Monson: Has Utah A.D. Chris Hill met his Waterloo?
After reading reports about the alleged abuse former University of Utah swimming coach Greg Winslow put upon student-athletes in the program, and the non-response by school administrators in the thick of it, one substantial conclusion can be drawn.
Chris Hill may have met his Waterloo.
This could be the end for a powerful administrator who has sat atop Utah's athletics department for more than two decades now, and receives heavy compensation for reigning over that kingdom.
During that span, Hill has had his share of triumphs and weathered storms, too, but this sorry situation blows past anything seen before. If the ugly allegations, as first reported on Friday by Yahoo! Sports, are true, it will matter little that under Hill's leadership, the school, thanks mostly to a rising football program, made the leap from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12, a lucrative move that is seen as the AD's crowning achievement.
If the lead administrator's judgment is clouded to the point where this kind of behavior by a coach in the department is tolerated or glossed over or shaded as acceptable, if it in fact happened, that's enough for a change to be made.
If the allegations are true, Hill should be gone.
It's one thing to hire Ray Giacoletti and Jim Boylen, back-to-back, or to butt heads with a defiant Rick Majerus, it's quite another to stand down while your swimming coach is, as reported in the Yahoo! story, forcing swimmers to perform punitive drills in which they black out in the pool, requiring emergency treatment and transportation to a hospital, buying an underage swimmer beer, having an inappropriate relationship with a female swimmer, screaming at student-athletes, and kicking swimmers off the team according to the coach's whims.
Complaints from athletes and their parents had reached Hill concerning Winslow's behavior, but the coach had kept his position at the head of the swimming team until news came last week regarding allegations of sexual abuse of a 15-year-old girl by Winslow when he was coaching a swimming club in Arizona. Then, the university suspended Winslow.
At Utah, according to the Yahoo! report, the coach's behavior at times was extreme. When an African-American swimmer, Karson Applin, jokingly wanted to skip practice because it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Winslow taped a piece of PVC pipe to the swimmer's back, bound the pipe to his outstretched arms and ordered him into the pool for "underwaters," which are underwater sprints. Applin and other witnesses told Yahoo!, while completing six consecutive intervals of being under the surface for 12 to 14 seconds, Applin blacked out and had to be brought back up by a teammate.
Another Utah swimmer, Lauren Hewson, was made to swim underwaters with a mesh bag over her head. Hewson told Yahoo! that on another occasion, when she had a knee injury, Winslow bound her legs together and ordered her into the pool: "I couldn't get in and out of the pool," she said. "Instead of having my teammates help me, I had to slide my body around the pool deck. It was humiliating. He would sit there and laugh at me."
There are other allegations in the report, ranging from Winslow buying beer for an underage swimmer to athletes being worked to the point of near unconsciousness. One swimmer in the program said he chipped a tooth when, after doing underwaters, he started convulsing. When a teammate held the swimmer up, an assistant coach supposedly ordered him not to assist. The swimmer fell and broke the tooth.
There's a whole lot more in the story.
All of it despicable. It's ridiculous, not in credibility, rather in the context of acceptable, appropriate conduct by adult educators whose charge is to be coaches, not overseers or taskmasters or tyrants. Families put their kids in the care of head coaches, expecting them to watch over them, not abuse them. It's Hill's job to make sure the coaches under his watch and wing fulfill that trusted responsibility.
In this case, according to the report, when athletes, some of whom transferred, and parents made administrators aware of Winslow's behavior, which they are on the record as having done, they were brushed off. There was one investigation completed by the university's Office of Equal Opportunity in December, 2012, which recommended no disciplinary action be taken against Winslow.
A former swimmer told Yahoo! the investigation was a "sham."
A proper, authentic, thorough investigation had best ensue promptly. And Hill's future as Utah's athletic director should hang in the balance.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
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