Playing Favorites

The high-wire genius in coaching talent-loaded teams… If only I had athletes like that, man, what I could do with them. With talent like that, how can they not win? He’s a great recruiter, a brilliant salesman, but as a coach? Anyone could do that, with his stable of horses… You just need to get out of the way.

The bitter musings of a jealous coach… It’s March, and from poolside to courtside, madness like that is in full bloom.

Over the last two weekends, the clear favorites have run away with the women’s and men’s NCAA Swimming Championships – Teri McKeever’s Cal Bears and Eddie Reese’s Texas Longhorns. Neither team title came as a surprise. In fact, if either of these teams had failed to win it all, it would have been seen as a choke, as teams failing to live up to their potential.

The same will be said of John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats if they fail to complete perfection next week in the Final Four. Most of America outside the blue grass state will be pulling for some sort of impossible upset, if only to stoke our collective underdog lust. Sports fan love excellence, but too much domination can spoil the fun. And so we root against those teams who’ve managed to recruit and coach and will the odds in their favor.

This curious condition can put a brilliant coach in an all-or-nothing corner. You can find yourself so good, surrounded by so much breathtaking talent, that it feels like everyone, even your closest coaching allies, are secretly hoping for you to slip up.

So it’s been for Teri McKeever and Eddie Reese this year. Anyone paying attention to the times and projected numbers knew that the team titles were theirs to lose. Their pools in Berkeley and Austin are bursting with talent. Sure, Georgia was the two-time defending women’s champion, and sure it had been five years since the Longhorns hoisted the team trophy at men’s NCs, but if their ladies and gentlemen swam as expected in March, the meets were theirs.

In the face of those suffocating expectations, McKeever and Reese exceeded them. They coached their athletes to performances that took a lot more than talent. They brought the best out of the best. The two races that personified it for me: Missy Franklin’s 1:39.10 in the women’s 200 free and the legion of Longhorns who turned the men’s 100 fly into an intramural meet, sending out six of the top eight finalists, including an unprecedented 1-2-3-4 sweep led by freshman Singapore stud Joseph Schooling.

Before we proceed, consider that 100 fly for a moment. Imagine being the sixth best flyer on your own team, and going 45.9, and making it all the way to the A-final of the NCAA champs. Breaking 46 and scoring a lane among the top eight: that’s a high water mark for plenty of All-American swimmers out there. If you go to Texas these days, it means you’d find yourself on the “F” medley relay!

While we’re speaking of an embarrassment of riches, it must feel rather similar to be a backstroke specialist among Teri McKeever’s women. There’s Missy, of course, the straw that currently stirs USA Swimming’s drink. There’s Rachel Bootsma, the third fastest 100 backstroker ever, who narrowly missed Natalie Coughlin’s NCAA record by .06. There’s Elizabeth Pelton, who still reigns as the American and NCAA record holder in the 200 yard back, despite some slower times these last few seasons. And then there’s Queen Natalie herself, still ubiquitous at Cal’s Spieker Pool, a pro well into her 30s now, one Olympics away from perhaps emerging as the most decorated female swimmer in history.

Franklin, of course, will now join Coughlin among the pro ranks, no longer able to turn down the riches that await in the lead up to Rio. After a successful but not Missy-perfect freshman campaign last year, plenty were whispering about an imminent return to Todd Schmitz back in Colorado, following her sophomore swan song. After her performance this year under McKeever, I’m not so sure that’s the case. But whether she packs her bags for the club cocoon she knows so well, or chooses to remain on campus at Cal for this next crucial year, Franklin’s college “experiment” that was so overanalyzed and second-guessed can now go down as an unqualified success. Missy being Missy, I’m positive she’d trade the couple million she might have made in the years since London for the experience she’s shared in Berkeley the last two years.

The lion’s share of the credit here must go to McKeever. Since landing the greatest recruit ever to sign in NCAA swimming, there must have been plenty of times when the coach felt that old buzz-kill truism ‘be careful what you wish for’… You work your whole career for a shot at coaching a group like that, led by an athlete with the character and talent of a Franklin, and then you start sensing the chatter. The schadenfreude undercurrents that creep up anytime your superstars perform less than superbly. You know your swimmers read the sometimes cruel comments pages over at Swim Swam. You know your recruiting is picked over anytime a new blue chip recruit chooses to sign elsewhere. And you know how fragile these swimmers’ egos can be. Monster talents or not, it will always be a delicate dance to the top of any podium.

Eddie Reese has known this for decades. The boys may play at having thicker skins and sturdier confidence, but that’s an act. Their egos are just as fragile. They just fake it in different ways. You think it’s easy to coach a kid who goes 1:39 in the 200 fly – in season – and is still the second best flyer on your depth chart? Jack Conger and Joseph Schooling, along with the rest of those world-class flyers down in Austin, now have maybe the best training group on earth. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy to coach that crew. It will fall to Reese, and to his indispensable number two Kris Kubik, to maintain an insanely tough balance in coaching each of these kids to their individual best, while constantly guiding the overriding needs of the team each March.

Reese and Kubik have done it before. It wasn’t that long ago that Aaron Peirsol and Brendan Hansen and Ian Crocker were the trio of big dogs at Texas. World record holders each, they collected fifteen individual NCAA titles between them... while making just a slight mark on the international scene, as well.

This collective success isn’t a given. Just witness the implosion of NBAC’s super-group last year, soon after the return of Michael Phelps. It’s one thing to coach a great one; it’s quite another to coach a team of great ones.

The master of guiding all-time talent, of course, is Zen master Phil Jackson. He of the 11-rings and Buddha-like presence, helming the best teams in NBA history… Those 11 rings were largely due to two men, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, who happen to be two very bad men. Metaphorically, sure, because they’re as bad ass as any ever to play the game. But I mean that literally – Jordan and Bryant are, by most every account, bad human beings. Egomaniac sociopaths, guys who respect few, listen to less. But they listened to Phil. And because of that genius – his ability to get through to monsters and bring out their best – Jackson will go down as the greatest ever to coach his sport.

Teri McKeever and Eddie Reese are already Hall of Famers on the pool deck, and they have the good fortune not to be coaching sociopaths, at least as far as I know. But their tasks are not so dissimilar to that of Phil Jackson and Kentucky’s John Calipari. When your reputation and your past champions and your self-evident skills as a coach eventually lead you to a bounty of talent assembled around you, that’s when the real work begins. It’s grossly unfair, but that’s how the greatest coaches will be remembered: how they led teams of unreal talent, when all the pieces were in place.

You wish you were that lucky, to have the opportunity to coach that kind of talent. But be careful what you wish for.

The Process of Courage

Jeff Julian - Friend, Coach, Cancer Survivor To-Be...  You're sitting in a doctor's office. Something's been bothering you, a pain in your back and neck that just isn't getting better. You're fit, not yet 40, a former champion butterflyer who knows his body the way only swimmers do. Your days are spent active, on your feet on a pool deck, under a warm Southern California sun. The pain has been progressing for a few months now, but Advil usually takes care of it. Whatever it is, there must be an easy explanation. It's probably just one of those nagging signs of aging, the aches and pains of creeping middle age.

But then one night you're out to dinner with your wife and the pain becomes too much to ignore. You contact a doctor. The next day you head to the hospital.

And then, after a whirlwind of tests, you hear the unthinkable. The C-word, says the doctor. It's lung cancer, he tells you. It doesn't get more serious.

How would you react?

If you're Jeff Julian, head coach of Rose Bowl Aquatics and former All-American at USC, your response is the very definition of courage. You announce your diagnosis on Facebook with unblinking candor and a fearlessness that's hard to fathom. Then, you end your note to your stunned readers with this line: "I wanted to share this with you one time, before I put my head down and get ready to kick some ass.”

Hear that, cancer? Prepare yourself for a beat down.

Picture the polar opposite of a lung cancer sufferer. That is Jeff Julian. Never a smoker, a world class athlete, a wise coach with perspective and patience, possessed of a singular So Cal laugh that never fails to send out positive vibrations. The last man you'd expect.

Soon after his diagnosis, his team at Rose Bowl created #TEAMJeff - a site where you can support his fight and join his legion of friends and family across the swimming universe. Through the CaringBridge website, you can follow his journal, and at his site at YouCaring you can offer financial support to help fund the battle.

Jeff and I have been friends for 22 years now, since our recruiting trip to USC the same weekend in the fall of 1992. We were both 200 flyers, about the same speed, and we both fell for SC instantly. We entered as freshmen together in the fall of '93, our dorm rooms separated by two floors, our practices separated by a few feet. We were usually in the same lane, or right nearby, both cranking out the same sets with the same goals. You might think that would make us rivals. I was certainly the prickly sort, not always polite in practice. But Jeff was, and is, a man who received effortless respect. Probably because he respected everyone around him. Maybe it also had something to do with his undeniable work ethic or the way he led by example.

It's easy to slip into cliché when reminiscing on those college glory days, forgive me. This isn't some sepia toned drift down memory lane. Just a bit of context.

We both chose swimming as our careers after we hung up the goggles, and as a result, we managed to cross paths with some regularity through the years, despite living on opposite coasts. If you're lucky, you have friends like these - the ones where a year, five years, a decade can go by, and you can start chatting and pick up right where you left off.

This afternoon we picked right up again on a long phone call. The circumstances weren't great. I was calling about the News. The worst kind of elephant in any room. Yet, for the first half of the call, we didn't mention it. Not because either of us were dancing around that bastard C-word, but because we just had a lot to catch up about. There were the usual stupid-fast results from SEC's, for instance. There were the updates on our teams, our kids. (Note to Coach Dave Salo: Keep an eye on this Trenton Julian kid. I want future book odds on Trenton winning NCAAs in the 200 fly around the year 2021... As a Trojan, if they're lucky.)

Then we talked about a video Jeff had made for his swimmers and parents at Rose Bowl Aquatics last fall. If you missed it on Swim Swam, take a look. If you're a club coach, it should be required viewing. The theme of the talk is "Improve Your Swimming Process." Think Nick Saban, but for swimmers, So Cal-style. Unlike Alabama's football guru, Julian's idea of the "process" has a lot to do with the joy of the moment. But like Saban, it is about doing things the right way, in all ways. You don't look at the scoreboard or the clock or the swimmer in the next lane, you look within yourself and you figure out ways to do things better.

Jeff spoke about the dangers of 'the chase.' The way so many parents and swimmers believe that's the secret to improving - they need someone to chase, someone just a little bit better, that carrot dangling out there. Or maybe it's that green light across the bay. A doomed recipe for fulfillment anyway you cut it. Jeff saw right through it, and he's challenging all of his swimmers to transcend it. Instead of the chase, turn within and figure out the ways you can improve each skill, and do things right in the present tense every day.

He could never have known how personal and prescient that advice would be. Soon after sharing this wisdom with the swimming world, Jeff received his diagnosis. The day was January 4th. The night after his dinner with his wife of 17 years, Kristine Quance Julian, when the pain became too much. Things unraveled after that, and the news devolved from bad to worse. First it was in the lungs, but with the hope that it could be cut out of the lower lobe. Scary and life-rattling, but over quickly. No need to share with the world.

But then Jeff learned that it had spread to the bone and muscle. That meant Stage 4. Doesn't get much scarier. That's when Jeff decided to open up and post that message to Facebook. He was staring down the heaviest news a human being can receive, and he was letting the world know he was ready.

