Tim McLaren has been home in Australia for less than two weeks, not yet enough time to finish unpacking and take care of some remaining details from the past four years, and certainly not enough time to decide what comes next.
He had been living in the United States for the last six years, the last four heading up USRowing's efforts for the men's team for the Olympic cycle that just concluded in London. But he has left that job and is now trying to decide what comes next.
"I'm just trying to get used to being at home, trying to get unacked. I've got some reports to write, some things to do. There are a few inquiries I got to do. There are a few people who want some consulting work done, to organize some of the coaching structures at schools and clubs. I'll do a little bit of that."
In April, McLaren informed USRowing he was leaving at the conclusion of the 2012 Olympic Games and he did. Today, USRowing is still looking for a replacement, but recently hired Curtis Jordan, a former USRowing Olympic coach with 30 years experience as an elite international and intercollegiate coach as its High Performance Director.
"I feel really positive for Tim personally," Merry said. "I think on one hand, it would be nice to figure out a way to allow him to continue to be involved. But he has a family and it's a difficult balancing act when you're a head coach and half your family is living back there. I completely understand where he is on that, where we are on that, and completely support his decision to go back to Australia and continue on with the rest of his life instead of being focused on the U.S. team."
McLaren had been hired by USRowing just after the 2008 Olympics when former head coach Mike Teti opted to leave the national team after a long and decorated time as both an athlete and coach in which he rowed in three Olympics, won a bronze in the men's eight in Seoul in 1988, and was the coach for four Games. He won a string of world championships and a gold medal in Athens and a bronze in Beijing.
But two things happened after Beijing. The first was Teti left to coach at the University of California and the second was the United States Olympic Committee set higher standards for USRowing, stating that they wanted more than one medal from the men's team.
McLaren, an Australian with a solid background in coaching and rowing small boats, especially sculling, was hired. He won a silver medal at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in the quad and the following year finished seventh in the single at the world championships. In 14 years as director and head coach of the University of Technology Rowing Club in Sydney, Australia, he helped produce 30 Olympians over three cycles.
He was asked to direct the next Olympic cycle and to focus on winning medals in the small boats in the next Olympics. That cycle ended in London at the 2012 Olympics and the United States left with a bronze medal for the men's four, the first since 1992.
The four-year cycle ended in with a modicum of success. The four won bronze, but the eight finished out of the medals, and was nearly not represented at all, having failed to qualify at the 2011 world championships. It took bringing Teti back into the fold to run a special nine-month camp that cumulated with the U.S. grabbing the final spot by winning the last chance qualifying regatta in Lucerne in May. The men's lightweight four took a similar road to London, qualifying for the Games in Lucerne.
The eight missed a medal by 0.3 seconds at Eton Dorney, the lightweight four finished eighth, as did the pair, the quad had a bad race in the reps and was knocked out of contention early, and both the double and lightweight double failed to qualify at either world championships or at the Lucerne regatta.
McLaren oversaw the centralization of the men's team to California, moving all the athletes to the USRowing Training Center in Chula Vista to allow for year round on-the-water training, a point central to his vision of developing success in small boats.
Looking back on the cycle and on the decision to hire McLaren, Merry said he believes that McLaren was the right choice and he understands and appreciates all that McLaren did. He also understands why he decided to go home to Australia.
"I think it was a good decision to bring Tim in," Merry said. "When I look around the world, I think Tim is one of the top coaches. He improved our overall performances and rowers and I think he added commentary to how we do things in contrast to how others do. I think we all learned from Tim. From his athletes to the administration, we benefited as a sport in the U.S."
Merry said McLaren left behind a stable of good, young athletes who are looking toward 2016 and the organization is in the process of developing a plan and finding a replacement.
"Tim has left us with a lot of athletes that still want to train and still have Olympic aspirations and dreams. He has left us with a group of guys that are very good rowers, both technically and who are very fit, and from that perspective, I think we're in a good position," he said.
"Regarding where we are in the process (of replacing McLaren), we've got Curtis on board as the high performance director. His task is formulating a plan and finding the right people to activate that plan on the men's side. We're really fortunate to have (Tom Terhaar) return and that allows us to attend to the men's team moving forward on hiring someone."
For McLaren, the future is still uncertain. He's happy to be home with his wife. She stayed in Sydney while McLaren lived in Chula Vista and coached and the couple has been separated for most of the past three years. "It's good to be home. We get on well," he said.
