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Michigan Swimming A History: Coaches
Thanks to everyone who gave me input on my last post. I'll be using those ideas to put together some of my future posts so feel free to let me know if there's anything in particular that you would like me to post about. Now for a little more history, this time about the coaches. It's a little long, but I recommend going through it and looking at some of the links. Thanks again for all your input and I hope you enjoy!
Michigan Swimming has experienced a great deal of consistency over the course of its illustrious history. The proverbial “chicken and the egg” debate often surfaces when discussing whether consistent coaching has led to great talent at the University of Michigan or great talent has drawn in consistent coaching. Regardless of the answer, the history of Michigan's coaches is astounding and is, in my opinion, unmatched throughout the college ranks. By reading along, you'll be able to take a step back in history and take a look at some of the most successful coaches that the University has ever seen.
John Jerome (1921-22): The first coach for the University of Michigan Men’s swim team, John Jerome lasted only one season, losing in his only meet, against Erie YMCA. There is not much information as to the reason for his departure, however it is understood that “swim coach” was not the most prestigious job at the time and it is presumed that he vacated the position self-willingly in order to begin a more reputable career.
William Brown (1922-24): The second coach to take the position of head coach, William Brown did not take very many pictures; at least none that were easily accessible (see lack of a photo on MGoBlue). Coach Brown lasted slightly longer than his predecessor; however he did not achieve much success either, going 3-4-1 (43.8%) while posting a 0-3-1 conference record. During the 1922 season he coached the team against Indiana, Michigan State and Northwestern while adding Detroit A.C. to the schedule in 1923. Despite registering the first coaching victories for the swim team, Brown was replaced in 1924 after two seasons.
Gerald Barnes (1924-25): Gerald Barnes became the third coach for Michigan, beginning a streak of success for Michigan Swimming that has yet to falter. In his one year as a Michigan coach, Gerald Barnes led the team to a perfect 4-0 record, swimming all of his meets against Big 10 foes, including Chicago and Wisconsin. Although he experienced immediate success, Gerald Barnes was replaced by Matt Mann in 1925, a man who ushered in what is now a swimming dynasty.
Matt Mann (1925-54): Matt Mann began swimming at the age of eight in England and quickly became a student of the sport. He exhibited his passion for swimming early on, practicing through any means possible, primarily on “dirty-water day,” the day when it was cheapest to fill the baths. (For more stories I recommend reading this article.)
Through his devotion, Matt Mann became England’s boy champion when he was 9 years old, and went on to become England’s senior champion at the age of 14. Mann came to the United States and quickly established himself in the coaching community after being fired from his job as a dry goods clerk (for taking off too much time for swimming). In 1907, he became one of the first full time coaches in America when he moved to Buffalo, NY to coach a local high school. Mann then moved on to Syracuse, where he became one of the nation’s first college coaches. After his stint at Syracuse, Mann coached briefly at Harvard before being anointed the predecessor to the legendary Bob Kiphuth at Yale, becoming the only person to have coached at both Harvard and Yale. In 1925, after spending time with the Detroit Athletic Club, Matt Mann became the fourth, and first full time, coach at the University of Michigan. At the same time, Mann began a tradition that has likely affected many of you reading this post; he started a swim camp for kids aimed at mentoring the young children about the tenets of both swimming and life. Over the course of his lifetime, Mann molded 30 of these campers into future Olympians.
Mann coached at the University of Michigan for 29 years, the longest tenured Men’s Swim Coach in Michigan history. Over his career at Michigan, he went 203-25-3 (88.5%) overall, winning 16 Conference Titles and an astounding 13 National Titles. Mann’s success was attributable to his superior dedication and commitment. By becoming Michigan’s first full time swim coach, Mann brought to the job a work ethic that had led him to coach the New York Athletic Club, Yale University, Brooklyn’s Poly Prep, Lawrenceville, and Navy all at the SAME time, producing winning records for all of them.
