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.”
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.