While we were chatting, I began jotting down notes. I told him I wanted to write about this and he gave this story his blessing. Here are some quotes that say all you need to know about the man:

"The only time I get emotional at all is when I think of all the love and support that's poured in." 

"So far things are really good. I feel so blessed." 

"Ironically, I'm in the best shape I've been in in twenty years. I've changed my diet, get plenty of rest, I'm swimming everyday, averaging about a mile each day." 

"Timing-wise, I got lucky." 

Wait, come again? Lucky? You heard that right. See, instead of chemo or radiation, Jeff is undergoing a trial process of immunotherapy. It's not on the market yet, and it's not available to everyone. After consulting with physicians at USC and UCLA Medical, he was chosen to participate in a trial of a drug that is reputed to 'attack the bad cells and stop them from growing.' As opposed to your classic chemo, that pretty much nukes everything, good and bad. The drug is called Nivolumab, and so far it appears to be working.

After a brutal first few weeks, as the pain intensified and the mind reeled, he began receiving biweekly treatments. After the second round he immediately felt a difference. He reports that "the last two weeks, I've been feeling awesome." He's been forgoing the pain meds and the night sweats have faded away. He got up to 2200 yards in the pool the other day.

There remains a long way to go, and Jeff knows it. But he also knows that success will come by sticking with the process. By doing the right things everyday, and going all the way in his commitment - to live and to fight another day.

Chasing the Ambulance

Outside magazine publishes a deep dive into swimming's sexual abuse scandal... Lawyers rejoice. Somewhere, the devil is smiling. Or to quote Al Pacino playing the personified Dark One in the Devil's Advocate: "Lawyers are the devil's ministry."

Oh yes, the lawyers are tossing back shots of whiskey and beaming with the news. Outside magazine just gave them the bully's pulpit. Then, Slate Magazine picked up the story, and quoted yours truly. Imagine my surprise. I haven't been posting much lately, but suddenly traffic to this site was spiking. Curious, says I, let's take a look at the old Word Press Dashboard, figure out where all these hits are coming from. Ah, but of course, the story that wouldn't die: "The Worst Kept Secret in Washington", published the day the Rick Curl scandal broke, back in the summer of 2012.

Since then, that story, about Curl's criminal relationship with a teenage swimmer named Kelley Currin back in the 80s, has been read twice as many times as any other piece ever published on Cap & Goggles. For good reason, I suppose. It addressed not only the horror of sex abuse between too many coaches and young swimmers, but the sport's dirtiest little secret: it's never been much of a secret. Since the time I was twelve years old, I've heard the rumors. Many of which weren't rumors at all. Somewhere along the line, beneath the unseemly surface, it became part of the culture.

It wasn't just swimming, of course. Inappropriate relations between coaches and young athletes are legion. They happen in every sport. Yet, swimming seemed to take it to another level of misconduct. Why? Well, you don't have to look too far. This is a sport where the athletes are mostly naked, wet, breathing heavy, and quite literally, staring up in positions of subservience at their coaches above them on deck. The sexualized nature of the sport is impossible to miss. Plenty of unscrupulous coaches have taken advantage of it in unconscionable, downright evil ways.

But let's hit pause on the pile-on for a second. Outside magazine has already piled on plenty, as well meaning and outraged as the story was. When I say 'plenty', I mean too many. Hell, one is too many. But let's make no mistake: 'plenty' remains the minuscule minority of a proud and noble profession. And while we're at it, let's make something else clear: no other national governing body has reacted with more vigilance and commitment to change than USA Swimming, ever since this story took on a life of its own four years ago.

You can say that's overdue, and perhaps you're right. You can say you don't trust swim coaches, as a profession, and you'd be guilty of gross generalization, but if you were ever touched by abuse, I wouldn't blame you.

Still, there is another side to this dark story that has yet to be called out of the shadows. The lawyers so passionately, and publicly, defending the victims. Robert Allard, here's looking at you. I have full respect for those who represent the law, and even more for those who stand alongside victims and demand justice for the sins committed upon them. What is unworthy of respect is the eager shamelessness in disparaging an entire profession and an entire governing body. Men and women overflowing with integrity, who devote their lives to helping young athletes achieve their dreams.

In a video link alongside that Outside story, here's what Robert Allard had to say about swim coaches: "Frankly there may be coaches out there who disagree, but I don't think it takes a whole heck of a lot to be a swim coach. You're out there on the pool deck and you're saying, 'swim some laps back and forth, I know something about swim technique, and here you go.' It's relatively easy for someone to come into the world and say 'I'm a swim coach and I'm going to be watching over swim activities.' Unlike a football coach who's calling plays and intimately involved and so forth and so on."

And so forth and so on, Allard makes clear that he lacks even the most basic knowledge or respect for a profession he appears to be intent on destroying. His fellow attorney, Jonathan Little, who is also active in these litigations, had this to say: "It's widely accepted in USA Swimming. You're a 15-year-old kid... you like the sport, maybe you want to coach someday, and your coach or a coach at a nearby club is having relationships with his teenage swimmers. So, when you turn 30 or 40 and you're coaching, it's not abnormal that you have relationships with your teenage swimmers."

Come again? To cross examine Mr. Little a little: So, what you're saying is that pedophilia is passed down based on observation? That it's learned behavior, and that an otherwise noble young man could be so poisoned by evil witnessed that he will go on to take advantage of young teenage athletes - because that's what he saw his coach do growing up? Sorry, but I'm not buying it. Instead, this sounds to me like an attempt to demonize an entire profession - and the organization that represents it - rather than go after the real bad guys, those evil fuckers who actually prey upon their underage athletes. Why cast such a large and ill-informed net? Well, because lawyers follow the money. The sick and twisted fuck, Andy King, who raped dozens of young swimmers over the course of decades - it's not enough to see him rot in prison, hopefully for eternity. There needs to be financial retribution, to make it worth the lawyers' time.

Of course, the pot always loves to call the kettle black. To hear Jonathan Little tell it: "They have unlimited streams of money. The athletes live in poverty. And nobody cares. That's the problem with the Olympics - nobody cares." Adds Allard: "We're talking a tremendous, tremendous amount of money, and people who are getting rich. Many, many, many people... So, I'm gonna sacrifice this little girl for the good of the sport. And all the while their pockets are being lined with money, and they're being flown to the Olympic Games for weeks at a time with their families, and they're eating at these lavish restaurants and they're staying at five-star hotels. They're living like kings basically."

Um, actually, no. Facts are rather important in the law profession, and there is almost nothing factual in those statements. Libelous and clueless maybe, but not factual. However, their sentiments do go a long ways in explaining why they've put a bull's eye on the back of not just the entire coaching profession, not just on USA Swimming, but on all national governing bodies in America. Because tapping into any unlimited stream of money sure sounds nice, doesn't it?

I've been contacted personally by representatives of some of these attorneys in the past. My stories seem to indicate that we share a common mission. And we do, in the most basic sense. A pedophile coach who preys on young athletes deserves to be exposed and shamed and treated with the harshest punishments available. There is no place for these folks in society, full stop. But funny things happen on the righteous road, don't they? It's unacceptable to look the other way, and that goes for the parents of athletes who hear these same rumors and choose to do nothing, because their kids are getting results in the water.

At very least, the lawyers involved in this mess must be applauded for helping to shine a light on a horrendous problem. The victims need help, and they deserve to see justice done.

But when the lawyers climb up on their pulpits, and national magazines start publishing their words as gospel, keep your antenna up for motive. And don't believe everything you read.

Trials of a Supergroup

Bob Bowman's NBAC crew might be the most talented group of swimmers ever assembled... But is there such a thing as too much talent in one pool? Recent results raise questions...  It's all about the long term, the next Games. Let's not forget that. Bob Bowman's thoughts and plans remain focused two years down the road. He's been thinking Rio since the flame went out in London. This summer is the halfway point, nothing to get worked up about, he'll be the first to say. No argument there. Yet, when we're talking about highly delicate egos and bodies as finely tuned and fragile as a Triple Crown contender, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the present tense.

This can't be an easy time to be running NBAC's supergroup. Because this summer has not exactly gone according to plan. Just ask Yannick Agnel and Allison Schmitt and Tom Luchsinger

Two years ago, Agnel was the most impressive swimmer in London. He won double gold, while his stature was perhaps most enhanced by the memory of Michael Phelps imploring his teammates to "get me a lead" before he anchored the 4 x 200 freestyle relay against the towering Frenchman. Phelps fears no swimmer, yet in London he knew he was no match for Agnel. Soon after those Games, with Phelps in retirement, Yannick rang up Bowman and crossed the pond for Baltimore. Even after Michael's comeback, he has reportedly embraced Bowman's program. Though he might be doubting that right about now.

Agnel is in the midst of an underwhelming campaign at the European Championships in Berlin. In the 400 freestyle he failed to final. The French coaches left him off the gold-medal-winning 4x100 free relay, and today he raced to bronze in the 200 free, a whopping three and a half seconds off of his lifetime best. This from the reigning Olympic champion in that event.

The defending Olympic champ in the 200 free on the women's side is Allison Schmitt. In London, she scorched to gold in an American record of 1:53.61. She hasn't approached those lofty times since. Last week in Irvine at the U.S. Nationals, she failed to final in any event, and settled for a B final victory in her signature event, almost five seconds slower than her personal best. Like Agnel, at the Olympics she anchored her country's 4 x 100 free relay, and like Agnel, two years later she's sitting on the sidelines.

As for Tom Luchsinger, he's clearly nowhere near as decorated as those two Olympic champs. However, he's worth noting here due to his world class form last summer. In 2013, Luchsinger was the U.S. National champion in the 200 fly and at the World Championships in Barcelona, he raced to a respectable 5th place. He appeared to be the next American 200 flyer, ready to inherit the mantle from Michael. And so, he did what so many are doing these days - he moved to Baltimore and joined Bowman's supergroup. Last week in Irvine, Luchsinger raced to a less than inspiring 7th place at Nationals, almost three seconds off his best.

Is it unfair that I'm singling out these three? The NBAC supergroup is made up of a lot more than this trio. In addition to Phelps, there's also Tunisian distance legend and USC Trojan, Ous Mellouli. There's Olympians Connor Dwyer and Matt McLean and, in the summers at least, there's the best 400 IMer in the world, Chase Kalisz. Joining Schmitt on the women's side, there's open water stud Becca Mann and, most recent to emerge among the world class, future Cal Bear, Cierra Runge.

In Irvine, it was Runge who burst on the scene with the best meet among any of her illustrious North Baltimore teammates. It was largely due to a stroke of inspired coaching by Bowman. Not long ago, Runge was a good but not great sprinter. She was fast, but not getting much faster. Bowman noticed something in her stroke or temperament that spoke to a distance pedigree. And so, like the horse trainers he so respects, Bowman opted for a change of distance and tried to stretch his young filly out. Runge embraced the challenge, moved over to the D-group, and at Nationals she charged onto her first National Team in the 400 and 800 freestyles, behind Queen Katie Ledecky.

