Last February, the U.S. Olympic Committee extended Baaron Pittenger's contract as executive director until December, 1990. But Pittenger had reason to doubt the USOC's commitment to him when, barely two months later, a search committee was formed to find his replacement.
The search ended last Wednesday, when the nine-member committee unanimously voted to recommend the appointment of Harvey Schiller, commissioner of the Southeastern Athletic Conference.
Little opposition is expected when the recommendation goes before the USOC's executive board next week in Denver, although Schiller no doubt will have to answer questions about his abrupt decision to leave the same position in January, 1988, after holding it for only 19 days.
Schiller, 50, is expected to begin his second term as soon as he can disengage himself from the SEC. According to a statement released by the USOC, the financial terms of Pittenger's $150,000-a-year contract will be honored, and he has been asked to serve as a senior consultant.
The statement, however, does not give the reasons for Pittenger's demotion.
Neither do those members of the search committee who returned phone calls.
"We're not going to say it specifically," said Mike Plant, a former Olympic speed skater who is chairman of the Athletes Advisory Council.
But some USOC members who were not part of the committee suggested that Pittenger, 64, was demoted for one reason: He is not Harvey Schiller.
When the search committee was formed, the joke among USOC members was that it would consider all candidates who had experience as commissioner of the Southeastern Conference and as the USOC's executive director, no matter for how brief a period.
Actually, the search committee, consisting of the USOC's six officers and three other members, identified four candidates, three of whom were interviewed. One was Pittenger, whose interview was conducted on a conference call before he left last week for a drug conference in Moscow.
None of the candidates complained that the process was unfair, although USOC secretary Chuck Foster, chairman of the committee, said that Pittenger was aware from the beginning that he was not the first choice. Had he been, there would have been little need of a search committee. Pittenger wanted to remain in the job at least through 1992.
But the USOC is eager to begin a new era. That also was the case two years ago, when it first elected Schiller. He called it the "dream job of my life" but resigned less than three weeks into it, citing personal and family reasons. Among the factors was a cancerous growth on his face, concern for which clouded his judgment, he said. But he said this week that he is healthy, happy and ready to resume the challenge.
If there are USOC members who doubt that he is up to it, they have not come forward. His credentials in sports administration are such that, on the same day he was selected by the USOC's search committee, he spurned a request from a National Football League owner to allow himself to be nominated as a compromise candidate for the commissioner's job. Previously, he was among the final three candidates for the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.'s executive director job.
A retired Air Force colonel, he flew 1,230 combat missions in Vietnam and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. He has a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Michigan and was chairman of the chemistry department at the Air Force Academy when he left in 1986 to become SEC commissioner.
He became involved in sports administration as a member of the U.S. Amateur Boxing Federation's board of directors and was director of competition for boxing at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. But the SEC was more impressed with his marketing skills. He was responsible for corporate sponsorships, advertising and general operations for the 1986 Live-Aid concert in Philadelphia that raised more than $80 million for African famine relief.
He has done nothing but enhance his reputation at the SEC.
"There's no question that he is a rising star in sports administration in the United States and the world," said Ray Essick, executive director of the U.S. Swimming Federation.
That apparently is the kind of leader that the USOC believes it needs as it sheds its image as a travel agency for amateur athletes that depends on nickel-and-dime donations and bake sales for survival.
"We're a big business now, and we need to start running ourselves like a big business," said Plant, who knows something about big business in sports as executive director of the Tour de Trump cycling race.
"We're stepping into a new age here. We've got a much more dynamic and involved membership than ever before. We're interested in new strategies and new directions, and we felt we needed a new person to take us there."
Plant praised Pittenger, emphasizing that the USOC sincerely wants him to remain involved in the movement.
"It's not like we're saying, 'Baaron, you don't have it,' " Plant said.