His success was not confined to the collegiate level; Michigan produced more Olympic Swimmers than any other school in the U.S. while under his tutelage. Because of his success, Mann was named head coach of the Men’s Swim Team for the 1952 Olympics - where his team won four gold, two silvers, and one bronze medal in the six swimming events. Ironically enough, one of the two un-captured gold medals was won by Australian John Davies (in the 200 Breaststroke), who was doing his collegiate swimming under Mann in the small town of Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Another man who learned from the great coach was Gerald Ford, an avid swimmer who was appointed honorary director of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1977, one year after he left the White House. Ford was an ardent swimmer who enjoyed learning the sport from Mann in addition to his responsibilities as a student and member of the National Championship football team.
(For more on Ford’s passion for swimming, click here.)
After coaching for 29 years, Matt Mann was forced to resign in 1954 due to University age restrictions. The school’s greatest coach and leader was forced to step down, simply for being too old. Widely regarded as the best coach in the world, Mann was undeterred by the action and took his 13 NCAA championships to the University of Oklahoma where he immediately resumed coaching, and winning. Over the course of eight years, Mann transformed the mediocre Oklahoma program into a top ten performer. Mann, the consummate winner, also won the Big 8 (now Big 12) Championship multiple times during his tenure in Norman. How many times? You guessed it; eight.
After finishing his collegiate coaching career, Mann received a number of accolades, some of the most notable being his inductions into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, the M Club Hall of Honor, and the Swimming Hall of Fame. The University of Michigan bestowed one of the greatest honors possible upon Mann, when the University named the pool inside Canham Natatorium after him. Mann established many of the rituals and techniques that the swimmers of today utilize in everyday practice and pioneered many of the strategies that coaches around the world employ. The coach who remembered his player’s times before their names, referring to them as “son” and “honey,” Mann truly was as Fritz Crisler dubbed him, “the greatest coach who ever lived.”
Gus Stager (1954-79, 1981-82): Gus Stager was named Michigan’s fifth coach and continued the history of Michigan swimming. Stager began his swimming career as a top recruit out of Newark Academy in Newark, NJ, but enlisted in the army before attending college. After being discharged from the Army, Stager decided to enroll at the University of Michigan and quickly began making his mark. He set a freshman American record in 1947 and topped that accomplishment off the next year as part of the 1948 NCAA Championship team. In addition, he was a three time NCAA finalist, and was named to the coaches’ All-American team in each of his four years swimming for Michigan.
After earning his degree from Michigan, Stager quickly established a reputation as a top notch coach at his first job, Fordson High School in Dearborn, MI. During his four years at Fordson, Stager led the swim team to three straight State Championships, from 1952-1954 and a National Championship.
In 1954, at the age of 27, Stager became the Men’s Swim Coach when Matt Mann “retired,” and immediately continued the success that his predecessor had left behind. In his first year, Michigan went 9-0 overall and finished second in the Conference and NCAA, behind Ohio State. The next year Stager went 1-4-1 overall (1-4 in the Big 10) but finished second at the Big Ten Championships and 11th overall in the NCAA, indicating a team that had top talent but lacked overall depth. Not one to be distraught, over the next three years Stager led Michigan to undefeated records and 3 straight NCAA Championships (Interesting note, Michigan finished 2nd in the Big Ten Championships during the 1957 season despite winning the NCAA Championship). Stager experienced a drop off the next year, in 1960, finishing second in the NCAA, before winning his fourth NCAA Championship the next year.
In 1960, at the age of 33 and after 4 NCAA Championships, Stager became the youngest coach ever to lead a U.S. Olympic Team when he was named head coach for the U.S. Olympic team in Rome. Swimming against a highly favored Australian team (which had won 9 gold medals in the previous Olympics) the U.S. took 9 gold medals and 15 total, besting the Australian’s efforts of 5 gold and 13 overall. In these same Olympics, Stager had the opportunity to coach Joan Spillane, one of his female swimmers at Michigan. Under Stager, Spillane became the first woman from the University of Michigan to win a gold medal. Over the course of his coaching career, Stager coached 21 U of M Olympians, who won six gold and seven bronze medals.