It's not all doubt and underwhelming results from past champions at North Baltimore these days. There are highlights, there always will be. So, is it fair to dwell a bit on the lowlights? Well, if you decide to post a live Twitter feed of your Saturday morning workout, you're inviting the scrutiny. And when you train a group with six Olympic champions, with 27 Olympic gold between them, you're going to get the attention, like it or not.

18 of those gold, of course, belong to one man. The elephant in the pool, so to speak. And speaking of elephants, the man has the memory of one when it comes to sets and slights. That prodigious memory of challenges and doubters, real and perceived, has always fueled Phelps. His competitive fire would seem to enhance any aquatic arena. What better example could there be for Luchsinger or Dwyer or McLean or Kalisz, or Agnel for that matter? Well, define example. Are you thinking MP circa 2003, devouring every set, never missing day, laying the foundation that would make him the greatest of all time? Are you envisioning MP circa 2010, coasting on that foundation, still able to dominate without showing up much at all, a questionable example to the worshipping young teammates around him. Or are you thinking elder statesman MP, a man with rekindled joy for the sport, a fresh perspective, and a desire to mentor his ambitious teammates? The latter, one hopes. But when comebacks begin and those being mentored become competitors once more, things can get a little sticky.

Do you think Phelps is going to like when Bowman focuses his energies on Agnel, should he decide to reinsert the 200 free into his Rio program? Do you think he'll be as generous with Dwyer or Luchsinger when he decides these are new foes that need a little head-messing? Do you think that renewed hunger can last another two years? And most of all, do you think Bowman would ever grant more of his attention to anyone else?

The question of hunger is a valid one with this group. The problem with eating it all is that it's hard to stay hungry, and there are champions in Bowman's group who have gorged at the Olympic feast. How Phelps stays hungry for more is beyond anyone's guess. But how does Ous Mellouli stay hungry? After 1500 gold in Beijing and open water gold in London, he's an Olympic legend no matter what. Allison Schmitt has her one shining moment, and it's hard to envision anything surpassing that in Rio.

It's also hard to imagine Yannick Agnel surpassing his London exploits two years from now. Which begs the question - is Yannick doing the swimming version of the Euro soccer icon, a la David Beckham? You know the drill - shoot to fame and fortune at your peak in Europe, then come over stateside to explore your options, after your place in history is secure. Agnel would surely deny this, and Bowman would never have welcomed him if he believed that, but his results in Berlin this week make one wonder.

While Phelps, Mellouli, Schmitt and Agnel have little else to prove, their Olympic resumés already sparkling, there should be no lack of hunger among the North Baltimore crew. Chase Kalisz has hinted, with his NCAA performances, that he could soon be threatening the insane standards of Phelps and Lochte in the long course version of his event. After his breakout season in 2013 and his disappointment this summer, Tom Luchsinger would seem to have something to prove in the years ahead.

Then there's Connor Dwyer, already an Olympic champion as a member of the men's 4 x 200 relay in London. Many consider him the next great all-around talent in American swimming. Many, including his former coach Gregg Troy at Florida, think Dwyer has the talent to take down the likes of Agnel in the 200 free and to contend with Lochte and Phelps in the 200 IM. His times at Nationals (1:47.1 in the free and 1:57.4 in the IM) don't put him in the ballgame just yet, but he may be sitting on big swims at Pan Pacs in Brisbane in the week ahead.

Then again, this summer doesn't matter. It's tune-up time. A midway check-in on the way to Brazil. No one will remember if it all works out two years from now. Except Phelps and Bowman, men who remember everything.



The Bottom Line

Mike Bottom and the psychology of special... He gets you to believe. In yourself, in your talent, in your training, and importantly, in him. That's no small task, and it doesn't have much to do with what goes on in the water everyday.

18 to 22 year old boys can be a delicate lot. They won't admit to this, but it's true. Their egos are fragile and their freakishly fit bodies are hyper sensitive to the slightest turbulence in their training. Often times what they need is not a coach but a psychologist. Enter Mike Bottom, the ultimate mind coach.

Two days ago, Bottom guided Michigan back to the top, as the men raced to their first title in 18 years. Bottom's incredible accomplishments with a who's who of champion sprinters long ago established him as one of the world's great coaches, but this title does something else. It validates his Hall of Fame bona fides and transcends that old Sprint Coach label that he wore for so long. This Michigan team won it the Michigan way and the Bottom way. Which is to say they won it by dominating the distance events and swimming blazingly fast on the sprint relays. That's a dangerous combo.

They also won it with virtually no stars. With all due respect to Connor Jaeger, who posted a pair of terrific winning times in the 500 and 1650, this Michigan team was a group that won with depth and consistency, not with a few eye-popping record-shattering swims. They did post one NCAA record - a stunning 1:22.27 in the 200 medley relay that no one saw coming. But aside from Jaeger's wins and that one relay, you didn't see Michigan standing on top of the podium in any other events.

Consider the races that will be remembered at this meet. There were quite a few. USC's Vlad Morozov's staggering sprints. 17.8 on that relay, 40.7 flat start in his 100. Cal's Tom Shields, who ended his collegiate career in high style, tying Phelps's small pool record in the 200 fly with that 1:39.6. And of course, Arizona's monster sophomore, Kevin Cordes, who can now officially be proclaimed America's Next Great Breaststroker. A few days ago, I posted a claim that his 49.5 100 breast split on Arizona's medley relay may have been the best college swim ever. Turns out we spoke too soon. His 1:48.6 in the 200 breast is the best college swim ever. Tell me another that compares.

All of the above guys are Pac-12 swimmers. That's where the best swimmers are. It's hard to argue with the evidence. However, Michigan had the best team. By a lot. For all the drama at the meet this year, the team race was never really close. As the pre-meet projections established, Michigan was on another level, points-wise. They won by a comfortable 73.5 points ahead of Cal. (Talk about poetic justice. Beating your old team, after losing the top job there and watching them instantly ascend to the top in your absence...) The fact is, Michigan left plenty of points on the table. That first morning, they really should have had three or four guys in the final of the 500. Instead, they put four in the B-final, with each one missing the top 8 by less than half a second. There are plenty of other examples where they could have racked up plenty more points, but no matter. They did what they had to do.

They did it because Bottom made them believers. The man grasps the science of fast swimming as much as anyone, but it's always been about more than that with Bottom's swimmers. He simply convinces his swimmers that they're the special ones. Simply - talk about the wrong adverb... There is nothing simple about it. This is high stakes coaching. Because all you need is one swimmer to call bullshit, and start spreading seeds of doubt among his teammates, and all those inspiring whispers cease to matter. It's easier for coaches to place all their faith in a system. That gives everyone deniability. You present a program that's worked before - with the right amount of yardage and speed work, the right arc to a season, the right carefully plotted taper, and you let the end take care of itself. That makes sense, and it does work, but Bottom has always played for higher stakes.

He's the coach who creates unshakeable confidence in his swimmers, convincing them of their specialness, of their destiny. It doesn't always turn out that way. But when that promised specialness all works out in the end, that's when legends are made. Both in the water and on deck.

The Church and the State

How do you judge a nation's swimming success? By Olympic medals or by broader measures like membership and revenue? With Swimming Canada at a crossroads, a case study for every nation...  When the CEO came to power spirits were low. So were revenues. At meets across the country, there was a heavy mood of doom and gloom. Leadership was being questioned and medal counts were anemic. There was the palpable sense of losing ground, of being passed by competing countries that seemed to be getting more out of their talent and resources.

In 2005, Pierre Lafontaine arrived to a hell of a task. Swimming Canada needed not only a turnaround artist, it needed an attitude adjustment. They got it in Lafontaine. With an infectious energy of relentless positivity, he began to lift Canada's sagging swim spirits. He also started generating a lot more dollars, and brought a lot more Canadians into the sport. He did what a CEO is supposed to do: He improved the business.

After eight years at the helm of Canadian swimming, Pierre Lafontaine resigned this week. He's moving on to become the CEO of Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), starting next month. He leaves Swimming Canada in far better shape than he found it. Yet, he also leaves it at a crossroads - one shared by other swimming nations across the world, as they look to regroup and chart new courses in the next Olympiad ahead.

During Lafontaine's tenure as the top aquatic man in Canada, he held two powerful, though inherently divergent, positions at once. He was the CEO - where success is largely tallied by dollars - and he was also the National Team Director - where success is mostly about medals. He was the head of the church and the state. It's a lovely state of affairs when these two entities sail along together in happy unison, but as you might imagine, that's not always the case. The needs of the organization, the state, are not always in line with the church of competition, and its sometimes holier-than-thou pursuit of the podium.

To Lafontaine's credit, he was able to juggle these two roles with impressive dexterity throughout his eight years. On the state side, as CEO, he crushed it. In the year before he took over, in 2004, revenues at Swimming Canada were $3.5 million. In 2012, they were $8.4 million. That's a 234% increase in those eight years. If this were a publicly traded company, the shareholders would approve. Though, we're talking about a national governing body of sport, where membership might be a more important number than dollars. On that end, Swimming Canada also made big strides. In 2004, membership was around 35,000. In 2012, it was over 45,000.

Some context: There are roughly 300,000 members of USA Swimming, in a country of 300 million -- or 1% of the total population. According to the latest census, Canada is a country of 33 million - meaning that a higher percentage of Canadians are members of Swimming Canada than Americans are members of USA Swimming. (In a land that's less than hospitable to year-round outdoor pools...)

Now, across the aisle on the church side of things, let's take a look at those all-important medal counts. As National Team Director, Lafontaine inherited a 2004 Olympic squad that won a grand total of zero medals in Athens. There was nowhere to go but up. In 2008, Ryan Cochrane grabbed Canada's sole spot on the podium with a bronze in the 1500 free. In 2012, Team Canada climbed the podium three times - with Brent Hayden's bronze in the 100 free; Cochrane's silver in the 1500; and Richard Weinberger's bronze in the 10k open water. We can admit that all involved hoped and planned for more, but the progression is there. And so is the talent. Indeed, Canada's Junior Team has been ranked the 2nd best in the world, based on its performance at the Junior Worlds in 2011.

Still, just three swimmers standing on an Olympic podium in eight years, just two in the pool, and no women - this isn't the stuff of High Performance dreams. Canada knows it can do better, and it will. Thus, it seems fair to say that while Lafontaine earned glowing marks across the board as CEO, the job of National Team Director still has room for improvement. Which is why these two roles are now being split between two men. The new High Performance Director at Swimming Canada is a Brit named John Atkinson, who comes across the pond after leading Great Britain's Paralympic program. The position of CEO is yet unfilled, with Swimming Canada's longtime Director of Operations, Ken Radford, taking the reins until the new chief is hired.

Whoever it is would be wise to gaze across the border and take a look at both the model of success and the cautionary tales that have come out of USA Swimming in recent years. It goes without saying that, both on the podium and on the bottom line, USA Swimming remains the gold standard in world swimming. It continues to win the most medals, by a mile, and continues to have the richest coffers. Its church and state have been clearly divided forever. Its CEO (officially titled "Executive Director") Chuck Wielgus focuses on the big picture stuff like membership and revenues. While its National Team Director (Frank Busch) can pour his energies into those heavy medal counts without overly concerning himself with budgets. That's not to say these two roles don't intersect constantly; of course they do. But it's a matter of energies and priorities. They are two distinctly different job descriptions.

