Australian swim coach Brian King is currently under investigation by Swimming Australia based on a host of accusations leveled at him and his former boss Denis Cotterell.
King is a former assistant coach at the Miami Swimming Club who was fired in 2013, while Cotterell is still the head coach there.
King’s tenure with Miami was a relatively short, but rocky affair, stretching all the way back to his hiring, which club officials allege was an underhanded process set up by Cotterell.
A Phantom Hire
In 2010, Shannon Macdonald took over the position of club President, leading an all-new club committee, after the entire previous committee resigned en masse, she says. Cotterell was pushing the new administration to hire another coach, Macdonald says, but the committee “did not consider that we could either afford a fourth coach or that we required one.”
But, according to Macdonald, Cotterell took it upon himself to hire King on as an additional assistant coach without the knowledge or permission of the club’s committee.
“Denis ‘unofficially’ showed me a few resumes he had received,” Macdonald says, “and I recall Brian’s resume as he seemed to have done everything and been highly successful in every area.
“At this stage I am sure that I said that it would need to be discussed by the Committee as we would struggle to fund a fourth coach.”
But before the committee knew what was happening, Cotterell had hired King as an assistant coach on a trial basis. Macdonald says Cotterell approached the team’s treasurer directly to negotiate King’s wages, cutting Macdonald and the committee out of the process. Cotterell had High Performance Funds from Swimming Australia that were at his discretion to allocate, and he told the committee he would use those funds to subsidize King’s salary, Macdonald says.
Neither Cotterell nor King responded to requests for comment on the hiring of King to Miami.
What would come to light more than a year later was the fact that nearly all of King’s resume had allegedly been falsified. Australia’s The Daily Telegraph reported last month that King had falsified many of the credentials that allowed him to get the job with Miami and his previous job at Penn State University.
You can read our full report on the resume inaccuracies here, but below are a few of the major points:
Among the alleged falsities on King’s resume, according to the Telegraph:
- King claimed to be an assistant to the Australian Junior Olympic Team in 1998, but the team never existed.
- King claimed to have won the Queen of England Award for swimming, but the award doesn’t exist.
- King claimed to have coached the NSWIS Sport Paralympic Team, which the Telegraph reports is untrue.
- He also listed himself as holding a degree in Sports Science and a Masters in Biomechanics from the University of Adelaide, which the Telegraph reports is also untrue.
Macdonald says Miami never had a chance to properly vet King’s resume because of the way Cotterell allegedly hired King without the knowledge of the club’s committee.
When reached by e-mail to comment on the alleged resume inaccuracies, King only directed SwimSwam to his legal representation, who did not respond.
A Pattern of Verbal Abuse
But the most serious complaints against King stem from his conduct while coaching at Miami, where multiple parents accuse King of verbally abusing and overly punishing his swimmers, who were between the ages of 10 and 14.
SwimSwam has seen upwards of ten different complaints from varying sources. In them, multiple different parents have alleged that King regularly acted inappropriately towards his athletes. The accusations include verbal abuse, public humiliation of swimmers for poor training or competition performances, use of profanities and the throwing of objects at swimmers.
King did not respond to an e-mail requesting a comment on the allegations.
The Daily Telegraph‘s Jess Halloran reported on some of these accusations earlier this year, headed by a parent’s complaint that King made the child crawl out of the pool, get on all fours and “bark like a dog.” From Halloran’s report:
Mrs Macdonald said she received a written complaint from the 10-year-old’s parents following the alleged incident.
“I did not witness it but a parent came straight to me; Brian King had pulled a kid out of the pool and said he was ‘training like a dog’. He made him go and stand at the end of the pool on all fours and said; ‘bark like a dog you are training like a dog’,” she said.
In one incident, brought up by multiple sources, King allegedly threw a metal water bottle at a swimmer. Other allegations said King used 1000 meter butterflys or 50 meter underwaters as punishments, throwing kickboards at swimmers if they tried to come up to take a breath.
But the common theme among all complaints seems to be a pattern of negative reinforcement and strong, negative language in dealing with swimmers.
One parent, who spoke to SwimSwam on condition of anonymity, said that King would call her child “a retard, stupid, dumb, a good-for-nothing.” This child swam for King at the Kingston swim club, where King went after his tenure with Miami ended.
Eventually, the parent says, that verbal abuse affected her son so much that he began self-harming to release the stress of training under King.
The swimmer, who was 11 years old at the time, was caught in a school bathroom cutting himself, and told the student who caught him that he “just couldn’t handle the put-downs anymore,” according to his parent.
“He told me he’s cut himself a few times to get out of swimming,” says the parent.
The swimmer had only been at Kingston for a few weeks before he says the coach’s confrontational demeanor began to show itself.
“Things went really well for the first month [swimming with King],” the swimmer says. “But after that he started to get abusive. He started yelling at other swimmers and myself.”
