By Amy Shipley
Friday, September 17, 2010; 12:50 AM
USA Swimming National Team head coach Mark Schubert abruptly decided during the organization's annual convention Wednesday to take a personal leave of absence of at least 60 days, USA Swimming officials confirmed.
Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and the rest of the U.S. national team were told in an e-mail Wednesday afternoon to have no contact whatsoever with Schubert for at least the next 60 days. The e-mail was sent by USA Swimming Chief Executive Officer Chuck Wielgus.
Schubert's leave has no connection to the sexual misconduct scandal that has rocked the sport in recent months, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation. Even so, the move comes at a challenging time for the sport's national governing body, which is a defendant in several sexual misconduct lawsuits alleging that it failed to take appropriate action to protect the sport's young athletes.
USA Swimming has taken steps to tighten its policies, and its voting body is considering a host of rule changes during this weekend's meetings.
Schubert, one of the most prominent U.S. coaches in the sport's history, has come under fire in recent weeks for his operation of the national team program, according to a source close to the situation. Schubert, who coached Olympic legends Dara Torres, Janet Evans and other stars, has alienated a number of officials with outbursts and other behavior that some considered unprofessional, and was told Wednesday morning either to take the 60-day leave or face being fired, the source said.
"Mark Schubert is taking a personal leave effective immediately," Wielgus wrote to national team members, according to a copy of the e-mail. "This leave will be for at least two months. Please respect this request that there be no communication [phone, text or e-mail] with Mark during this leave period."
Schubert did not return an e-mail request to comment. Wielgus and USA Swimming Assistant executive director Mike Unger also declined to comment.
"Out of respect for individual privacy, and as a matter of policy, USA Swimming does not comment on personnel issues," USA Swimming spokesman Jamie Olsen said in an e-mail.
USA Swimming President Jim Wood will take over the post in Schubert's absence. Schubert, a former coach at the University of Southern California, has coached at the national, collegiate and club level for more than 40 years.