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Report: Former U. swim coach should have been fired for alcohol abuse

Published July 2, 2013 3:26 pm

Investigators • Athletic Director Hill did not adequately follow up on reports of Winslow's alcohol problems.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Former University of Utah swim coach Greg Winslow should have been fired as early as July 2011 because of ongoing problems due to alcoholism, and not necessarily because of the alleged physical and psychological abuse suffered by his swimmers, according to a new report.

A three-month investigation paid for by the university found that Winslow used "fear and intimidation" that may have amounted to psychological abuse for some of his swimmers.

But investigators "do not believe the athletics department adequately addressed Winslow's excessive use of alcohol," said Alan Sullivan, a Salt Lake City attorney and member of the three-man investigative team. "His use of alcohol had a corrosive effect on the team. It impaired his coaching. It interfered with effective discipline. It was an embarrassment to the team and the university."

Investigators recommended the university implement a number of new policies, including: creating standards for acceptable coaching behavior and practice techniques for the swimming and diving program; requiring associate athletic directors to monitor coaches' compliance with those policies; requiring members of the Student Athlete Wellness Team to pass on all reported instances of abuse to both the athletics director and appropriate associate athletics director; and clarifying university policies on substance abuse regarding members of coaching staffs.

Utah President David Pershing said the university would implement those policies by Aug. 15. Additionally, he said the university would create two channels, independent of the athletics department, for student-athletes to report issues.

"It is clear that the university did not do what it should have done to support our students," Pershing said.

Athletics Director Chris Hill, however, will not be disciplined for what investigators called a failure to act on information regarding Winslow's alcoholism in July 2011.

"Given all that he has achieved as athletics director over the past 26 years and what he has learned from this issue, I am convinced he is the right person to navigate this new era of University of Utah athletics," Pershing said about Hill.

Board of Trustees Chairman Clark Ivory said Hill owned up to his mistakes with Winslow. "If he hadn't been accountable and proactive, it would have been a different situation, but he accepted responsibility completely," Ivory said. "I think this will sharpen him up."

The investigation and its recommendations, however, do not sit well with Austin Fiascone, a former swimmer under Winslow and one of the program's most outspoken critics.

"Two words: not enough," he said. "It doesn't go far enough into who is at fault. It's not enough that they don't have serious consequences for Chris Hill or the compliance department. It's not enough."

Winslow, a coach at Utah from 2007 until he was suspended and his contract allowed to lapse this year, had drawn fire for years from swimmers and parents for his unusual — and some said abusive — coaching tactics. In September 2007, swimmers complained of rib injuries after Winslow "compressed their chests, presumably to restrict their lungs' air intake," according to the report. At different times, he required swimmers to wear mesh bags over their upper bodies as they swam underwater for 25 meters. In 2010, Winslow strapped PVC pipe to a swimmer's back, from the base of his torso to the fingertips, before ordering underwater drills.

But without set standards for Division I swimming practices, Sullivan said, the instances could have been for performance reasons and were not found to be abusive.

Nevertheless, athletics department officials did meet with Winslow in June 2009 after receiving complaints regarding the practices. Hill said Winslow was instructed to cease the questionable practices, a letter of expectations was written and a plan was put in place for Winslow to follow. An associate athletics director in charge of the swimming program was to attend meets and practices randomly, talk to student athletes and meet monthly with Winslow to check progress.

After that, investigators found "serious" instances of alleged physical abuse ceased. The 32-page report, however, tells the story of a swimmer who asked Winslow for a critique of his performance at a meet in 2010. According to the report, Winslow grabbed the swimmer by the neck, pushed him against the wall and said he "had no heart."

Investigators found that Winslow did engage in the psychological abuse of some swimmers. While some athletes spoke fondly of Winslow, saying the coach made them better, others decried Winslow's manipulative techniques.

"Winslow demonstrated a shocking lack of empathy for swimmers with physical or psychological limitations," Sullivan said. "He traumatized swimmers who told us years after they left the team that they still lived with the consequences."

By 2009, Winslow's alcoholism was common knowledge among coaches and swimmers. Winslow showed up late to practices after nights of excessive drinking. He introduced a new assistant coach to others while obviously drunk.

In July 2011, Winslow got into a fight with assistant coach Charlie King outside a bar in Portland, Ore. According to investigators, Winslow knocked King to the ground and continued hitting him until passersby pulled him off.

Associate athletics director Pete Oliszczak sent Hill an email informing him of an "altercation" in which Winslow "hit" King. But neither Oliszczak nor Hill followed up with Winslow and his rehabilitation efforts, investigators found. Hill took responsibility for the failure and his lack of involvement. The attack should have led to Winslow's firing, he said.

"It's a big mistake," Hill said Tuesday. "It's my big mistake. Hindsight, there's no reason why I shouldn't have taken a look at that more deeply. And I know if I looked at it deeply, I knew what was going on, I know what I would have done."

The U. suspended Winslow in late February after reports surfaced of a criminal investigation in Arizona. Winslow was accused of kissing and fondling a 15-year-old swimmer there in 2007. In June, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office announced it would not seek criminal charges against Winslow.

Investigators said they heard rumors of possible sexual relationships involving Winslow in Utah and some swimmers but said there was never anything to substantiate them. Investigators said they met with some of the alleged victims — they declined to say how many — but the women said nothing happened. Other alleged victims didn't respond to interview requests.

When asked whether the U. should have known about the Arizona problems before they hired Winslow, Ivory said that at the time it was more difficult to find that kind of information.

"I think that when they do background checks on people [in the future], they're going to be far more thorough," he said.

The investigation team included Sullivan, former public safety commissioner John T. Nielson, and Kansas City attorney Michael Glazier, an expert in NCAA law and a man with a reputation as a "fixer" for school's dealing with allegations of wrongdoing. Winslow initially agreed to be interviewed for the report but later backed out on the advice of his attorney.

afalk@sltrib.com

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com