During his 25 years of coaching at Michigan, Stager posted a record of 188-40-1 (including his one year stint as interim coach in 1982), never finishing worse than 16th at the NCAA Championships. Stager was also responsible for putting together and coaching the 1959 Championship team, which was widely renowned as the best collegiate swim team of all time (At the NCAA Championships they scored more points than the second, third and fourth place teams combined). Under Stager, Michigan finished 1st or 2nd in the Big Ten 23 times and continued the dominance that was established by his predecessor, Matt Mann.
In addition to his records, Stager has been credited with establishing many of the trademarks that are associated with present day swimming. In the 1960’s, he started Club Wolverine, establishing summer training as well as an on-site program where he could continue coaching his swimmers.
(For an interesting article about Club Wolverine I recommend reading this article.)
Stager was, perhaps, most proud of his role in changing the rules of swimming. He was responsible for the legalization of the no-touch flip-turn and electric timing, as well as adding the 1000 meter swim and second diving event to NCAA dual meets. Stager’s Michigan teams also popularized the celebratory act of throwing a coach in the pool when a picture of Stager, fully clothed and falling into the pool, was printed in newspapers across the country after Michigan’s 1957 NCAA Championship victory.
Despite his age, Stager won over the respect of his swimmers and peers because of his determination, hard work, and ability to have fun. Stager, who valued team work, was known for getting into altercations with his swimmers when they didn’t exhibit this same mentality. In one such case, Stager suspended two of his Scottish swimmers for insubordination which led to the two quitting the team, despite remaining eligibility. After the fact, Stager said:
"A foreign boy just doesn't have the team loyalty that an American boy has. The foreign boys can't conceive, for example, that they should swim out of their stroke (a free-styler competing in the breast-stroke, for instance) so that the team will get points. We train our boys to play for the team and not themselves from the time they step on the playground. We do our best to instill team spirit in them from the start. In most cases, the foreign students think it's just a lot of junk. Most of them don't give a damn. They're opportunists. This doesn't go for all foreign athletes, but most of them are interested only in personal achievement. . . . I don't think there's another country in the world like the United States, where boys will sacrifice almost anything to see their team win."
Although there were periodic altercations, Stager made sure to have a good time with his swimmers. Stager allegedly defeated all comers at walking on the bottom of the pool and jousting from over-turned starting blocks, giving his swimmers a change of pace from the, sometimes monotonous, act of swimming.
After retiring from coaching, Stager was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor. He was the coach in several international competitions, including the 1967 Pan-American Games and the 1973 World Championships, as well as the aforementioned 1960 Olympics. The University of Michigan continued a trend, dedicating, to Stager, the museum located in the Natatorium.
Gus, the oldest living Michigan Swim Coach, is one of the coaches that I have had the good fortune of speaking with. Even in his old age, he still comes by the pool for dual meets and sits in the back, unassumingly. I can’t even count the number of times that I have sat down in the hospitality room to watch a basketball game, where he has just come in and sat down next to me starting up a conversation. Funny and humble, Stager remains the same man who inspired Michigan teams for 25 years.
Bill Farley (1979-81): William “Bill” Farley began his career with Michigan as one of Gus Stager’s prized pupils. Swimming for Stager’s Michigan team, Farley became a 10 time NCAA All-American and placed fourth in the mile at the 1964 Olympics in Japan.
After completing his time as a swimmer, Farley went on to become the head coach of Princeton’s Men’s Swim Team in 1971. Quickly achieving success, Farley led the Tigers to an undefeated season in 1973 and won the NCAA D-2 Coach of the Year award. During his tenure at Princeton, Farley started the women’s program and served as its first head coach, winning the Eastern Women’s Championship in 1974. Over the course of his Princeton career, Farley coached fifteen All Americans (8 men & 7 women), one NCAA Champion, two National Champions and one Olympic Team Alternate.
