Liam Donnelly, the longtime head coach of Simon Fraser University’s swim team, has been on administrative leave since the beginning of January, according to an article from Burnaby Now and other sources.
Swimmers were not told the reason for the leave, only that assistant coaches Maxime Marechal-McCoy and Dylan Roguski would continue to lead the team. Donnelly told media outlets that he was unable to comment, and the school provided a generic statement that did not provide any details about the situation.
Simon Fraser, currently the only Canadian school that participates in the NCAA, has enjoyed a good amount of success during Donnelly’s tenure. He started at the school in 1991, and took over as head coach the following year. At last year’s NCAA Division II Championships, the Simon Fraser men finished 9th, while the women finished 13th.
The Burnaby Now article quotes swimmers Andrew Woinoski and Collyn Gagne expressing their frustration over the lack of information, especially as it’s jarring for a team to not have its head coach on deck in the run-up to NCAA championships. The stakes are even higher for some swimmers, including Gagne, who finished 3rd in the 400 IM at Canada’s World Championship Trials last April and could be in the running for a spot on the Olympic Team.
The team is scheduled to swim at the West Coast Collegiate Open in Victoria, BC, this weekend. Presumably they will also be swimming at the Division II Championships in March, although that does not currently appear on the team’s online schedule. The Swimulator has the men projected to finish inside the top 20 at nationals.
SwimSwam reached out to the school for a comment, and received the following response.
Provincial privacy legislation prevents us from discussing questions that relate to employment information. What I can say is that we care deeply about the well-being and collective success of our student-athletes. A coach’s absence can happen for a variety of reasons, and the timing is sometimes not ideal. When a head coach is away, we do our best to provide continuity by substituting coaches with whom our students are familiar. Often, a full-time assistant coach will fulfill the head coach role in these instances. When coaches are away, we communicate with our athletes about such absences and adopt fulsome plans to support the athletes during that time.
– Theresa Hanson, Senior Director, Athletics and Recreation, Simon Fraser University