Thursday, April 5, 2012

Coaching Carousel: 2012

Well that didn't take long, did it? With the college season barely over, already two major conference programs are looking for new head coaches. Every Olympic year, rumors abound about how much instability there will be in the coaching ranks. The resignation (or whatever you want to call it, more on that later) of Alabama coach Erik McIlquham and Texas women's coach Kim Brackin would seem to bolster that theory. Except neither seems to be related to the pending events in Omaha at all.

First, lets talk about the semantics that surround these departures. Alabama's press release states that McIlquham "announced Thursday that he will not return to his current position for the 2012-13 season", as if McIlquham just woke up that morning and decided he didn't feel like coming to work next fall. The Texas press release started with "The University of Texas Women's Athletics Department today announced a leadership change". In case you're wondering why they sound so awkward, I'll help you out.

Athletic administrators will do whatever they can to avoid saying they fired someone. Welcome to college athletics, a world where even accused child molester Jerry Sandusky gets to "resign". Why do they avoid saying they fired someone? Because then they might have to include a justification for firing them, and they really don't want to get into that. Athletic departments are propaganda machines- they only want to churn out good news. You can read a lot into how amicable a parting between a coach and an athletic department are by what's included and what's not in a press release.

Go over to everybody's new favorite swim site swimswam if, like me, you want to read rampant speculation about who will replace either of these two coaches. Of course, the majority of the discussion in the comments section has turned into a debate on whether Kim Brackin deserved her departure from Texas. The discussion mostly centers around criteria that is probably mostly irrelevant to the athletic director who made that decision.

Remember that the people who hire and fire swim coaches are (for the most part) not swimming people. They are going to evaluate swim coaches on criteria that is accessible and tangible to them. For schools like Alabama and Texas, NCAA finish is probably the most accessible stat for any athletic administrator. They are not going to get on SWIMS and see if your freshmen backstroker dropped some time. As a swimming fan, I wish they would, but that's simply not the way it works. 

If it sounds like I'm coming down hard on athletic administrators, I'm not. I coach on a swimming and diving team and know next to nothing about how to evaluate whether a diving coach or divers are doing well beyond how well they place at meets. This is more of an advisory to swim fans, coaches and swimmers. Its important for us to learn how to translate what we do to the rest of the world in a way they understand.


  1. That's a good point. When young coaches have asked advice on how to get a head coaching job, I always say the most important thing to remember is that the people hiring a swim coach usually don't know anything about swimming. Framing accomplishments in relatable terms can really separate a resume from the pack.

  2. The AD's also do not really know how that coach actually interacts with swimmers and handles stress. In Kim's case, that was likely her downfall.