In 1979, Farley returned to Michigan to serve as the 6th Men’s Head Coach. He stayed on for two years, finishing second in the Big Ten each year while placing 15th and 17th in the NCAA. During his two years, Farley went 23-5 and coached 8 All-Americans.
Bill Farley is currently the head coach of the Fairfield Stags, having become the all time winningest coach for both programs.
Jon Urbanchek (1982-2004): Jon Urbanchek was born in Hungary and immigrated to the United States in 1956, before enrolling at Michigan in 1958, and subsequently swimming for swim team. He played an integral part in 3 of Gus Stager’s NCAA Championships during his swimming career in Ann Arbor. After finishing up his four years, Urbanchek became the swimming and water polo coach for Anaheim High School out in California. Urbanchek spent 16 years in Anaheim and then coached five years at Long Beach State University before he returned to his alma mater in 1982.
Jon Urbanchek began his reign of dominance at Michigan, succeeding Gus Stager, who had returned for one year to fill the void left by Bill Farley. In his 22 years as Michigan Swim Coach, Urbanchek had an overall record of 163-34-0 (82.7%), success that was virtually unheard of due to the parity in swimming’s modern age. Included in his overall record was an astounding 100-4 (96.2%) record against Big Ten Competition. 100-4. During his 22 years of coaching against the competitive Big 10, Urbanchek coached his teams 104 times, and lost 4 times. To me, that is one of the most astounding statistics that I have seen in all of Michigan Swimming, second only to Matt Mann’s 13 NCAA Titles. Urbanchek won 13 Big Ten titles, including 10 in a row during 1986-95, better known as the “Decade of Dominance.” In addition to his Big Ten success, Urbanchek won an NCAA Title in 1995, adding to Michigan’s illustrious trophy case.
In addition to his team’s success, Urbanchek helped his swimmers on the international level. He developed Olympic Medalists Tom Dolan, Tom Malchow, Erik Namesnik and Peter Vanderkaay along with a slew of others. Urbanchek coached 34 Olympians and helped them obtain seven gold, six silver and four bronze medals over the period of five Olympic Games. His talents being noticed, Urbanchek, the two-time ASCA Coach of the Year, was appointed Head Coach of two World Championship teams as well as Assistant Coach to five Olympic teams and two world championship teams.
After stepping down as Michigan’s head coach, Urbanchek continued to spend most of his time at Canham Natatorium, coaching for a different team, Club Wolverine. During his time at the pool, Urbanchek continued to help out his successor, Bob Bowman, acting as a Volunteer Assistant. Currently, Urbanchek is fulfilling the role of Assistant Swim Coach Emeritus for current coach Mike Bottom. Bottom, known for his great sprinting knowledge (more in his bio) asked Urbanchek to help him train the distance swimmers, an offer which Jon graciously accepted.
The man who can’t escape the pool, Jon Urbanchek is funky and funny, bringing a vigor and liveliness to a sport that sometimes becomes mundane. He is a man easily approached, a coach who plays no favorites. I am confident in saying that anyone could ask Jon a question and that he would respond with sincere thought and care, whether they are a World Record holder or perhaps a young club swimmer. One of my favorite memories of Urbanchek is from the past year, when Michigan (ranked #4) was visited by Texas (ranked #1) for a dual meet during Halloween weekend. Despite the serious mood and nervousness working its way throughout Canham, Urbanchek showed up on Halloween in a cowboy outfit, shocking most people there but bringing a smile to everyone’s face.