When it works, it works. The proof is everywhere you look. But when it doesn't... Well, just take a look at the festering mess left by the former 'wet side' head of Team USA, a guy named Mark Schubert. As Swimming World reported a few days ago, it appears Schubert left a scorched earth trail of irresponsibility in his wake, on his way out of USA Swimming. Before he was fired in 2010, it appears Schubert over promised the moon to rising stars like Dagny Knutson and Kate Ziegler. Then, surprise surprise, he left his former employers holding the bag to make good on his empty promises after he was sacked. It clearly didn't hurt the medal count in London for Team USA, but it left lasting harm on a few world class ladies whose careers were derailed as a result.

In a nation with such bottomless Olympic riches, this might be a blip on an otherwise successful march to another Games domination, but for virtually every other nation, this is the sort of thing that can shatter all the good work that's been planned by the State. Indeed, for this arrangement to work, the most important element is an implicit trust and appreciation for the other side.

For the rest of the world, in countries not called the US or, perhaps now, China, the margin for error is razor thin. To succeed, on both the church and state sides of the equation, you need leaders of talent and integrity in place. In Canada, Pierre Lafontaine had both. But a crossroads awaits...

The Gender Gap in Coaching

Why are there so few female head coaches? She was the head coach of the U.S. women's Olympic team. A group that delivered the finest performance of any women's swim team in U.S. Olympic history. She's the coach of the defending NCAA champion Cal Bears. She just signed Missy Franklin, the greatest recruit in the history of college swimming. It's been a good year for Teri McKeever. She is, very arguably, the best coach of female swimmers on the planet.

She is also in lonely company. McKeever remains one of the few women leading an NCAA women's swim team.

Of the 49 teams that scored points at last year's women's NCAA Championships, only eight were led by a female head coach. Two of those eight - Lea Loveless of Stanford and Christina Teuscher of Yale - are no longer the coaches of their programs this year. Both were replaced by men. This means that about 90% of the teams you can expect to see at this year's NCAAs will be led by men.

In the water, swimming is a healthier sport for women than it is for the guys. At the college level, their teams aren't in imminent danger of being cut, and there are 30% more scholarships to go around for the women at Division I programs. (14 for the ladies, 9.9 for the men...) At the club level, these things are a bit harder to gauge, but the girls appear to have a pretty clear majority, in terms of participation.

So, why is the inverse true on deck? Why do so few female swimmers go on to become head coaches of swim teams?

You could blame it on misogynist jock culture among athletic directors and others who do the hiring for these positions. Maybe there's an element of that. There probably always will be. But playing that card is like playing the race card - it simplifies a complex issue by demonizing one big group.

A better question is why less female swimmers seem to seek coaching careers after they hang up the goggles? It's not just that they're not being hired for most of the top jobs in swimming, there also appears to be a comparative lack of female candidates who want these jobs.

Here in New York City, just 20% of the teams (16 of 80) in the Metropolitan area are led by female head coaches. Our own team, the Manhattan Makos, has struggled for years to find as many former female swimmers interested in coaching as there are guys eager to offer a hand on deck. Most notably in the Metro area, Asphalt Green is led by coach Rachel Stratton-Mills. AGUA has long been one of the top clubs in the northeast, and this summer Stratton-Mills coached Lia Neal onto the U.S. Olympic team. In a recent interview with Mike Gustafson on the USA Swimming website, Stratton-Mills addressed the state of female coaches in America.

She says there are more every year and speaks of a need for other female coaches to seek each other out and create a system of support. However, Stratton-Mills remains in the minority among head coaches everywhere. A minority that only seems to narrow as you go higher in the sport. One of our Makos coaches called it a "pyramid structure", pointing out that there are scores of female age group coaches in club swimming, but as swimmers get older, the coaching ranks become increasingly male.

Until you reach NCAAs, when you can rattle the women off on one hand. First, of course, is McKeever. Her example at Cal alone would seem all the evidence necessary to improve this ridiculous ratio. Then there's the University of Texas. It must be noted that the Lady Longhorns have led the way for years in this regard. Over the last decade, three women have held the top job at Texas - Jill Sterkel, Kim Brackin, and now Carol Capitani.

Schools with a tradition of academic excellence also might be slightly ahead of the curve here. Last year, take a look at these five rather elite universities who had women leading their women's swim teams: Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Cal. Unfortunately, Yale and Stanford are no longer on that list, with Teuscher and Loveless having moved on, but with the three Ivys and the two Bay Area superstar schools, the connection must be made.

As I was researching this piece, I came across a story in the latest issue of Bloomberg Business Week entitled "The Boardroom's Still the Boys Room." The story disclosed that the ranks of female board members and directors at companies on the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index remained slim. These boardrooms are still about 80% male and that's not changing much. Ironically, it's about the same number and same stubborn resistance to change among the ranks of head swimming coaches.

In that piece, I came across perhaps the best definition of diversity there is. It came from Cari Dominquez, a former chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under George W. Bush. She says: "Diversity is not rocket science. If you look around and everyone looks like you, and it doesn't reflect broader society, you have a problem."

Thanks to programs like Make a Splash along with the outsized Olympic performances of American swimmers with diverse racial backgrounds, swimming has been making big strides in this department. However, if you really want to witness a lack of diversity in this sport, don't look at the pool, look at the pool deck. On deck among coaches, it's not just one ethnicity that dominates the population, it's one gender.

As Dominquez points out, this is a problem. Not only does it not reflect broader society, it doesn't even reflect the closed society of the swimmers being coached.

Life is a Carnival

Go Blue... Check out Michigan's Water Carnival... Swim meets are boring. Sorry, but you know it's true. There are moments of incredible, intense excitement. There are races you came to see, swimmers worth the price of admission, even if they're only in action for 47 seconds of a many hour affair. But the overall event? The prelims and the processions and the podiums? The waiting. The waiting and the waiting for the few heats you actually care about... It can be brutal.

This is coming from a dyed in chlorine swim addict.

Of course there are exceptions. The U.S. Olympic Swim Trials were as exciting as any sporting event I've been to, this side of the World Series. Every March, the NCAA Championships are packed with six sessions of edge of your seat drama. Plenty more to be sure, you don't need the world's best to be there for the meet to be great, but c'mon, as a rule swim meets aren't exactly Must See TV.

There must be better ways of staging these things. You've heard that before, right? Well, it's nice to hear someone is doing something about it. Cheers to Mike Bottom and his crew at Michigan. This Saturday, October 6th, they're hosting the first annual (sure to be a tradition) Water Carnival.

The centerpiece will be a tri-meet between Michigan, Minnesota, and Oakland, but that's just the beginning - or the end. Before that, it's a five-hour celebration of aquatics, the sort of stuff you do on those few and far between fun days at practice.

- A 200-meter showdown with fins

- 16 x 25 relays

- 3 on 3 water polo

- Underwater dolphin kick races

- And of course, a diving show

The Michigan marching band will be there, cranking out their iconic 'Victors' fight song and a "Friars singing group" will also be on hand. Not exactly rock n' roll, but at least it's live... And of course, there will be loads of "audience participation" - ie sorority swim groupies wooing it up.

Sounds like a fine way to spend an afternoon. Or in any case, a lot more fun than a spectator-free dual meet against Stanford in the rain.

There is precedent for this sort of swim-flavored carnival. Back in the late 30's and 40's, an impresario named Billy Rose staged swimming shows called the Aquacade. Rose was a song and dance man who loved his swimmers. He married 1932 Olympic backstroke champ Eleanor Holm, aka the Champagne Girl. Holm was a free spirit who got herself kicked off the U.S. team on the way to the Berlin Games in 1936 after she got caught boozing it up with journalists as their Olympics bound boat crossed the Atlantic. At Rose's Aquacades, Holm was joined by fellow Olympic swim champs Johnny Weismuller and Buster Crabbe, along with the incomparable Esther Williams. It wasn't about racing, it was about celebrating the sport.

It's a bit grainy and dated, but check out this clip of the Aquacade at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. If we're all on board with raising the profile of swimming and expanding the sport beyond its walls and lanes, these are things worth revisiting.

Michigan's Water Carnival is a big stroke in the right direction.

The Altered States of Swimming

As we enter the post-Phelps era, the sport finds itself reeling between robust health and on-going sickness... A new Olympiad has begun. Michael Phelps is gone. Ryan Lochte is becoming Derek Zoolander. Missy Franklin continues to resist millions so she can swim in college. That's the narrative of the big three, anyway. The three short hand stories of the sport that have spread into the mainstream. That's what your friends in the dry land world know about swimming. They might have also heard about some dark sex scandals, involving coaches and teenage swimmers, but we'll get to that in a bit...

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of this blog. It was started last September with a piece entitled The Phelps Effect. It detailed the ways that Michael Phelps's dominance may have killed off the depth and ambition in American swimming. There was evidence of that back at the World Championships in 2011. At the Games in London, the symptoms of this 'Phelps Effect' appear to have been killed off. Just ask Tyler Clary, Matt Grevers, and Nathan Adrian - three American guys not named Phelps or Lochte who raced to individual Olympic gold this summer.

Seventy-five stories later, this site has managed to piss off, provoke, and hopefully entertain and enlighten many in the swimming community. Just what I'd hoped for... And so it seems like a fine time to take a step back and examine the sport in its many altered states.

The contrasts are dizzying, like a too-heavy trip that throws your mind from transcendence to terror and back again. At the peak, an Olympics with grace and greatness on display at every turn. At the depths, scandal that threatens the foundation of the sport itself and delivers crushing blows to the reputation of coaches everywhere. So much to love, so much to hate.

First, the health... By damn near every standard, the sport of swimming has never been in better shape. Sure, Micheal the Meal Ticket has left the table, but he has left a feast of riches. The competition in London was as good as any Olympic swimming in history. Across the board. Thrilling upsets, epic relays, all-time moments every night. And despite the unfortunate tape delay by NBC, more viewers tuned in to watch swimmers than ever before.

At the age group level, there has never been more kids taking part in this sport. In the U.S., there are currently 362,700 registered competitive swimmers and almost 3,000 member clubs. That's a 17% increase from four years ago, and remember, four years ago was its own high water mark after Phelps's Beijing bonanza. Across the world, it's safe to say that the ranks of young swimmers in France and South Africa and Brazil are also swelling as we speak, thanks to overachieving performances in London and a Rio Games on the horizon. This is a sport on the rise, and not just within American borders.

The sport also appears to have finally turned a corner when it comes to diversity. Sure, it remains embarrassingly too-white at every meet. But that's changing - at the top, with the likes of Tony Ervin and Cullen Jones and Lia Neal - but also at the ground level, as grassroots programs like Make a Splash are reaching scores of young athletes who might never have been exposed to the pool.

Phelps did indeed change the sport, but he wasn't alone. The tide has been rising for a long time, well before he took the blocks as a teenager in Sydney, and it will continue to rise in the Olympiad ahead.

Now, the sickness... Swimming has an image problem. (And no, I don't mean Seth MacFarlane's mean-spirited mockery of Lochte on SNL last week.) Today, Rick Curl was banned for life from USA Swimming. Two decades too late, some might say. His namesake team, Curl-Burke, was renamed Nation's Capital Swim Club. Or NCAP for short. (One friend from the area quipped: "Does that stand for 'No Coitus After Practice'?")

