Frank Costello, the Maryland track coach, said today he is "tired of taking all the abuse" for star hurdler Skeets Nehemiah quitting the Terps' track team, adding "I'm upset over the malicious statements Skeets has made regarding his career at Maryland."
Nehemiah said on Tuesday he was "through running for Maryland," the apparent result of three years of infighting between the world's fastest hurdler and his coach.
"Skeets said Maryland didn't do as much for him as he did for us," Costello said, emerging today at the Penn Relays from a week in seclusion to "sort things out." "What did Skeets expect us to do? He is a fine person and the greatest track athlete since Jesse Owens. But he has been manipulated and influenced by several people.
"When he was breaking records, Maryland Frank Costello were all right. He would introduce me as the man who helped him the most in his career. I didn't try to change anything in Skeets, I just tried to sharpen his skills."
Ever since Nehemiah came to Maryland three years ago, there were reports he and Costello often clashed over training procedures and the number of events Nehemiah was asked to race. Nehemiah is an outstanding sprinter in addition to being the best high hurdler in the world.
Costello said the week after the NCAA meeting in March that Nehemiah came to him and said he was thinking about quitting the team. He had been to West Germany and, according to Costello, had been contacted by a shoe company there about the possibility of endorsing sporting goods.
"They want him to work for them," Costello said. "When I asked Skeets about this, he denied it. I told him it wouldn't look good for him to quit in the middle of the year. Why not run with Maryland but run a limited schedule? He didn't want to do that.
"Then I suggested he run unattached. I agreed to train him with no hard feelings," Costello said. "I just wanted him to stay affiliated with Maryland. Then I find out he plans to run with D.C. International (an amateur track club). How does that sound? Their coaches are my assistants and suddenly he is going to run for them.
Costello said DCI Coach Fred Sowerby was as much to blame as anyone for Nehemiah's souring on Maryland. Costello also said when he told Sowerby, a former Olympian, about Nehemiah's plans, his reaction was "Well, if he doesn't run for DCI, he'd run for another club."
"After Skeets told us he would run unattached, he decides to run under DCI," Costello said bitterly. "I told Sowerby if he ran for them, he was no longer welcome to use Maryland's facility to train. What does Skeets do? He goes out there (to the Kansas Relays) last week and runs in two relays, the same thing he told the press he was tired of doing for us.
"I don't blame Skeets totally for everything. He has been influenced. But I'm upset over this shoe company trying to gain Nehemiah's name and Sowerby's influence over Nehemiah. I've been raked over the coals and lost a lot of my friends defending Skeets.
"I tried to help him in his field (radio-TV) by setting up meetings with people. Sometimes, he didn't even show up and I had to cover for him. I was never out to win a popularity contest. I did what was best for my team. If someone did something wrong, I jumped on them."
Costello said he had no first-hand knowledge about Nehemiah signing a contract. The Washington Post has reported Nehemiah signed a $50,000 endorsement with Puma shoes.
"You have to ask Nehemiah about any financial arrangements with shoe firms," said Costello.
Nehemiah said today he definitely has not signed a contract with anyone.
"No one bothered to ask me about that," said Nehemiah. "I'm the source. There is a company -- a Frank Shorter firm -- that I may go with and be a representative of. But I haven't signed with anyone. There's a lot of confusion right now but I have no animosity toward Frank."
Nehemiah drew a rousing round of applause today when his name was announced as a member of the D.C. International sprint medley team. Nehemiah, who is recovering from torn ligaments and a bruised cartilge in his left ankle, ran a good 200-meter leg as his team finished fifth.
"I can understand Frank being disturbd about the ACC and me running at the Kansas Relays," Nehemiah said today. "But three weeks to a month before, prior to this situation, I told Frank my injury needed rest and I was dropping off the team. I wanted to work for the Olympics and train on a lower scale.
"I agreed to run unattached but only after Frank and I didn't agree on how I should do it," he said. "It wasn't a coach-athlete type of request. It wasn't blackmail but he said he wouldn't give me my release from the school (to run unattached) unless I agreed not to run for anyone else. Once he signed it and put it in the mail, I started running for DCI."