In 2008 Urbanchek was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, becoming the 18th person affiliated with Michigan to achieve that honor. The man with a childlike demeanor, Urbanchek was described perfectly by the ISHOF in three sentences:
“Wherever he goes, honors follow him. As a coach, his swimmers hold him in high regard and his opponents treat him with respect. History has looked kindly on this man who has spent almost 50 years pacing the pool deck developing and training the world’s best swimmers – Jon Urbanchek ‘rules’.”
Bob Bowman (2004-2008): Bob Bowman is perhaps best known for being the coach of the most dominant athlete in the history of swimming, Michael Phelps. Despite this claim to fame, Bowman's coaching is widely respected throughout the swimming community and is evidenced in the numerous elite swimmers that he has developed. Before he was known for his no-nonsense attitude as a coach, Bowman was a talented swimmer for Florida State. Bowman swam for Florida State from 1983-1985, captaining the Seminoles in his final year, and graduating with a degree in developmental psychology. After graduating, Bowman began serving as an assistant coach FSU, working closely in recruiting and developing a system to record coaches' feedback during practices and meets, while simultaneously coaching at the Area Tallahassee Aquatic Club from 1986-87. After his brief stint at his alma mater, Bowman coached the Las Vegas Gold swim team (1988-1990), the Cincinnati Pepsi Marlins (1990-1991),the Napa Valley swim team (1991-1992), and the Birmingham Swim League (1992-1994) before returning to the Napa Valley swim team (1994-1996).
After his long string of coaching stints, Bowman finally settled down at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club (1996-2004), one of the top club programs in the nation. During his time at NBAC, Bowman produced 3 National Champions and 5 National Team members, which resulted in his being named USA's Coach of the Year in 2001 and 2003, while being named the Developmental Coach of the Year in 2002. It was during his time at NBAC that Bowman began coaching Michael Phelps, as well as another Olympic teen sensation, Katie Hoff.
On April 1, 2004, in part due to his success coaching elite level swimmers, Bowman was named head coach of the Michigan Swim Team, a position which he kept 4 years. During his four years in Ann Arbor, Bowman led Michigan to top 3 finishes in the Big Ten, winning in his final year, as well as top eight finishes in the NCAA. Some of the notable alumni under his tenure include Olympic Gold Medalist Peter Vanderkaay, his brother and NCAA Champion Alex Vanderkaay as well as U.S. National champion Davis Tarwater. Over his four years, Bowman went 21-1-1 (93.5%) in the Big Ten while going 30-8-1 (78.2%) overall.
In addition to his coaching responsibilities at U of M, Bowman also coached the Elite Level of Club Wolverine. Upon arriving in Ann Arbor, Bowman began recruiting some of the nation's top swimmers to Club Wolverine in preparation for the Olympics. Some of the notable swimmers included Erik Vendt, Michael Phelps, Kaitlin Sandeno, and Peter Vanderkaay all of whom had Olympic experience. Bowman's success garnered him an assistant coaching position on the 2004 and 2008 Olympic teams as well as numerous other World Championships. During the summer of 2008, Bowman announced that he would be stepping down as head coach after the Olympics in order to fill the position of CEO/Head Coach for the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.
Bowman was a distance coach who had his swimmers working harder than their opponents. Michigan's history of success in the distance events was continued, with Bowman focusing on the distance program while allowing assistant coach Fernando Canales to coach the sprinters. Although his hard personality turned some people off to him, Bowman was a no nonsense coach who got the most out of his swimmers. He didn't settle for anything less than each swimmer's best, and in refusing to do so, Bowman helped his swimmers achieve goals that were deemed impossible.
Mike Bottom (2008-present): Currently entering his second year as head coach, Mike Bottom took over for Bob Bowman after the latter returned to Maryland to once again be a part of NBAC. Much like the hiring of Rich Rodriguez, Bottom’s hiring brought a new aspect to Michigan swimming. Known primarily for its distance program, Michigan hired one of the premier sprint coaches in the world. Knowing that he had a living legend among his resources, Bottom quickly asked Jon Urbanchek to help Assistant Coach Josh White manage the distance swimmers, putting together one of the most formidable coaching trios in the country.