In a recent telephone interview, McLaren talked about this last Olympic cycle and what he sees as promise for the men's team in the coming four years leading up to the 2016 Games in Rio.
"You would always like to carry on and do a little better, " he said. "But there are other demands in life as well. We did what we could do during that period and it's time to hand it on to some other people and hopefully they can continue and hopefully the guys can continue to improve and get some better results in American men's rowing."
Reflecting back on the experience, McLaren said there were good, and not so good moments, but that overall from a personal perspective it was a good learning experience. He talked about having to learn how the U.S. system worked and how to deal with the level of funding, or lack of it, for the U.S. Olympic team.
"You learn from good, bad and indifferent experiences," he said. "And when you go to a different country, even though America seems quite similar to Australia, it is different. So you learn a lot there.
"People talk about Great Britain, Canada and the Australian systems; they're heavily government funded, so America is quite a different system to start with. It has a unique college system and with that comes a totally different culture. So it was a good learning experience for me.
"There are a lot the pieces to USRowing and I think USRowing does a good job of trying to manage all of the pieces involved. It's an expansive sort of challenge running that organization.
"I'm not saying I had a handle on everything from day one," he said. "I think I gradually sort of figured things out with help from Kris Korzeniowski, Mike (Teti), Cam (Kiosoglous) and John Parker. There were some guys that have been through the system, so I learned quite a bit from those guys.
McLaren has said repeatedly that one of the biggest problems facing U.S. rowing teams is the level of funding, which pales in comparison to other countries. USRowing spent a total of $13.3 million to coach, train, equip and transport the 44 athletes that competed at Eton Dorney. In contrast, Great Britain spent $75 million in lottery funding during the same four-year span. U.S. athletes subsist on a monthly stipend of $800-$1,000, while countries like Australia and Germany provide real living allowances, housing and even cars.
The results are not being able to keep athletes rowing long enough and not having enough staff. Three athletes in the men's four - Charlie Cole, Henrik Rummel and Glenn Ochal - were rowing in their first Olympics and had never even raced as a crew prior to London.
"I think in the end we didn't have a lot of numbers for the coaching staff and it's a big place, America," said McLaren. "But in the end, resources stop you. Getting people to take on professional coaching positions outside of college is hard. The best college coaches won't leave college to take on the national team, so it's a little unusual and it's a different culture, a different mindset for me to understand it that way."
Fortunately, and in large part because of his impact on athletes, many are coming back. Three of the rowers from the four are returning, following their medal-winning performance in the London Olympics. The athletes said their success was a tribute to McLaren's coaching.
"This is a tribute to (McLaren)," said Scott Gault, the lone member of the crew to retire from the national team, in a post-event press conference. "He brought a couple of athletes who have never been in an Olympics, never won a medal, even at a world championship. We prepared for these Games, were more professional in the way we prepared than in anything else I have ever done in my life and I give that all to Tim."
"He's been around for so many Olympics and he's seen it all and we trusted him and that trust got us to this.
"These last four years have been good. We were fortunate to have Tim McLaren. He's an incredible coach. We started the quadrennial with not a great performance. We really had to work from what we were given. These three guys to my left are incredible athletes and Tim really coached them well and we really built the program together. We all worked hard."
Still, even with the success of the four and the overall solid performance of the sweep team, McLaren is left wondering if he could have done better.
"Coaching is sort of a never ending job in some ways, you have generations of kids you work with and it's hard to get kids to achieve everything that you think they are capable of in one cycle," he said.
"So in that way, I think when we take a group like we had to the Olympics, I don't think there were any world or Olympic medals at all and we came close to having a dozen people coming home with a medal. The eight was a bit stiff, and tight, but it was a close race. That was a bit frustrating. I think the four did a good job in that field, first time up.
"I think you would always like to have done a little bit better. But that is the way it is, the competition is pretty tough and that's where we are at the moment," he said.
"As a coach, you hope the guys got something out of it and you improve the core of the whole. I don't know if we can unequally say that we succeeded in all areas. There is certainly room for improvement and I think there is room for things to be done better. In a way I feel the disappointment that the guys feel with the results. I feel there is always disappointment if you think you could have done a better job yourself. The buck does stop with you."