On Monday, Mark Schubert was hauled into the ugliness, facing a lawsuit from a former assistant for unlawful firing. Basically, she accuses Schubert of Paterno'ing - that is, not doing anything after he was made aware of sexual abuse allegations against a close coaching colleague, Bill Jewell. Not doing anything except fire the whistle blower, that is. As wrote: "another embarrassing turn for a sport that has taken steps over the last two years to combat widespread claims of sexual misconduct."

Then the Schubert story gets crime novel crazy. The suit alleges that Schubert and Jewell were the less-than-masterminds behind Sean Hutchison's downfall at FAST. Word is that Schubert hired a private investigator to take pictures of Hutchison engaged in sexual activities with one of his swimmers. (An adult swimmer, it's worth noting...) Schubert then apparently took the pics from the P.I. and used them to blackmail USA Swimming to the tune of $625,000 to keep the compromising photos under wraps. If you believe all this, you're about as bright as the guy being sued. But the facts, whatever they are, are just part of the problem. Regardless of how this lawsuit ends, this is yet another blow to the image of our sport.

Think about it: Rick Curl and Mark Schubert. A pair of Hall of Famers. Their characters aside, these are two of the most successful and celebrated swim coaches in history. When parents looked for the very best programs for their children, when former swimmers chose to stay in the sport and become coaches, these two used to be the examples. The ones you turned to as pillars of the profession. Now they seem to exemplify an on-going sickness that still isn't cured.

Here's something else that remains deeply ill: the state of men's college swimming. How many Olympic medalists in London were the product of NCAA programs? 30, by my count, but feel free to fact check. Florida, Michigan, Cal, Northwestern, USC, and Georgia each produced individual Olympic champions in London. How many other international athletes were at the Games after developing their talents at U.S. universities?

Of course, that's all good and well, but Olympic medals don't pay for college athletic budgets and men's swimming remains at grave risk at dozens of schools. Gratefully, the women's programs appear to be well protected under Title IX provisions, but the growing ranks of young male swimmers are going to want some place to continue racing after they turn 18. Let's hope enough college teams can stick around to serve them.

It's easy to get wrapped up and warped in these extremes. Olympic triumphs, coaching sex scandals, college programs being cut... These are the Heavens and the Hells of a sport that continues to carry on day after day, lap after lap, in countless pools all over the world. Most of you will never experience any of this. The highs might inspire you and the lows might enrage you, but do they really change your own daily swimmer's reality? A reality that is drenched in chlorine and early mornings and worthy dreams.

When you're under water and on an interval, all this stuff ceases to matter. All that exists is that pure altered state of swimming.

Code of Misconduct

Roundtable idea for this year's ASCA conference: Turning a Blind Eye...  Welcome to Vegas, coaches. Another American Swimming Coaches Association conference due to start in Sin City tomorrow. Plenty of backslapping in store this year. After all, you lead the world's greatest swimmers. Something that was proven yet again in spectacular fashion at this summer's London Games. Team USA is the state of the art when it comes to swimming. This has always been so, and even with Phelps departing that dominance shows no sign of slowing.

So, belly on up to the blackjack table, knock back some whiskeys, hit on your cocktail waitress, and otherwise do what one comes to Vegas to do. You know the saying: What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas... Translation: Not to worry, in Las Vegas, your misbehavior will remain a secret. How appropriate. Given the current climate, whoever picked this year's host city sure has a sick sense of humor.

I'd really rather be writing about the success stories. There have been so many. From Todd Schmitz to Jon Urbanchek, from Gregg Troy to Teri McKeever. Young and old, coaching men and women, the coaches in America are second to none. They include folks that I respect as much as anyone on earth. The ones who bring honor and dignity to a proud profession...

Unfortunately, that proud profession continues to be tarnished by the misdeeds of a select sick few. But more than that, it has been tarnished by a culture that has too often turned a blind eye in the past. The sexual abuse of teenage swimmers at the hands of their swim coaches remains a serious issue. Every single member of ASCA knows this. You've known it a lot longer than the investigative journalists and the ambulance chasing lawyers who've come sniffing around and defaming your trade.

Not to worry, I'm not going to point fingers and rip characters, not going to reprint defensive emails, and wallow down in the muck of misinformed allegations. There's enough of that already out there. You've probably read all about it.

I'm just going to list three ASCA-related facts:

1. This is the ASCA "Code of Ethics", Section C., the Coach to Athlete section. I've simply copy and pasted it off of the ASCA website:

Section C. COACH TO ATHLETE Article #1. A coach member of the American Swimming Coaches Association will always make decisions based on the best interest of the athlete.

Article #2. A coach member of the American Swimming Coaches Association shall not engage in sexual relations with any minor.

Article #3. Sexual misconduct consists of any behavior that utilizes the influence of the coaching position to encourage inappropriate intimacy between coach and athlete.

Article #4. Coaches of Collegiate age athletes shall not engage in sexual relations with athletes that they coach, even of legal age.

2. In 2003, Rick Curl was elected President of ASCA.

3. At the time of his election, a large number of member coaches were well aware of his alleged relationship with Kelley Davies. (By "relationship", I mean his criminal interactions with his young teenage swimmer, in which he engaged in statutory rape for a number of years.) This scandal was plenty well known in swimming circles, as was the hush money Curl paid to the Davies family. It was so well known that many coaches feared they would be sued by Curl if they mentioned it; something he apparently indicated he was prepared to do.

Like I said, just three facts.

Please discuss.

He Was God to Me

Kelley Currin speaks to NPR about Rick Curl's sexual abuse - and the many coaches and swimmers who knew and said nothing... After all this time, why is she speaking out now? How did it start? How could so many have known and not one have come forward?

Kelley Currin spoke to NPR this week and in a searingly honest interview, she answered those and many other troubling questions. One thing she could not answer for: the conscience of all those coaches and swimmers who knew about about it and never did a thing. Some of these folks kept right on working for the man, kept collecting their paychecks and moving up in the world of swimming, because that statutory rapist also happened to be a brilliant swim coach.

So, why now? Let's just say it's been building for years. Finally it seems that to keep her sanity, her silence had to be broken. Currin cites the Penn State scandal, the Catholic church, and that infamous 20/20 investigation that shined a dark spotlight on swimming's own problem with this pervasive societal sickness. There's only so much you can hear and keep quiet, only so many instances of unconscionable cover-ups that a person can confront before she stands up and says: Guess what, that happened to me too, and plenty of you know all about it.

Turns out that right after that 20/20 piece aired, Currin was flooded with apologies from past teammates. A procession of hat-in-hand peers from the past, seeking her out across social media to send their long overdue apologies... But Currin notes: "I have never received a message like that from a coach or anything, but they knew."

That was two years ago. The Penn State scandal would send her simmering some more. But the real reason it seems Currin chose this time to come forward? Her daughter is now 12 and a half. Almost the same age as Currin when Rick Curl first made his move. When Kelley was in middle school. "Those middle school kids, you know what" she says. "Some of them may look like an adult but they have the brain of a 5-year-old. I mean, they're babies."

That's her goal in this. To protect kids like her from men like Curl. More than that, to protect the cover-ups that seem to come with the territory.

The silence that surrounded it, it's almost impossible to digest all these years later. Currin understands the root of it very well. "He was God to me," she says. "I would have done anything that he told me to do."

She describes the coach-swimmer relationship as "sacred", which it is. Which is also why it can be so easy for certain coaches to manipulate their swimmers. That trust is so implicit, so unshakeable at that age, it would have been impossible for Currin to do anything but listen to her coach.

She was not alone in that. She may have been the only one being abused by her coach, but every swimmer longs for the attention and the praise of the one on deck. It's what keeps you going, often the only thing. So the instinct, awful as it sounds, is to protect the Father figure looming over you. The one who controls your future to a warped degree.

Look, you're not going to change the culture of youth sports. Coaches will always exert a scary degree of influence over these kids' lives. Most of the time, the great majority of the time, in fact, that influence will be a wholly positive one. The coach will be a worthy sacred figure who leaves a lifetime of positive influence on those they lead. Yet there will always be the dark ones. The very structure of this world will draw them to it.

The only way to break a sport free from that evil is by talking about it. Speaking up when suspicions arise, when you hear things. Speaking to kids and letting them know they have somewhere to turn.

And listening when someone like Kelley Currin has the courage to step forward and speak.

"The Worst Kept Secret in Washington"

Long ago underage sex allegations against Curl-Burke founder Rick Curl...  On the eve of the Olympics, a buzz kill bombshell out of the Washington, D.C. swimming community... In an exclusive front page story by none other than the Washington Post, allegations that A-list coaching legend Rick Curl had a long term relationship with a teenage swimmer. Let's cut right to the heart of this: When it started, she was 13, he was 33. It apparently lasted for four years. That is, through her middle school and high school years.

This was long ago, in the 80's. 23 years of silence for the girl, now the woman. Her name is Kelley Currin. As a swimmer, before she was married, older swimmers and coaches will remember her as Kelley Davies. She was a bad ass. She was the Pan Pacific Games champion in the 200 fly back in 1987. During those years training to become a champion, it seems her coach was having a criminal sexual relationship with the young teenager.

To recap the facts as presented by the Post: Davies considered it a "love affair." There was sex at swim meets, in hotel stairways, sex at her high school. The man was twenty years older and she was a minor, but she truly believed in their "relationship." Her parents learned of this relationship after reading her diary. When that happened, Curl ended all contact. Then, Davies went off to college - on a full scholarship to the University of Texas. The psychological damage clearly had an immediate impact: Davies was a Pan Pac champion her first year at Texas. A year later she finished 7th at the 1988 Olympic Trials in the 200 fly. Then she was checked into a treatment facility for an eating disorder.

When she emerged, her family negotiated a settlement with Rick Curl: $150,000 over 11 years, with a non-disclosure agreement signed by all involved. Now those long past crimes have been disclosed.

Rick Curl is, by far, the most prominent coach ever to be implicated in this on-going underage sex scandal among swim coaches. To say Curl-Burke is a respected club team is a ridiculous understatement. It is one of the most respected and successful American club teams of all time. In the two decades since Curl's alleged relationship with Davies, the club grew into a juggernaut in the D.C. / Northern Virginia area. There are currently almost 1,000 swimmers with Curl-Burke, swimming at 10 pools throughout the Potomac Valley region.

This is all plenty scandalous and distasteful, but that's not the worst of it. Here's the part to make you gag: EVERYONE ALREADY KNEW. The worst part about this breaking news is that it's not news at all - not to the swimmers and coaches and parents who grew up swimming in this area. This has been an open secret for ages. That headline above? That's a line from an email sent from one former swimmer to another, who both swam in Northern Virginia in the late 80's.

This might be the darkest and most telling detail surrounding the institutional scandal of coaches having sex with their swimmers. It happens. A lot. At least it used to. Let's hope those days are gone, but let's not forget how prevalent it's been. Before continuing, an essential distinction: A coach hooking up with a swimmer 18-years-old or older might be highly inappropriate, might be very bad for the career, but this is not a crime. It is, by definition, a relationship between two consenting adults, with a big age gap. On the other hand, a 33-year-old coach hooking up with a 13-year-old? That's a crime. It's statutory rape.

The statute of limitations may have expired on this particular case, the settlement may have taken care of everything legally way back when, but the prosecution on a reputation never expires. Nor does the complicity of an entire community who heard things, who accepted that darkness and kept it collectively private, who continued to swim for Rick Curl's team because it was the best damn program out there.