Before he started coaching, Bottom was an accomplished student and swimmer for USC. Graduating with a degree in psychology in1978, Bottom received the Scholar-Athlete Award for the graduating athlete with the highest GPA. After finishing up his undergrad at USC, Bottom received his master’s degree in counseling at Auburn in 1983 and continued to complete all course work for a Ph.D. in sport psychology from 1995-1998. During his time swimming at USC Bottom was a five time All American and a member of three NCAA Championship teams (1975-1977). In addition to his collegiate accomplishments, Bottom made the 1980 Olympic team as part of the world-record holding 400 meter freestyle relay but did not participate due to the United States’ boycott.
After completing his Masters degree and spending ten years in the business world, Bottom returned to the swimming pool as an assistant coach for Auburn from 1991-1994. After assisting head coach David Marsh for four years, Bottom returned to his Alma Mater and spent four years (1994-1997) as an assistant coach, helping the USC women’s team win its first NCAA championship in 1997. After coaching at USC, Bottom moved on to spend ten years (1997-2007) serving as co-head coach at the University of California. While coaching in the NCAA, Bottom led swimmers to 17 national titles and learned from some of the legends in the swimming community. Coaching alongside the likes of Doc Counsilman, George Haines and Mark Schubert, Bottom decided to take his experience to The Race Club in Florida, where he developed an elite sprint program. During his time at The Race Club, Bottom’s swimmers were some of the best in the world, further developing his reputation as one of the best, if not the best, sprint coach in the world. From 1996-2004, Bottom’s swimmers won 9 of the 18 medals awarded in the sprint freestyle events (50 and 100 meter), and finished in the top two positions in both 2000 and 2004. Some of you may recognize a few of his more famous swimmers, such Gary Hall Jr. who wore boxing robes out to the starting blocks on his way to winning 10 Olympic medals. Another swimmer you may recognize is Milorad Cavic who was touched out by Michael Phelps in the 100 meter butterfly at the Beijing Olympics. Because of his coaching success, Bottom has been a part of the past four Olympics, acting as a private coach for his swimmers as well as serving as the Croatian Team Olympic coach in 2004.
Unlike his predecessor at Michigan, Bottom is a very personable coach, who goes out of his way to find out how his swimmers are doing. He has frequent meetings with his captains to see how the team is doing and goes out of his way to make himself available should anyone need him. Despite having two young daughters, Bottom has made it clear that he will stay after practice if a swimmer wants help working on something. Bottom’s caring doesn’t stop at his swimmers, he always says hello and asks how my life is going every time that I see him. He embraces a tough love style of coaching but always manages to get the best out of his swimmers by keeping practices interesting and fun. One of my favorite practices is when he takes the guys out and tells them that someone is going to break a world record today. He then changes the pool to 12.5 yards (instead of the customary 25 yards or in the case of the Olympics 50 meters), and has them do electronically timed 12.5’s the whole time yelling encouragement and getting the swimmers fired up asking “Who’s gonna break a world record today?!” As a spectator it gets me excited and ready to hop back in the pool and give it my all, and it’s obvious how pumped up the team gets. As many of you can imagine, swimming can sometimes get a little monotonous, especially for these guys, some of whom have been swimming for 16 years. Bottom goes a step farther to make sure that his swimmers enjoy swimming and their time on the team (although there are times when they hate practice). The swimmers respond to his coaching and respect his methods, and the results have not disappointed.
In his first year at Michigan, Bottom coached his team well and had them ranked as high as 4 in rankings throughout the season. Michigan went 8-1 (6-0 Big Ten) dominating all of their opponents except for a close loss to then #1 Texas. Bottom’s team finished up the season winning the Big Ten Meet easily, and went on to finish a solid 7th at NCAA’s. After bringing in a large and highly regarded recruiting class, the future looks bright for Michigan swimming with Bottom as the head coach.