University of Idaho diving coach Jim Southerland was named the Western Athletic Conference co-coach of the year last month, while under SafeSport investigation, the school confirmed Friday.
Southerland, in his fourth year at Idaho, was under put under investigation in February by the U.S. Center for SafeSport and USA Diving, and just six days later, the Western Athletic Conference honored his coaching accolades. The school put him on administrative leave in April.
The allegations under investigation involve a sexual relationship between Southerland and a female diver he coached near Seattle at least five years before he joined the staff at Idaho, according to a USA Today report.
“Mr. Southerland is currently on administrative leave in response to an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, in conjunction with USA Diving,” the school told SwimSwam. “The athletic department was notified of the investigation April 11, by both USA Diving and Mr. Southerland himself. He was formally placed on administrative leave April 13.”
However, his colleague Bob Ketrick told USA Today that the situation is a case of “political witch-hunting,” spurred by the scandals plaguing USA Gymnastics and other Olympic sports, including swimming.
“There comes a point where the law swings too far one way,” Ketrick said. “Before, there were no protections for kids. A lot of stuff was unreported. OK, so we made the system better, but (also created) … opportunity for people with vendettas to take advantage of a new system.”
Southerland remains on an interim suspension from the U.S. Center for SafeSport.
The original complaint against Southerland was filed by his now ex-wife Patti McEuen, who alleged that he had a relationship with a diver between the ages of 17 and 20, while he was between the ages of 52 and 55. McEuen also said that the diver called her “crying and seeking help about the situation” in 2010, at which point she was 20 years old. McEuen maintains that in addition to having sex with the diver, Southerland “groomed” and later stalked her.
Ketrick also said Southerland was absolved of breaking any law and added that McEuen is “out of control.” McEuen admitted that Southerland’s relationship with the diver is what led to her divorce.
Sgt. Ryan Abbott of the sheriff’s department in King County, Washington, told USA Today that the department followed-up on the complaint in 2015, and said that if even if true, it would not have been a crime; he noted that the age of sexual consent in the state is 16.
“USA Diving didn’t take the investigation seriously until SafeSport really got involved,” McEuen said. “Once SafeSport got involved, obviously they took it very seriously.”
The school added: “We cannot comment further nor speculate on personnel matters.”