On Monday, Rowing Canada Aviron (RCA) announced that they would be firing long time coach Mike Spracklen. Spracklen was the coach of both the Men’s 8+ that won silver in the London Olympics and the Men’s crew which won gold in Beijing. Mike has a bit of a reputation for being a guy who quite simply gets results. If you’re unfamiliar with the Rowing world, he’s like the Mike Ditka of Rowing for you football fans, the Jim Calhoun for you basketball fans, or the Pat Quinn of Rowing for all you hockey fans. Take a look at the link below, which is part of a full length documentary on Spracklen’s coaching style:
This of course begs a question, why did RCA decide to give Spracklen the boot so soon after yet another Olympic medal? Many coaches within the rowing community speculated that Spracklen was close to retirement, and it would seem fitting to just let him ride out the remaining years. After all, he is a great coach. Much of the reporting about this firing has suggested that it was Mike Spracklen’s hard personality that alienated some athletes within the national team, and other RCA coaches. Certainly Spracklen has a reputation as a bit of an abrasive individual. Fellow rowers I know who trained with him say that he is pretty much a passive aggressive pompous ass, whose covered coach boat is nicknamed “The Pope Mobile”.
Spracklen’s training program is also one of the most rigorous in the world, with athletes routinely putting in 35+Km on the water per session. For you non-rowers that’s at least a 2.5-3 hour workout where you burn about 1000 calories. Media speculation has suggested that it was the griping of the Men’s Pair from the last Olympics (Scott Frandsen and Dave Calder) that led to Spracklen’s firing. However, it seems unlikely that two athletes might have the ability to sway such a large decision as this. RCA would have probably just said something along the lines of ‘nut up or shut up”, “if you don’t like Mike’s training and coaching then go somewhere else”, or “there are plenty of athletes waiting in the wings to fill your spots if you’d rather not continue”. But what this firing suggests is not the issues of a particular group of athletes, but rather that RCA is cleaning house in preparation for the next Olympic cycle.
Like him or not Mike Spracklen has become an institution at RCA. We also saw from this abrupt firing that there are more than a few athletes who regard him as an excellent coach. Silken Laumann, Brian Price, Adam Kreek, Kyle Hamilton, and Malcolm Howard have all expressed their regret at Spracklen’s dismissal. This suggests that the man certainly leaves a lasting impression on his athletes, and therefore there are more than likely to be a few “disciples of Mike” still kicking around in four years time. This would be problematic for RCA if Spracklen retired in the next two years as you would have to introduce a group of regimented high performance athletes to a new coach (and coaching style) and a new training program. Granted this might not be too hard to do, but it’s still a significant change nevertheless. So, it seems as though RCA would rather make this change now and have the next four years to entrench the mantra of its new coach as opposed to making the change later on. In any case, whether you are of the opinion that Mike Spracklen is the greatest rowing coach to walk the earth, the devil incarnate, or something in between, his departure from Rowing Canada means we’re in for a big shakeup and some new coaching personalities that will (hopefully) rise to the occasion.
Andrew Douglas is a Competitive Rower, full time student, and part time Rabble Rauser.