Former Women's World Cup head Marla Messing and Colorado businessman Harry Frampton will interview for the new U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive officer position in the coming days.
They remain on a shrinking list of candidates--believed to be fewer than a dozen--still in serious contention for the position USOC President Bill Hybl has said he wants to fill by Feb. 5 as part of a major organizational restructuring.
Also included on that list is former Heisman trophy winner Pete Dawkins, a Rhodes scholar who is vice chairman of global private banking at Citigroup, Inc. Dawkins is considered all but certain to be included on the eventual short list of up to 10 candidates submitted by the USOC search committee for consideration to the USOC's executive committee in February.
Attorney Alan Rothenberg--who headed the 1994 men's World Cup, founded Major League Soccer and ran the U.S. Soccer Federation, has been contacted about the position and is highly regarded by influential USOC members--though his level of interest is unclear. He did not return phone calls this week.
Donna de Varona, a former Olympic swimmer who chaired the Women's World Cup effort this past summer and helped found the Women's Sports Foundation, has not been interviewed but is nonetheless a serious candidate in the eyes of some USOC officials. Highly active in the Olympic movement since winning two gold medals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, de Varona is considered a long shot overall because she lacks experience running a large organization.
Messing, the president and CEO of the wildly successful Women's World Cup last summer who worked under Rothenberg at Major League Soccer, is considered highly savvy, hard-working and energetic--regarded as essential qualities for the person called upon to oversee major change at the sometimes bureaucratic USOC. There are questions, however, about whether she has sufficient experience for the job.
Frampton, managing partner of the resort-hospitality company East West Partners in Vail, Colo., oversaw the 1989 and 1999 skiing world championships in Vail and sits on the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association board of directors. A close associate of Hybl's, Frampton also has been involved with the USOC budget committee.
A small group of undisclosed corporate executives who have run major companies outside the sports world are believed to be among the most serious candidates so far unearthed by the search firm SpencerStuart, which was hired by the USOC to conduct its preliminary search for candidates and is conducting the interviews of Messing and Frampton. SpencerStuart will report its findings within a couple of weeks to the USOC search committee headed by Michael McManus, a public sector USOC member.
No current USOC staff members are considered contenders for the position.
One potential sticking point for several candidates is believed to be the USOC's desire to keep its executive offices in Colorado Springs. Some USOC officials, however, are willing to be flexible on that issue, taking the position that the organization's headquarters could eventually be moved to a major metropolitan center such as New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.
SpencerStuart continues to take names and contact potential candidates on a daily basis, making it impossible to pinpoint the exact number of candidates, McManus said. Both he and Hybl declined to comment specifically on any candidates.
USOC search committee members demanded that SpencerStuart propose at least one female and minority candidate upon the conclusion of its search, several members said. Besides McManus, the organization's internal search committee includes Sandy Knapp, Bill Stapleton and Herman Frazier.
Many contacted by the search firm have declined interest in the job, including NBA Commissioner David Stern; WNBA President Val Ackerman; Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany; Women's Sports Foundation Chair Donna Lopiano; Major League Baseball Executive Vice President Sandy Alderson; and University of Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow.
Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell; Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services; and former National League president Leonard Coleman were names bandied about by USOC officials early in the process but they are no longer believed to be candidates.
McManus has said the ideal candidate would not only possess great leadership skills and charisma, but also have experience running a major organization and orchestrating significant change.
The USOC's planned restructuring--brought about by an internal review last year--is intended to bring a more efficient and business-like structure to the organization, a non-profit body that oversees Olympic and amateur sports in the United States.
The changes, which include replacing the president's position with an unpaid chairman of the board, will be voted on at the same meetings in which the CEO candidates are expected to be introduced. Hybl and USOC Executive Director Dick Schultz have said they will not run for either position.