I am in no way comparing Rick Curl's alleged crimes with the horrors committed by Jerry Sandusky. There is no comparison there. However, the cultural silence must be compared. This is a widespread failure of integrity. Just as at Penn State, good well-meaning men and women heard things, they processed those things, and then they made the conscious decision that the sport, the athletic careers of those immersed, was more important than something that should have halted everything else in its tracks.

When I read about this horrible story earlier this afternoon, here was my first reaction: That's awful, but I can't write about it right before the Olympics. What a buzz kill that would be. Maybe I'll address it after all the fun of the Games.

Maybe then it will be the right time to say something.

So, You're an Olympian, Now What?

Three weeks of pride and madness before the Games...  The chosen ones have moved on. After touching the wall and confirming a dream come true, it's been a double rainbow of bliss ever since. They're in the midst of coming down from that high right about now. Time to sober up and get straight. The Olympics are just three weeks away.

What happens after you make the Team? It goes something like this:

Realize that you've made it, outpouring of unrestrained joy. Climb from water, find a microphone and a television camera shoved in your face before you've caught your breath. Try to say something halfway eloquent. Walk ten steps and find more microphones and more cameras waiting. Keep trying to say the right things. Then a strangely serious man or woman will approach with the air of a CIA spook. No worries, that's just the drug tester. Sign his clipboard, confirm that you'll report to testing when told. Buzz kicks in again, stronger this time. It's sinking in. You find your coach, your teammates waiting in the warm down pool. Hugs, tears, high fives, assorted 'fuck yeahs!'

Then there will be a medal ceremony, more interviews, autographs from throngs of young swim fans... There will be your official Outfitting. This takes longer than you might think. Olympians are given an Olympic amount of SWAG. Talk about a misnomer - this term stands for 'Stuff We All Get'. For these purposes, maybe we should change it to SOG. ('Stuff Olympians Get') In any case, there's a lot of it. It takes about three hours to get measured and outfitted for all the things you'll soon be getting as an Official Member of the Team. (Still makes you giddy to hear, doesn't it? Yes, the buzz is still pumping...)

After the meet ends, there will be a brief respite, a chance to go home for a few days, enjoy the comforts of your own bed before boarding the crazy train bound for London. It won't be relaxing, don't kid yourself. It's going to be another whirlwind of hugs and back slaps. Then you'll kiss your family and friends goodbye, and head to... Knoxville, TN. At least that's where Team USA is headed right about now. First stop on the Traveling Camp of No Distractions.

All up to date? Good, because now comes the hard part. Time to set Trials aside.

Three weeks, that's not enough time to do much. Physically, what's done is done. It's not like you're going to get in better shape over the next few weeks. Too late for those skin-deep, muscle-bound concerns. You either did the work, or you didn't. Chances are, if you've gotten this far, you've done all the work and then some. But below the surface, or to be more specific, below the skull? There is still plenty of time in there. In fact, three weeks is an eternity.

"I can't do a damn thing about their bodies," said the Olympic coach. "There's not enough time. But I might be able to help their brains a bit."

That's the coach's job at this point. This is the time when great coaches go Zen and guide those fragile yet enormous egos onto Olympic podiums. This is also the time when less-than-great coaches lucky enough to coach monster talent tend to screw up their swimmers something fierce. This happens every time, at every Games. I don't need to name names. Think back...

Before the U.S. Trials, one top coach emailed me and made a very wise observation. He pointed out that you will never see more over-coaching at any meet than at the Olympic Trials. It's when coaches are as nervous as their athletes and they just try to do too much. They won't stop talking, won't stop tinkering with strokes, won't stop trying to get everything exactly precisely perfect. Too much of that and your athletes feel it. They feel restricted, start second-guessing themselves. We know where that leads.

I'd go one step further with this coach's assessment: You'll never see more over-coaching than in the period between the Trials and the Olympics. Most countries have had months to adjust to that heady making-the-Team high. In the U.S., for myriad reasons (some good, some questionable), the Trials are pressed right up against the windshield of the Games. This leaves zero room for error.

These are high stakes and heavy highs we're talking about. The sort of things that crack fragile minds in a million pieces... Sure, there's pressure at the Super Bowl, the Finals, the World Series, whatever big time annual sporting circus you want to name. But these events come around every year. There's always next year. Not four years later. In every other case, you have a whole game, a crew of teammates, days or hours over a course or a court... Enough room to make mistakes and overcome. That's not the case with Olympic swimming, where four years of life can come down to twenty-one seconds on stage.

This makes for some fabulous theater for those watching from the sidelines. It can also make these Olympians one stiff breeze from a straight jacket in the weeks leading up to it.

Sometimes the real drama is off stage in those times in between, at tucked away training camps, when newly minted Olympians come down off the Trials high.

Kingdom of Troy

One coach, four of six Olympians on Day One...  How'd your crew swim today? A few best times maybe, did they handle the Trials pressure? If it could have been better, maybe you should take some notes from this man...

On night one of the U.S. Trials, Gregg Troy's Gators owned Omaha. There were six Olympic spots available. Coach Troy produced four of them. A rather impressive .666 batting average. Even the devil bows in respect.

To recap:

- Ryan Lochte controls the 400 IM from the first stroke of butterfly. I have never watched a more sound defeat of Michael Phelps. It's never happened, ever really. And that's with huge props to Phelps tonight. The guy swam a 4:07, and he'll be the first to admit that he did it on one year of training. 2009, '10, and most of '11 were really a wash for him. It's a testament to his other-worldly abilities that the guy can go that time with the work he's put in over the last four years. But Lochte has earned every step of his ascendance. He really swam a 4:05 tonight. Under the flags, he looked like Usain Bolt finishing the 100 meters in Beijing, without the showboating. Lochte just shut it down. Phelps' world record is under watch in London.

- In the men's 400 free, Peter Vanderkaay had to have a disastrous swim not to make the Team. He was the top seed by three seconds. In the end, he had to fight for it. To his side in lane three, Charlie Houchin gave him everything he could handle over 350 meters, but over in lane five, Vanderkaay's Florida training partner Conor Dwyer was just biding his time. As they turned for home, Dwyer flipped in third, yet it was clear he was already on the Team. Watch enough races and last lap momentum becomes clear as can be. In the end, it was a couple of Coach Troy's boys - PVK and Dwyer. The times were less than impressive, but who cares, sometimes it's all about the race.

- The women's 400 IM was pretty easy to handicap. Forget about the small little yards pool, where lots of good swimmers can look great with big walls. Elizabeth Beisel isn't like that. This year at the women's NCAA's she placed a distant third in her signature event. No matter. She's the defending world champion in the big pool where it matters, and tonight she showed why. With a backbreaking backstroke leg, Beisel ended the race at the halfway mark. Cal's Caitlin Leverenz, who'd beaten her by a second and a half at NCAA's, grabbed the second Olympic berth. Chalk up spot number four for Coach Troy.

How does this happen? How does one coach guide two-thirds of Olympians onto the Team in these two events - the 400 IM and the 400 Free? First thing you should remember - it's impossible to fake these particular races. There are plenty of races that can be faked with sheer talent, as much as I hate that awful T-word... But the 400s? Those are truth in eight beautiful brutal laps.

Coach Troy believes in that Truth. That's why his swimmers swim like such shit in-season. Did you watch Lochte at those Grand Prix meets this spring? His sponsors did, and they were worried. He looked like a tired, beaten dog. And he was. This spring, Elizabeth Beisel wasn't anywhere close to the best swimmer in the NCAA. Now she's making a case for the best swimmer on earth, in the sport's ultimate all-around event. Weeks ago, I heard talk that Vanderkaay was cooked, that he wouldn't even make the Team. Heard talk that Dwyer's best days were behind him, that he was a short course guy, and what a shame that his best events happened to match up with Lochte's.

Now those four are Olympians. Why is that? Because their coach doesn't take his eye off the prize. This isn't just some clichéd sports talk. It takes true balls not to care about all those steps in between. Steps where plenty of folks are watching and judging and wondering why your athletes are swimming so damn slow... What kind of confidence does that require? To keep the course, and know your crew will peak when it's truly time?

I'm biased, this was my Coach too, back in the day. I had a lot of them, more than a few were also Olympic coaches with plenty of champions to their credit, but only one deserves the capital C.

Seven more days in Omaha... Who's taking notes?

The Week Before

Dealing with doubt and dread on Trials Eve... It's quiet. Almost too quiet, right coaches? When you're laying there late at night, sleep a lost notion, rehearsing events you can't control... Have you prepared them perfectly?

And how about you, swimmers? Have you mastered the Power of Intention? Have you put in the work, day in, day out, and put yourself in that Zen zone of No Regrets? Or do you hear that haunting voice at your back? The voice of doubt that creeps in and won't let go...

This is the bad time. The time of dread and demons. Six days until the reckoning for every American swimmer with an Olympic dream. No matter how well prepared and mentally mighty you may be, the week before is brutal. Your taper is drawing to a close, the training is done, you just want to board that plane and get it on. But first, some dark nights of the soul.

I remember the soundtrack to my own dark nights, sixteen years ago. I can't remember what I was listening to sixteen hours ago, but I can remember with dark clarity listening to a brooding Lou Reed album called "Set the Twilight Reeling" in the days before the '96 Canadian Trials. With song titles like "Finish Line" and "Hang On to Your Emotions", it suited my self-important, self-imposed pressurized state. Embarrassing to recall how much it felt like a matter of death and life. Trials would be either an execution or an elevation. There was no in between.

Some perspective would help. Like the kind found by Eric Shanteau, who truly felt the weight of the world on his shoulders four years ago, in the lead up to the 2008 Trials. In addition to all the usual Will-I-Make-It? baggage carried by every competitor, Shanteau was also carrying around a cruel, and still secret, diagnosis of testicular cancer. Somehow the guy performed like a Jedi in Omaha and made the Team in the 200 breast. Take that Big C. When he disclosed his diagnosis days after the Trials, he instantly became a Story. Up there on the press podiums with Phelps and Coughlin, getting calls from Lance, well wishes flooding his Inbox from strangers across the country. recently caught up with him and discussed his last four cancer-free years. In the story, Shanteau shared the void he felt after the Games, when all the attention vanished and he was left alone with a body that was "obviously capable of growing cancerous tumors." Then his outlook changed. As he returned to the water, he started thrashing his best times, appearing on international podiums, elevating his game to gold medal contention.

Compared to cancer, all pressure is relative. Safe to say Shanteau is sleeping soundly this week.

But what about Ryan Lochte? Are all those sex symbol, Vogue cover, better-than-Phelps expectations getting to him? His week in Omaha is not exactly an open road to Games glory. In more than one of his prime events, he's going to have to be sharp as hell just to get his hand on the wall first or second. If Phelps swims the 400 IM (which now appears to be likely), making the Team in this event might be harder than winning gold in London. With all respect to Hungary's Lazlo Cseh, the three best 400 IM'ers on earth right now are Americans. Meaning, the U.S. entry in London could be Tyler Clary and Michael Phelps. That would be a hell of a start to the week for the now face of the sport. I don't see that happening, the smart money has Lochte touching the wall first, but that scenario is less than a long shot.

