Jay Benner has been named the new head coach of the King Aquatic Club in Federal Way, Washington, replacing coach Michael Brooks, who was named to the same position last summer. The move is the latest change for the powerful Seattle-area club that includes several assistant coaches departing for the Central Area Aquatics Team, and the continuing fallout from accusations of grooming and sexual abuse by former World Record holder Ariana Kukors against former KING owner and CEO Sean Hutchison.
Benner comes the Bellingham Bay Swim Team on Washington’s northwest coast, where he was also named head coach just last summer. Benner is best known as the youth coach of 8-time Olympic medalist and American Record holder Nathan Adrian. He also coached 2008 U.S. Olympian Dana Kirk and is a member of the Pacific Northwest Swimming Hall of Fame.
KING won the combined and men’s team titles at the recent Federal Way Sectional Championships; Bellingham Bay finished 18th in the combined scoring.
Brooks came to Seattle from North Carolina, where he was previously the head coach of the North Carolina Aquatic Club and an assistant coach at the University of North Carolina. In a letter to the team, Brooks said that he thought the team would move forward faster from the Hutchison allegations, and painted a picture of infighting and chaos in the team.
Brooks’ Letter to the team
“The last five weeks have been terrible,” the letter reads. “After the earthquake allegations that started the whole thing, things have not gotten any better. For much of that time, you have not gotten any solid information about what has been happening, and in the absence of facts, rumors abounded.
I had assumed that we could relatively quickly get a plan up and running that would unify the group moving forward. That has obviously not happened. Frustrating delays contribute to the chaos in the system. The collection of data and numbers to do due diligence took much longer than I had expected, the work to produce the offer sheet took much longer than I had expected, meanwhile there were rumors flying everywhere that the Booster Club would kill any deal to ensure that Sean Hutchison would not get a cent (and I got many emails from parents arguing that very path); and there are serious personality and social clashes that have prevented various folks from working together and have resulted in the team splintering into multiple factions.
People have assumed that I knew much more than I actually did. I heard enough of the rumors to suspect that much was happening behind the scenes and outside of my view, which I could only really guess at from the results (especially regarding pools). Some key information about pools and coaching decisions I only discovered from reading other teams’ websites. Nobody was telling me anything (and I was told by a key booster member, that I had not established myself enough to build the kind of ties for people to trust me and be comfortable enough to talk to me and support me.) And I was in the same holding pattern that you all were in regarding a proposed sale: is it going to happen, and when, and what will be the details?
The result has been that, fed up with the uncertainty, several coaches and many families have decided to leave the club. This is obviously very disappointing to me and to all those who wanted to see King come out of this crisis whole and strong and stable. Even though I’ve only spent six months with the coaching staff, I had come to like and respect them and enjoy working with them to build a great team. It is disappointing to see friends and colleagues choosting to go in other directions. But no matter which direction people choose to go all are going to be seeing each other on deck numerous times each season, and “leaving mad” doesn’t help anyone now or down the road.
A few days ago, coach Doug Djang sent an email to the membership announcing a meeting to discuss a purchase of the team and his beaing the head coach. This seemed quasi-official, and the strong implication of his letter was that I was no longer in the picture – to the extent that several swimmers and parents asked me when I had quit. I have not said anything publicly about this letter until now because I did not want to undermine a colleague, I did not want a civil war on deck during the meet, and I have wanted as much as possible to keep the swimmers insulated from the disagreements and divergent interests of the adults.
However, you need to know that this is NOT the Terry Yen purchase plan that I have written about and that I fully support. To be blunt, Doug’s letter was calculated to undermine or circumvent that plan. He called the meeting on his own, not in his capacity as a King coach, and despite using the cyber version of the company letterhead. His ‘plan’ is contrary to what as head coach I consider to be the best interests of the club. His email to the team could have resulted in jeapordizing work already well underway; it most certainly made the situation and people’s impression of the situation even more unclear and chaotic: muddy waters made muddier.
What is happening now?
A group of coaches and swimmers will be leaving at the end of the month to join another local team [CAAT]. While I am sorry that they have decide to leave, and I wish that they would have chosen otherwise, I understand their decision and harbor no grudges.
I am working to ensure that there is a strong team, strongly coached and strongly supported by ownership, centered initially at KCAC with future options to expand to other local pools. I will not be here to lead it – I have decided to go back to my family in York [Pennsylvania]. However, I will help with the transition. With Terry Yen, I have been in serious talks with head coaching candidates of impeccable (and international) reputation, and I am solidifying the coaching staff and schedules. If you choose to stay with King – or whatever the new version of King happens to be called – you can trust that your kids will be well taken care of.
The letter concludes with administrative detail and an apology from Brooks to swimmers he coached directly for “not (coaching them) very well over the last month.”
Brooks references the sale of the club, which sources say was to Terry Yen, the parent of a KING swimmer who is the senior director of sales at semiconductr and telecommunications giant Qualcomm and was also previously listed as an advisor at IKKOS – Hutchison’s swimming technology company. The IKKOS website has been taken offline. Sources tell SwimSwam that the sales price of the club was in excess of half-a-million dollars.
CAAT is run by head coach Ken Spencer, who used to be Hutchison’s second-in-command at KING. He also owns the Aquatic Management Group, a company that manages several pools in the Seattle area used by both clubs. Hutchison is co-owner and co-founder of Aquatic Management Group, according to his LinkedIn profile.
We have reached out to KING and Djang for comment on the change, but as of posting have not received a response.