When Harvey Schiller was introduced last October as the United States Olympic Committee's executive director, USOC President Robert Helmick spoke about the value of continuity. He said he thought Schiller might hold the position through the 2004 Summer Olympics, a period of 17 years.
Instead, Schiller, who moved into his Colorado Springs office Jan. 4, held the position for 17 days.
He received approval Wednesday from Southeastern Conference university presidents to return as the conference's commissioner, a position he held for 13 months before accepting the $150,000-a-year USOC offer.
In a statement from International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, Helmick said that Baaron Pittenger, assistant executive director, would replace Schiller. Pittenger was the executive director for four months last year while a search committee studied candidates to replace Gen. George Miller, who resigned under pressure last summer.
"This is totally unexpected, and personally, I am disappointed," Helmick said of Schiller's abrupt resignation. "We conducted a long and serious negotiation with him and thought we had arrived at a mutually satisfying commitment by both parties.
"Knowing Harvey Schiller, I know this was a difficult decision for him. I know that he will stay in close contact with the USOC, and we can only wish him well and congratulate the Southeastern Conference."
Helmick said that Schiller's resignation will not affect preparations for the Winter Olympics Feb. 13-28 at Calgary, Canada, or the Olympic Games Sept. 17-Oct. 2 at Seoul, South Korea.
"Our preparations for the Games are in place and have been for some time, even before Dr. Schiller agreed to come on board with us," he said.
Speaking from the SEC office in Birmingham, Ala., Schiller, 48, said he found that he was more effective and comfortable as an administrator within college athletics.
"It was a tough decision but the right one," he said. "I feel the most significant contribution I can make is in a voluntary capacity with the USOC while returning to the world of college athletics."
But Schiller also said indicated that he was not entirely satisfied with the USOC job, although he would not give specifics.
"You've got to be honest," he said. "You don't really know what a job is about until you get it. I don't know if it's a matter of dissatisfaction or education. It's a very complex kind of job."
USOC executive board members believed that Schiller's background made him the ideal man for the job when they voted unanimously to offer it to him last October. He had even lived in Colorado Springs for 13 years, the last nine as chairman of the Air Force Academy's chemistry department before departing in 1986 for the SEC.
Although most of his sports administrative experience had been at the college level, he was a member of the USA Amateur Boxing Federation's executive board for four years, served as the competition director for boxing at the 1984 Summer Olympics and was chairman of the USOC's Games Preparation Committee. He was one of the finalists for the executive director position when Miller was hired in 1985.
"I would have thought that Harvey, with his experience with the USOC, would have understood what the job was," said Chuck Cale, a Los Angeles attorney who serves as a special assistant to Helmick.
Perhaps foremost among the executive director's responsibilities is to work with the national governing bodies of 35 sports, particularly in the area of funding.
"But I think Harvey suddenly realized there are a lot of pulls and tugs and that the decisions the executive director has to make are hard decisions," Cale said. "There is a rather mixed bag under the USOC umbrella. Everyone has their own self-interests. In that context, the executive director has to keep that whole thing together."
According to John Clune, Air Force Academy athletic director and a longtime friend of Schiller's, said that Schiller said that the job was "like trying to tack Jell-O on a wall. There's an awful lot of responsibility without a lot of authority."
Schiller reportedly spoke with SEC presidents about the possibility of returning as commissioner during the NCAA convention last week in Nashville, Tenn. But when he presided over a USOC executive board meeting for the first time last weekend in Atlanta, he gave no indication that he was considering a move.