What about the 200 free? Of course he'll be on the relay, but is a top two finish a lock? And to really raise the doomsday scenario, what about the 200 back? Sure, Lochte is the defending Olympic champ and remains the favorite for gold, but Clary is looming, and so is young Ryan Murphy of Bolles. It's worth noting that Murphy beat Lochte head-to-head in Gainesville this month. While little can be read into Lochte's untapered swims, word is that he took that race much more seriously than most, competing in Speedo's full Fastskin "system."

How's he sleeping this week? Is the voice of doubt starting to whisper? Unlikely. If Lochte's public persona is to be believed, and it certainly seems genuine, he seems like the last guy to battle any demons of dread.

Maybe that's because he's always grasped what Shanteau had to learn in the hardest way possible: That this is all just a sport and a pastime. Something that's supposed to be fun. And what's more fun than chasing a dream?

Good luck in Omaha, everyone.

Joy in Mudville

Todd Schmitz and the Art of Play It's Sunday morning. You're 16-years-old. You're in incredible shape, you swim over twenty miles a week after all, but right now all you want to do is sleep. When you decide to wake - late - you just want to relax, waste away the day on Facebook, far from the pool. Who can blame you?

Some coaches understand this basic need for balance and step-away sanity. Others don't. There's a school of thought that says young swimmers should be in the water everyday. Seven days a week, 365 days a year, for years on end. Physically speaking, there is a lot to be said for this. It works. Constant contact with the water, never losing the feel for your strokes, ever, not for one day throughout your teenage years... This path produces champions. Long term sanity not included.

Todd Schmitz, aka Missy Franklin's coach, is firmly in the first camp. He wants his swimmers to step away. Often for entire weekends. What they might lose in feel will be make up for in fun. Because, come Monday, his kids will want to be back at the pool. You can't tell me that's the case for those kids who were forced to swim a few grand on Sunday.

This week the Wall Street Journal ran a terrific profile on Schmitz. It's say-no-more headline: How Not to Ruin a Swimming Prodigy. The piece reveals a supremely grateful coach. A guy who recognizes that all top coaches, at their inception, have to be insanely lucky. In Schmitz's case, he was fortunate enough to find 7-year-old Missy Franklin in his Starfish group during his first ever coaching job. He's not the first coach to find himself in the right place at the right time with the right swimmer, and while that might make plenty of other coaches crazed with jealousy, he deserves huge props for not screwing it up. Which is all too easy to do... Just take a look at the National Age Group records for 10 & Unders -- how many found themselves in Missy Franklin's position seven years later?

The Colorado Stars are like a lot of clubs teams across the States. It's a rag tag operation that jumps from pool to pool wherever the team can reserve practice time. Fact is, it's a stepping stone job. A team where an up and coming coach produces some big talent, gets named to a few national teams, and then rides his phenom's wave to a more high profile position... Except, it seems Schmitz isn't interested in taking that next leap to the so-called big time. He seems more interested in having a good time with the group he's got. How refreshing is that?

In that Journal story, the reporter writes: "Even when it comes to improving form—something other coaches regard as a strict science—Schmitz believes in the art of play."

Yes, the Art of Play -- perhaps the most powerful concept in all of education today. This is something that's being studied with all seriousness by child psychologists these days. The findings are in the process of turning early education on its head. For this reason: Playing works better than working.

In the recent best-selling book "Imagine, How Creativity Works", author Jonah Lehrer writes about a study of four-year-olds divided into two groups for a year of education and observation. One group was given a classroom full of "unstructured play" - that is, plenty of time to explore on their own, follow their own imaginations, and have fun with the way they chose to learn. The other group was given a more traditional classroom experience full of phonetics and memorization, you know, the usual ways of "learning" found in most schools. After a few months, the researchers did some preliminary tests to see how these two groups were learning. Here's what they found: the first group, the one given all that unstructured play was uncomfortably far ahead of the 'traditional' group in every measure of intelligence and learning. Uncomfortable because the educators found it unethical to continue the study -- because of the disservice they were doing to the latter group.

That study was with a group of preschoolers. While it's undeniable that kids need more structure as they enter grade school and beyond, the power of play can't just be tossed aside like an outgrown pair of old shoes. Teenagers need it too. Especially ultra-dedicated teenage athletes who already spend a huge portion of their lives staring at a black line at the bottom of a swimming pool.

Because, when you step up to the plate, with all the pressure in the world on those young shoulders, there needs to be joy. Without it, what's the point?

So Long Skippy

Big coaching gigs up for grabs... Stanford men, Michigan women, who's next? Your coach may be eyeing the exit. It's not that he doesn't care about you. It's not that Olympic Trials - and your taper - aren't the most important looming priority. It's just that this is his career. And some big fat opportunities are dangling out there. They're the white whales of the coaching profession. Forgive him if he's been going a little Ahab lately...

This month two of the most successful coaches in NCAA history stepped down simultaneously. On May 16, Stanford men's Skip Kenney and Michigan women's Jim Richardson announced their respective retirements. Both careers feature a feast of achievements. The CV for Richardson: 2-time NCAA Coach of the Year; 14 Big Ten titles; 162 All-Americans. The CV for Kenney: 7 NCAA team titles; 6-time Coach of the Year; 72 NCAA champions; 23 Olympians; and the most disgusting (for non-Stanford Pac-12'ers) stat of all: 31 straight Pac 10 / 12 titles.

Love 'em or hate 'em, these two are Hall of Famers who helped change countless lives. A mighty bow is due to both men. But almost immediately after their announcements, the conversation was not about their past careers, but about who would take over these oh-so coveted positions. Will it go to a young up and comer, a la Dave Durden at Cal? Or will it be awarded to a man or woman of equal stature, who might have an eye on more prestigious pastures?

When a friend emailed me about Skip Kenney stepping down, his next line was: "Is Dave Marsh going to take over?"

Suppose that's as good a bet as any. Particularly considering Stanford's perception of itself. As opposed to their cross bay rivals, one just can't see the position going to a young coach still making his bones at a step-below program. After all, there's a smug cloud that permanently hangs over the Farm. That three-decade flawless conference streak is not going to be entrusted to just anyone...

As for the Michigan gig, the campus might lack the balmy weather of Palo Alto, but if there's a cooler college town than Ann Arbor please let me know. It sounds like the perfect place for a coach to raise a family, with a reasonable standard of living and a well funded and ever supportive athletic department. (Just a guess, but a fine 3-bedroom home in Ann Arbor might be just a bit less than in Palo Alto, home to hoards of garden variety tech billionaires...)

The Stanford and Michigan jobs were just the latest on the coaching carousel, of course. Tennessee and Alabama came before that. I've heard nothing but glowing things about Matt Kredich at Tennessee, who ascended from women's coach to take over the combined program for the Volunteers. So, that program appears to be in winning hands. As for the Alabama job, another Hall of Famer has returned to the collegiate ranks -- Crimson Tide alum and longtime USA Swimming National Team Director, Dennis Pursley. Joining him will be fellow 'Bama alum and world class coach, Jonty Skinner. A guy who's coached 17 Olympic champions, and used to be a world record holder himself. After well over a decade of being dominated by their hated rival, Auburn, I would not want to be in Brett Hawke's shoes right now... Recruiting in the South just got a lot harder for the Tigers.

When major coaching positions change hands, recruiting becomes a whole new ball game. And not necessarily in the ways you might suspect... When a legend steps down, the assumption might be that his particular school is now less of a draw. In fact, the reverse is true in some cases. For instance, I know of one supremely coveted recruit next year who became a lot more interested in Stanford when he heard the news about Kenney. That's not meant to knock a man on his way out, it's simply a fact. The swimming world witnessed this at Cal. There are few coaches on earth worthy of more respect than Nort Thorton, but when he let go of the reins, those Bears raced to the front of the pack under Durden's new command.

With Berkeley's recent success as a template, if I were the AD at Stanford or Michigan, I'd be taking a hard look at those young coaches at second tier swim schools. The ones perhaps mentored by a Marsh or a Troy as a graduate assistant, ones who learned from the greats, spent a few years leading slightly lesser talents, who are now ready for the big time.

Does that sound like your coach? Are you that coach?

If so, time to buy a new suit. Good luck on your interviews...

Forgotten Architects

The Coach and the Credit... Breakthroughs are coming. Lifetime performances on that one-fine-day when it all comes together... At Olympic Trials throughout the world over the next few months, certain swimmers will stand up and do the things they've always dreamed of doing. They will be the chosen few. The ones who peak at just the right moment, who swim best times beyond their wildest goals, and earn their place on the Team. When this happens, they will weep and throw pumpers and thank the many fine folks who helped them get there. They will likely start with their coach. But which one?

There has long been considerable complaint from the club coaching ranks about this sensitive issue of credit. You know the story: After coaching a kid through years and years of growth, bringing him to the cusp of greatness at 18, the swimmer goes off to college, a prized recruit for some lucky coach. A year or two later, after weights and maturity and a great new training group, this swimmer takes the next step into the big time. Trials roll around and there he is, racing for a spot on the Team. In recognition of his swimmer's achievement, guess who gets named to the Olympic coaching staff?

Yeah, one can see how that might lead to some bitterness...

Problem is, that club coach, the one who leads his senior elite squad of high school kids? There might be someone else thinking the same thing about him. The swimmer's age group coach - the one who taught this kid the right way to swim from the beginning, who put that whole foundation in place.

Sure, it takes a village, we get it. And yes, there's always going to be an element of trickle-down ego bruising. Everyone wants to be recognized for their contribution. It's human nature. But is this also an example of backwards priorities in the coaching ranks?

Last week, I wrote a story about the "myth" of Michael Phelps' talent. The basic point, supported by a growing body of books disproving the primacy of talent, was that Phelps' greatness has a whole lot more to do with his perfectly designed "deliberate practice" when he was a kid than it does with his daunting natural abilities. Specifically, it can be attributed to the work he did with Bob Bowman between the ages of 10 and 15. The time when he never missed a day, when he set the foundation for the ultimate Olympic career.

If that's true, and there's a lot of evidence to support it, then the most important thing to observe should be exactly what Michael was doing in those pre-teen and early teenage years. And just as importantly - who was teaching him back then? The answer, of course, was Bob Bowman. The same man who's teaching him today. (NOTE: "teaching" and "coaching" are synonyms...) In this, Phelps is immensely lucky and so is his coach. The athlete never had to interrupt his progress learning a new system and the coach never had to consider sharing an ounce of credit.

The great majority of swimmers are not so lucky. They usually have three coaches, minimum. The age group coach, the head club coach, and the college coach. You can guess the order of prestige. But if we can admit that the root of Phelps' greatness can be found in those early years, shouldn't we question that pecking order of the traditional coaching ranks? Because what that age group coach is doing might set up the swimmer for future greatness in ways that his 'elders' simply cannot.

This should not come across as a criticism of the head club coach or the college coach. They earned their positions of authority for a reason - and they came up through the ranks, probably spent a few years themselves as overlooked age group coaches. Nor should it belittle the work they do with the swimmers they receive along this path. It's all a progression, and in plenty of cases, the work of a coach involves getting a swimmer back on track - because the coach before him badly screwed up.

Yet, when viewed from afar, how can the age group coach not be viewed as the cornerstone of all future excellence? How can this essential piece of the puzzle receive so little credit at the moment of truth?

