Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What Makes Cal Best (Men's Edition)

Last week, I wrote about what I thought made the California women's team the best in the country (besides the obvious "swimming faster than everyone else" part). This week, I hope to do so for the men. I don't pretend to know as much about Dave Durden as I pretend to know about Teri McKeever. Still, from afar, I think there are some obvious advantages that Cal is employing.

It's hard to remember now, because he's won two NCAA titles in a row, but Durden didn't seem like a slam dunk hire when he first came on. He had been a part of Auburn's great run of NCAA titles as an assistant, but was coming off a couple of years of coaching Maryland, which was far from the heights of Auburn (then) or Cal (now). Hindsight helps in that regard too- we now are all too familiar with how inept Maryland's athletic administration is.

At Cal, Durden has many resources he didn't have at Maryland. He has more generous and numerous donors. Like Teri McKeever, he has the best strength and conditioning coach in swimming, Nick Folker. I think, however, the biggest advantage the Cal men's team has over everyone else they compete against is their volunteer coach: Nort Thornton.

Much (or little, depending on who you ask) has been made of the fact that Thornton, after decades of impressive work at Cal himself, decided to ease into retirement by coaching the "breaststroke group". Coincidentally, Cal has dominated the rest of the NCAA in breaststroke ever since. Lest you think that this fact detracts in any way from what Durden has accomplished, let me make myself clear. The fact that Cal has a ridiculously over qualified volunteer coach says at least as much, if not more, about Durden.

It is the folly of many young coaches that they believe they have to prove themselves. They feel the only way to do this is to take on as much responsibility as possible, if only to show how great they are at handling all of it. Much wiser to hand off a little of that responsibility to someone who's proven they are not going to fail. Think about this situation- could you see Dave Salo hanging around to do the same at USC in 20 years? For future generations of breaststrokers, I hope so. It takes a young coach with a lot of security to operate as Thornton and Durden do.

That's all without mentioning Durden's paid assistant: Greg Meehan. Meehan was also a former head coach. Three head coaches on the same pool deck day in, day out? Very often that's a recipe for an ego nuclear meltdown. In this case, it happens to be a recipe for back to back NCAA titles.

1 comment:

  1. The culture of the team contributes to their success. Whenever you see an interview of their guys, they don't talk about how hey have to win; they legitimately are just about having fun.