The swimmer said King would put down his athletes, including one child with a learning disability, and that he threw objects at his swimmers.
“I didn’t want to swim anymore,” the swimmer recalls. The family left the club last year. Luckily for the swimmer himself, he says he’s found a new coach and club and is once again enjoying the sport.
The sheer volume of complaints from parents suggests that whatever the truth is about King’s coaching methods, they were highly unpopular with a sizable segment of the team.
But the complaints themselves had very little impact early on, say team officials, because Cotterell allegedly covered for King, the coach he had hired.
When Macdonald stepped down as the club’s president, Paul Younan rose to replace her, inheriting the ongoing conflict with King. Younan says that Cotterell worked to keep King on staff despite the flood of complaints.
“Denis Cotterell supported him [King] unconditionally, regardless of his conduct,” Younan says.
Cotterell did not respond to SwimSwam’s request for comment on these allegations. He was, however, quoted by an Australian publication back in February saying that Australian swimmers needed to ‘toughen up.’ The Daily Telegraph reported that Cotterell had this to say about the accusations against King:
“The toughness is so depleted it is not funny,” Cotterell said.
“We have a diminishing pool of people who are naturally tough.
“This is the toughening process.”
He also went on to say that King was “thrown under the bus,” and that the complaints were “trumped up.”
Macdonald, the former club president, says that when the complaints first started coming in, Cotterell assured the club’s leadership that he had talked with King about the issues and that they would not happen again. “It is the head coach’s responsibility to attend to coaching issues,” Macdonald says, but as complaints continued to pour in, the club’s committee grew increasingly concerned about Cotterell’s inaction.
“The committee issued King with two mandatory letters of warning that he had breached the ASCTA Code of Conduct,” she says, and copies were sent to Cotterell as well. But Cotterell refused to entertain the idea that King should be fired, she says.
As her term as president expired in 2012, Macdonald decided not to stand for reelection, concerned that the worsening situation with King could end up in a legal case.
That was when Younan took over as club president. He says he faced much the same situation early on in his tenure, with discipline of King met with opposition from Cotterell, until the club leadership finally fired King in December of 2013.
King is no longer with the club, but is still making headlines. He resurfaced earlier this year with reports that he was still in Australia, coaching Chinese world record-holder Sun Yang.
Sun was formerly coached by Cotterell, but Swimming Australia cut ties with the Chinese superstar after a doping violation. At that point, Swimming Australia ordered Cotterell to stop coaching Sun.
Sun is no longer training with Cotterell, but is still based out of Australia and is reportedly working with Cotterell’s former assistant, King.
Swimming Australia Investigation Ongoing
At the same time that the Miami Swimming Club set into motion King’s firing, they approached the Australian Swimming Coaches and Teachers’ Association (ASCTA), which is affiliated with Swimming Australia.
That was near the end of 2013. According to Younan, the investigation from ASCTA and Swimming Australia didn’t move forward until early in 2015, shortly after our report that Sun was still in Australia training with King. During that span, Younan also moved out of the presidency at Miami. He is now the Vice President of Swimming Gold Coast.
“ASTCA failed as they never acted,” Younan says. “Swimming Australia failed as they turned a blind eye to the abuse and only concerned themselves with Denis producing medals.”
The Daily Telegraph echoed that sentiment early this year in their piece on King’s alleged abuse, noting that the ASCTA committee “has failed to act despite being aware of complaints for more than a year.”
The mother of the swimmer from Kingston, the one who began self-harming while training under King, says her child’s negative experience is a direct consequence of organizational inaction. “This is why I’m so angry,” she says. “Had Swimming Australia and ATSCA acted when they received the initial complaints in 2013, then my son would not have been subjected to Brian’s inappropriate treatment.
“As a result, my son and others were affected. My son was a casualty of their political games.”
Swimming Australia’s policy is not to comment on specific cases until they are fully wrapped up, but they did provide SwimSwam with a general response to the criticism of their investigation, emphasizing that an investigation requires time to be thorough, fair and to come to a correct decision. Here is the full Swimming Australia statement:
Swimming Australia are unable to comment on any specific case until it has reached a conclusion. This is important to ensure a fair and equitable process for all parties involved.
Swimming Australia reiterate that the safety of children is paramount and it remains a priority in everything we do. We take such allegations seriously. In accordance with our Member and Child Welfare Policies, Swimming Australia has a clear process that our organisation commences if the complainant wishes to proceed with the process through our organisation.
We commit to ensuring that this is a fair and thorough process and ensure that the process of natural justice applies to all individuals involved in any case or investigation. The timing has been impacted on by these guiding principles to ensure the right outcome is achieved at the conclusion of the process.
The investigation is ongoing at this point, but according to that Telegraph piece, it could result in King losing his ASCTA membership and his Swimming Australia accreditation, which would essentially lock him out of coaching in the country in the future.