like this one are doing nothing to change the future of US skiing for the better.
May 19, 2010 at 3:24 pm
Xcq: You go into great depth on why you think a coach should not be added to the USST staff right now. But maybe you should consider looking into the future. It is prudent for the USST to indoctrinate coaches into the realm of elite international competition so that there is a continual source of experienced USST coaches. When Grover and other experienced USST coaches decide to move on, for family, financial, lifestyle or other reasons, it is good for the USST to have a replacement coach that is ready to take over. I think Grover and Farra are making a good decision to hire another USST coach, get him up to speed and have him ready to lead the show should the time come. That’s foresight that helps assure continuity in the national team.