By: Patrick Larson
I think it’s safe to say the last 72 hours have been drama-filled in the Tinman Elite world. My intention here is not to push rumors, speculate unnecessarily, or add fuel to the fire. Instead, I want to lay out what we know and what we don’t know in a more cohesive way than parsing through the message boards.
What we do know.
April 22nd: LetsRun breaks the story that Tom Schwartz has parted ways with Tinman Elite
In many ways, this news shocked the running community given the trust the Hunter family put in Tom Schwartz since Drew’s high school days. Athletes switch coaches all the time in the professional running world, but what makes this a bit unique is the fact that the entire Tinman group essentially decided to fire their coach. On most professional teams, if the coaching situation wasn’t working for an athlete, it would be the athlete who would leave the group rather than forcing the coach out.
April 23rd: Tammy Schwartz responds on LetsRun and provides her perspective
First off, LetsRun is truly a wild place where people are giving their public responses to various allegations on a message board. I’m just waiting for Tinman Elite to join the fun on the boards....
ANYWAY, as we referenced in our previous article (check the screenshots at the bottom), Tom’s wife took to the LetsRun message boards to provide her side of the story. I’ve been able to confirm with multiple people close to the Schwartz’s that this in fact was Tammy who wrote the response.
A couple things stood out. Again, this is Tammy’s side of the story and we have yet to hear from Tinman Elite to get a better sense of how everything went down. I want to re-iterate, no one has corroborated or confirmed the claims Tammy made.
1. She mentioned that the team essentially came to their decision by a unanimous vote and she claims that not every athlete agreed to the end result, but felt pressured to agree with the others because they wouldn’t be able to support their own careers as individuals.
2. Tom Schwartz never had a formal contract with Tinman Elite or Adidas. As I mentioned before, its pretty rare that a professional running team has the power to “fire” their coach. But in this case, without any contract in place, it’s clear there was power dynamic at play that allowed the team to part ways without any real contractual ramifications.
3. Drew Hunter is the main financial backer of Tom and the team. This one doesn’t come as a surprise and I’m sure most people assumed this to a certain degree, but Tammy confirmed that Drew financed much of the initial cost to get the team going, including a small coaching salary. She went so far to say that “Drew has a big heart.”
4. Tom wasn’t paid by the other athletes on the team. Again, I think most people probably assumed Drew Hunter was the one providing much of the financial backing for the team given his contract with Adidas, but it’s clear that Tom probably wasn’t able to make nearly as much money as he could have if a more formal contract was put in place with the team and the athletes. Tammy acknowledged this and said “we as a family learned a valuable lesson, that is to never trust a bunch of 20 year old's and relocate without a solid contract backed by a lawyer.”
5. She makes a pretty wild/vague claim that Drew and Tom had a good relationship “until a certain individual got involved.” I can only speculate who this is, but I did think this was an unfair statement to make and just furthered the rumor mill about what/who motivated Tom’s departure without giving any clarity.
What we don’t know
What is the Tinman Elite hierarchy?
It has become pretty obvious that without any sort of formal contract between Adidas, Tinaman Elite, and Tom, that the hierarchy was a bit different that other coach/athlete relationships.
Now, the questions that remain include what is Cory Leslie’s role as well as Joan Hunter’s role? While Joan mentioned that Cory will be assuming the day-to-day guidance for the team, it is unclear if this is an interim position or if a new head coach will eventually be brought in. Also, I’m still unsure what Joan Hunter’s role is with the team besides having a certain level of influence on decisions being made. Without a more public statement from Tinman Elite, these questions remain up in the air.
Will Tinman have to change their name?
Personally, I don’t think this coaching change is really that big of a deal. People switch coaches all the time. Additionally, Robert Johnson on LetsRun alluded to the fact that this has been in the works for a while. So, while the timing of this happening so close to the Olympic Trials is cause for concern, it appears the team had essentially already transitioned. BUT, what I believe is the most important ramification from all of this is the Tinman Elite brand. Like them or despise them, there is no denying how well the Tinman Elite group has developed their brand without having the formal corporate backing from Adidas or having any Olympic/World medalists. I’ll die on this hill, but I think they have truly written a playbook for how to market a team and monetize it.
However, the issue with their brand is that the name “Tinman” comes directly from what Tom Schwartz had become known as in the running world. In the LetsRun article, Tom said he would prefer they change their name and Tammy reiterated this by saying: “You took his name "Tinman" which was well known before you even existed and profit $$$. Heck, you didn't even give our family a small % of what you profit off his name, which is unethical”
So does Tinman Elite have to change the name? Well, after the help of some trademark sleuths, we found out that the Tinman Elite name was filed for a trademark in December of 2020 by Tinman Elite LLC which is owned by Drew Hunter. However, the trademark has not been approved yet. This is about where my knowledge of trademarks ends and I’m not going to speculate where this stands legally, but knowing the information we do, there seems to be some gray area with who actually owns the rights to a trademark that Tinman Elite has profited from the last few years.
Regardless of the trademark, I don’t see a reason for them to keep their name. In fact, what a great opportunity to completely re-brand, sell a new line of apparel associated with the new name, and distance themselves from this situation moving forward. They have built a ton of social and brand capital with the current name, but I find it hard to imagine a positive outcome coming from them keeping the name of the coach they essentially fired.
Where is the Tinman Elite response?
The running world is certainly a strange place where most of the information people are getting about this situation is from the LetsRun message boards. I’m no public relations expert, but it has been nearly 72 hours without a public response from Tinman Elite beyond Joan Hunter’s quote and I’d think it’s in their best interest to try and squash some of the rumors that are swirling. With anything, there are always multiple sides to a story and differing opinions on how to handle a situation. Call me crazy, but I don’t think LetsRun message boards should be treated as a source of truth and I’m hopeful we can get some clarity from the Tinman camp about their future.
Why is Tom Schwartz still listed as the head coach on their website?
I get that Tinman Elite is managing a lot of things, but this seems like low hanging fruit given Joan Hunter and Tom Schwartz confirmed he is no longer coaching the group. I don’t think it’s worth reading into this too much, I just find it a bit strange that they haven’t updated their website.
Alright, that’s all I got on the situation until Tinman undoubtedly addresses the situation. Until then, I’d caution everyone from assuming too much. Unless you are Tom or a member of Tinman Elite, none of us will truly know how the situation was handled. We can do our best to flesh out the information we know, but it’s a bit discouraging to see people making harsh judgements and condemnations on people they have never met.
No matter how things actually went down, I’m still a firm believer that Tom Schwartz is a world class coach and that the Tinman Elite team is incredibly good for the sport and have been a huge asset to the running community.