Here's one swimmer who doesn't seem to have that problem dishing out the credit to his all-important age group coach. As it happens, he's the second greatest swimmer ever, and the one guy who's ever been able to dethrone the mighty Phelps. Ryan Lochte followed that three-coach formula growing up. He also happens to follow the perfect model of development for those in the "talent myth" camp. See, Lochte was groomed since birth for swimming greatness. His dad, Steve, is a lifelong coach who made sure his son was put on that path early. But who was Ryan's age group coach growing up? That would be his mom, Ileana.

At the Golden Goggles Awards last November, a slightly swaying Lochte stood behind the podium after being named the Athlete of the Year for the third year in a row. He dutifully thanked Coach Troy, the man who's guided him since he arrived in Gainesville nine years ago, he thanked his teammates, thanked Michael for always pushing him to more, but then he saved his biggest thanks for his mom. Maybe it was just for being, you know, his mom.

But maybe it was also for being the not-so-forgotten architect of all that success to come...

Death in the Valley

Paterno Dies, Predator Coaches Still Out There... 10 weeks, that's all it took. Just 74 days after being fired in shame for his failure to protect victims of child rape. The official cause of death was lung cancer, of course. Plenty have said it was really due to a broken heart. No patience for that sentimentality under the circumstances. But here's a fact for you: If Jerry Sandusky's darkest secrets were still under cover in Happy Valley, Joe Paterno would still be alive today. Anyone disagree?

Well, one guy apparently...

His name is Joe Posnanski, and he's recently been named the 2011 National Sportswriter of the Year. One of SI's top A-list writers, with a fantastic blog on the side, Posnanski is a great read. He is also in the midst of embarrassing himself badly. See, last fall, well before the Sandusky storm hit, Posnanski was living in State College, writing the definitive biography on Paterno. He was in thrall with the guy, given full access and deep into an extended 300+ page puff piece about the coaching legend. In the days after the horror unfolded, he was quick to defend Paterno, claiming a rush to judgment by the university.

Earlier today, he penned a eulogy of sorts. Despite all that's emerged about JoePa's epic failures - ones that helped demolish the lives of children who were raped by one of the coach's oldest friends and associates - Posnanski is still entrenched on Team Paterno. "He did not die a bitter or broken man," writes Posnanski. How did he "know" this? Here's how: "I know this because I spent time with Paterno in his hospital room during the last weeks of his life."

Correction: This is exactly why you don't "know." Because, from Joe to Joe, you were being manipulated. JoePa was in control until the very end. As he always has been. It worked so splendidly because Paterno believed it every bit as much as Posnanski wanted to. He was guiding the final word still to be written about his storied life. And the writer was lapping it up.

Every leader who has ever held power for any length of time learns the necessity of controlling the message. Learns how to manipulate those under his command - for good and for ill. That's what great coaches do. They create their own realities, their own lofty spotless universes, and then they convince others to come along with them. To that promised land where everything goes just right, exactly to plan, where they will be lifted on shoulders and statues will be erected in their honor, in worship to their vision and leadership.

One can see how a few decades of this might cloud the old judgment a bit...

Which is why Paterno's death crosses the sports divide and winds up on a site devoted to swimming yet again.

For most, his death will probably mark the point when we can start driving the speed limit again. After the requisite gawking at the grisly accident on the side of the road, there comes the moment when it starts to fade in the rear view. The passengers will all remain respectfully silent for a bit; gradually you'll pick up speed. Soon it will be out of sight, out of mind. After all the outrage, now that Paterno is dead, how many will actually take a close interest in following Sandusky's trial? How many headlines will the justice not yet served even generate?

Those in the swimming world would be wise to continue to pay attention. Because two weeks ago, it happened again. "It" being another coaching deviant preying on children. In Gainesville, the coach of the Gator Swim Club, Bryan Woodward, was arrested after allegations that he tried to arrange sex with an underage girl. He was charged with using a computer to solicit a child for sex and for traveling to seduce a child into sex acts. Like all the others, Woodward passed every background check before he was hired.

We want these things to go away. We don't want to think of them, don't want to even acknowledge that it exists. Especially when you're a parent with kids in youth sports. But these predators are still out there. Hard words to write, harder still to face, but there it is.

Joe Paterno won 409 football games. Changed plenty of lives in the process. Books will be written about him that try to place his whole life in context, not just the sad, dark final days.

Tell that to the kids raped by Sandusky after Joe Paterno failed to protect them.

Well Endowed

Tarheels, Bulldogs, Buckeyes, Bears, and Vikings... Yes, Vikings. Follow these leaders: Sustainable college swimming programs that get it... The headline isn't a euphemism, stop smirking. The Cambridge Online Dictionary defines well-endowed as "having a lot of something, especially money or possessions"... Or having a large something, right? But today's story is about what lies ahead for college swimming, not what lies beneath the Speedo. And those ahead-of-the-curve programs that get it...

Last week, a post called Pay Your Way quickly became the most read piece ever on this young blog. It tried to dissect what will happen in college sports when football and basketball players start getting paid, when swimming programs face elimination as a result, and want can be done to protect them. Based on the feedback that poured in, the story clearly touched a nerve for many. And rightly so, considering it's many of your livelihoods.

In the days that followed, I had a chance to email and speak with a few leaders in the sport who have been out on those front lines fighting this fight long before there was an Internet for bloggers to share their unsolicited insights. To a man, everyone's diagnosis was the same -- the situation is dire, perhaps terminal for some, and in need of immediate attention. And all agreed on something else -- there is a cure. The principal antidote? Endowments.

Want to protect your swimming program so your great grandkids can someday be Trojans or Mustangs too? If so, you'd better be well endowed. That is, with a healthy fund of alumni money set aside, accumulating interest, and paying for your swimmers' scholarships and training trips and, hell, even a brand new pool when the time comes. Without it, you're like a surfer without a leash. One big wave knocks you off the board and it's time to swim to shore, session over.

While that rather forced aquatic metaphor might describe many college swim programs, there a few teams out there that are sitting pretty. Thanks to the foresight of their coaches and / or their well-heeled alumni, they've made their teams untouchable. Come what may, these programs are now built to last. They're no longer the no-revenue-producing redheaded stepchildren of their big sport siblings. Pay their football and basketball brethren all you like, it won't affect these swim teams' existence. Because they figured out how to do it themselves.

So, who are they? Last week, I had a chance to speak to Bob Groseth, the Executive Director of the College Swimming Coaches Association of America. For twenty years, Groseth was the coach of Northwestern, taking the Wildcats from the bottom of the Big Ten rankings to perennial contenders with a roster of NCAA champions. Groseth took over as the head of the CSCAA in 2009. A widely respected presence at every level of the sport, he's interested in a whole lot more than the top 10 teams everyone sees at NCAA's. He knows college swimming extends far beyond its flagship meets, and that some of the programs most worthy of admiration aren't necessarily the ones stacked with Olympians.

But first, let's talk about one of those programs that gives everyone Olympic envy. When it comes to Cal Berkeley, there's plenty to be jealous of these days. They're the defending NCAA champions among both the men and the women. Their head coaches are among the most beloved figures on pool decks today. Recruits are lining up out the door for the privilege to swim here. (Untouchable, right? Tell that to UCLA...) But a few years back, they managed to do something even more impressive than win the team titles at NC's. They created the Cal Aquatics Fund. Led by a few deep pocketed alum (let's just say one founded the Gap, and another founded Dreyer's Ice Cream...), they made sure that every Cal water sport would exist forevermore. Men's and women's swimming and men's and women's water polo, all taken care of.

Sure, the Cal track record of excellence is plenty impressive, but it's also a state school, in a state than has just a few financial difficulties. Falling in-state admissions and rising tuition are serious issues in the UC system these days. No matter what place they got at NCAA's, the Cal teams had plenty to worry about. That is, until this Fund came into being.

Who else has patched together that warm cloak of endowment? North Carolina is a school frequently mentioned towards the top of the list. So is the University of Georgia. According to Groseth, both UNC's Frank Comfort and Georgia's Jack Bauerle have made sure that every single one of their scholarships is endowed. The UNC recruiting slogan almost writes itself: Take comfort with Comfort! Because his team isn't going anywhere...

Groseth also had high praise for Ohio State's Bill Wadley. In addition to building a new state-of-the-art pool, Wadley recently managed to get all of the Buckeyes' swimming scholarships endowed. No surprise that this is suddenly a program on the rise... Sure, the pool makes a major difference in impressing recruits, but according to Groseth it was the security of establishing the endowment that truly allowed Wadley to take ownership of his fast improving program.

All four of these schools mentioned above deserve plenty of props, but you might have noticed that they are all major athletic powerhouses, among the most accomplished athletic departments in the nation, across many sports. It makes sense that it's possible at schools like this, where there's bound to be plenty of passionate alumni support. But what about smaller schools, without any real sports tradition to speak of? What about a small Midwestern school, an institution less than 50 years old, a mid-major program that's never had a swimmer break 20 seconds in the 50 free? The sort of program that so often finds itself on the chopping block...

What about the Cleveland State Vikings?

According to Bob Groseth, CSU "should be the poster boy for how to create a sustainable swim team." The man responsible? Head Coach Wally Morton. Now in his 37th year as head coach, Morton has led a rock solid program with most of its scholarships endowed since 1999. And it's not just rich alumni who prop it up. The CSU team has made itself untouchable thanks to an active and ongoing effort to make itself indispensable in its college community. I spoke to Morton earlier, as he was about to board a flight home with his team from a Christmas training trip. (That right there should say something...)

"The money is key, of course," says Morton. "But more important is the relationship you foster with your Athletic Director, and even more, your college president."

Sounds simple enough - you want your bosses to know and care about you. Yet, this is something that just doesn't happen at so many programs. Case in point: During my sophomore year at USC, the Athletic Director, Mike Garrett, was giving a speech at our annual swim team banquet. His remarks were proceeding with the usual vague, overblown praise when he declared "and that's what makes the SC water polo team so important to this school." Silence in the room. A few snickers, probably from the freshman. It took Garrett a few uncomfortable seconds to realize that he was speaking to the swim team, and that now everyone in the room knew he was reading from a stock speech that he apparently read at every other team's banquet. The swim team was a faceless entity to this AD. He wouldn't blink if he was forced to cut it; he didn't even know who we were.

Something like this would never happen at CSU. That's because everyone at the school knows exactly who Morton and the swimmers are. And they know because Morton makes sure of it. Recently, Morton told me, the CSU president was traveling to San Francisco. So, the swim coach called up a few old alums who had settled out there. One took him to the San Fransisco Farmers Market. Another figured out his dinner plans. How much do you want to bet that this college president attended the team's next swim meet when he got back to Cleveland?

At the CSCAA conference last May in San Diego, Morton recalled a line from the keynote speaker Frank Busch, USA Swimming's National Team Director. After 31 years as the head coach of Arizona, Busch knows his way around the landmines of college swimming. To his assembled coaching audience, Busch had one piece of advice that resonated with Morton: "Don't be a mosquito to your AD and your college president." That is, don't be a pest who only buzzes around when you want something. Mosquitos gets swatted away, and then they get crushed.

But those wise well-endowed programs who get it? They'll be swimming above it all for a long, long time.