ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — While preparing a contract that would have retained Harvey Schiller as its executive director through 2000, the U.S. Olympic Committee was forced to interrupt that process Monday to begin searching for someone else to fill the position.
Officials of the Turner Broadcasting System, here for the Goodwill Games, announced that Schiller will join them Oct. 1 as president of Turner Sports.
Calling Turner Sports a "giant in the industry," Schiller said from his office in Colorado Springs, Colo., that he has been discussing a role with company officials off and on for three years and they recently agreed that the timing for serious negotiations was right.
"I've developed a lot of comfort with what we were doing at the USOC, not only financially but organizationally, and I felt it was the right thing for me at this time to look at other opportunities," Schiller said.
Schiller, one of two finalists for the job as Major League Baseball commissioner before the search was put on hold earlier this year, will oversee the acquisition and production of sports programming on the TBS Superstation, TNT and regional cable network SportSouth.
Among Turner's current sports broadcast properties are the Goodwill Games and the Atlanta Braves plus events on the NBA, NFL, PGA Tour, NASCAR and professional wrestling schedules.
Turner sources said Schiller, who once worked as a boxing commentator for TBS, signed a four-year contract that will almost double the reported $275,000 annual salary he earned with the USOC. He is replacing Terence McGuirk, who now will focus on his other duties as Turner Broadcasting's executive vice president.
"The USOC has lost a great leader in Harvey Schiller," USOC President LeRoy Walker said. "It's our expectation that we will hear from a large group of talented and capable individuals about this position."
Sources within the USOC said that the organization's assistant executive director, John Krimsky, probably will be asked to assume Schiller's duties after Oct. 1 on an interim basis and might at some point be offered a full-time contract through the 1996 Olympics at Atlanta.
Other candidates likely to emerge if there is a search include Dick Schultz, former NCAA executive director; Jerry Lace, U.S. Figure Skating Assn. executive director; Mike Jacki, U.S. Skiing executive director, and Dave Maggard, former University of California athletic director now an official with Atlanta's Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG).
Schiller will resign as a member of ACOG's board of directors and executive committee, positions he held in his role as the USOC's executive director.
It was less clear how Monday's announcement might impact Schiller's desire to become a member of the International Olympic Committee. Some within the USOC were against his appointment to the position, which will be filled by the IOC this summer, because they believed it would conflict with his responsibilities to the USOC. That obstacle has been removed, but USOC sources were split on whether that would enhance his candidacy. "It's up to others to make that decision," Schiller said. "I certainly would stand ready to serve if asked."
In the nearly five years that Schiller was with the USOC, the organization underwent restructuring to become a more efficient business, greatly increased its operating budget--including the amount it spends on athletes--and assisted in Atlanta's winning bid for the '96 Summer Games.
But he also was tainted by an independent counsel's report that he used his influence to seek equipment and ski passes from U.S. Skiing, which he said was a misunderstanding, and was criticized for the lack of minority representation among the USOC's senior executives, as well as for his role in the USOC's indecisiveness regarding figure skater Tonya Harding before the 1994 Winter Olympics.
"I'm extremely comfortable with the job I did, and I think the USOC is, too, or they wouldn't have voted to extend my contract until 2000," Schiller said. "My commitment has been to excellence in sports, and I hope that's the legacy that remains."