Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Please Don't Retire Soon: Mark Bernardino

One of the greatest assets I have in my life are critics. I have a great circle of friends, family and anonymous commenters who are never afraid to tell me when I'm wrong. All three have noted in the past few weeks that I've been weaving into my posts not too subtle, generalized digs at "older" coaches that should "get out of the way". I've come off like a grumpy, spoiled little kid who wants everything handed to him. The above criticism was delivered by many, but finally made its way to one of my most loyal readers: my mom. So I decided I need to shape up my act and put some of that energy into a more positive direction. What follows is going to be a series of posts about longtime coaches who I really hope don't stop coaching anytime soon. First up, the University of Virginia's Mark Bernardino.

It would be easy to coach in the ACC and dislike "Dino". After all, he coaches the team that has won almost every championship in recent memory. The overriding factor in the rise of the Cavaliers in ACC dominance has been Dino's competitiveness. It can be hard to be on the losing end.

Dino is never going to win a popularity contest among coaches, and I'm sure he doesn't care. If you're on the same pool deck as him you'll find out pretty quickly what Dino respects. If you are lazy, he will not like you. If you're not passionate about what you're doing (in this case swimming), he won't like you. He appreciates loyalty, hard work and heart and gives more of each than he takes.

All those are fine tributes, but not the biggest reason I hope Dino coaches long into the future. He is a phenomenal mentor to a lot of young coaches. When I was in San Antonio last month, I was stunned to meet assistant coaches from all over the country who had never worked for or been associated with Dino who nevertheless considered him the biggest influence in their own coaching career.

It's easy to dismiss Virginia's results these days. Their constant winning within the ACC can have the paradoxical effect of diminishing the coaching that helped them there. "Of course they won- its UVA!" is the refrain. This ignores the fact that there is very little unique about UVA that makes their ACC dominance inevitable. They are not the most exclusive school in the league, that would be Duke. They don't have the best facility, that would be Georgia Tech. They don't have the biggest budget in the league or pay far more in salary to their coaches- a quick search of publicly available salary information shows them to be about average. Virginia is the best team in the ACC because they outwork their competitors, and it all starts at the top.


  1. yet I hear his coaching demeanor with swimmers is harsh, full of cursing etc... is that just jealousy? Ive always wondered

    1. I swam for Dino in the late 1980's. Chris nailed it. Dino is no shrinking violet, he's a tough working class Italian guy from Philly.

      He was and remains the greatest influence in my life, and the greatest privilege I ever knew was to be a UVa swimmer and to wear the "V" on my chest for Dino. He was the first to visit me in the hospital when I had an accident that knocked me out of swimming for a season. He remembers our anniversary every year with a hand written note to my wife. He was the first one to call and offer any help on no notice when one of my sons had a near tragic accident.

      Ask any UVa swimmer or former swimmer if they would take a bullet for Dino we'd say no. We'll take two bullets and then keep coming for retribution. No-one messes with our Coach Dino.

  2. Every interaction that I have personally had with Coach Bernadino has been nothing but respectful and endearing. A personal, handwritten note that I received from him when I began searching for college coaching positions remained on my refrigerator until I moved to Dartmouth. Whatever he is doing at UVA is clearly working, or he would not continue to be so successful. Keep going Coach!!

  3. how do you find how much money college coaches make

  4. Anon 1: If cursing makes you a bad coach then I am shit out of luck. As for the "harsh", Bernardino does not mince words.

    Anon 2: This probably deserves it's own blog, but most public university salaries are viewable online. You just have to know where to look. A simple google search like "georgia public salary database" is usually a good start. Mine, for instance, is available at open.ga.gov

  5. From Anon1-- Uhh I didnt mean a few cuss words-- Who doesnt do that?? Im not a choirboy. I meant I had heard( and I have no idea if its true) that is was more like screaming and real harsh methods/comments and that only the super mentally tough can thrive there-- and that may well be what they want-- it certainly seems to have worked, I might add.However, its not necessarily true- thats what I wanted to know-- I wouldnt think you, a fellow coach in the ACC can actually comment candidly... I thought others might know.

  6. Well written Chris, Dino is truly a great coach and I hope to see him at many more ACC meets. You hit it dead on the nail with regard to his style, but as far as a number of collegiate coaches go he is the norm. Collegiate swimming isn't summer league, and those salaries Anon 2 was so curious about hinge on performance. At the end of the day though you would be hard pressed to find a UVA swimmer who would not jump in front of a bus for him.