LOS ALAMITOS, CA, January 14. TWO-TIME U.S. women’s Olympic Head Coach Guy Baker (Long Beach, CA/Long Beach State) has been selected as the new men’s Head Coach, USA Water Polo announced Thursday.
Baker fills the void left by Ratko Rudic, who resigned the post on December 9 to accept the head coaching job in his native Croatia.
“I’m really excited about the change and the challenges that lie ahead,” said Baker. “Making the decision to go over to the men’s side was really difficult, but as a coach it was great to have the opportunity to build a program. I had to weigh that against the women’s success over the last few years, which was tough. I’ve enjoyed coaching them. It was a great experience.”
Baker, known for his passionate coaching style and his meticulous dedication to planning and preparation, has been one of the most successful coaches in international water polo since he began with the U.S. in 1998.
“Guy Baker was an excellent choice for the men’s team and for USA Water Polo,” said USA Water Polo Executive Director Tom Seitz. “His dedication to excellence is second to none and we think he’ll help elevate our men’s program to the next level.”
In 2001, Baker and Rudic were selected as USWP’s first-ever, full-time National Team Head Coaches. Both men were also named as National Teams Director, a title that gave each coach the responsibility of developing their programs at all levels and in all parts of the country. Baker is looking forward to implementing his experience in that capacity into the men’s program.
“In order to have long-term success, you must have a well-developed, seamless, athlete pipeline,” said Baker. “Coaches prior to 2001 didn’t always have the ability to focus as much time to that because of other responsibilities.”
Baker feels that his years developing new programs and events with the women’s teams will lend nicely to his new position, both competitively and with regards to development. In 2002, Baker and his staff introduced the Speedo Top 40 Festival and P.A.C.E. (Programs for Athletes and Coaches Education) programs. The Top 40 Festival brings together the nation’s top athletes to participate in a three-day competition, with all games set against the backdrop of a water polo festival. P.A.C.E. has developed into the nation’s most successful series of clinics because of its hands-on approach through Olympic athletes, athlete-to-coach ratio and flat out quality of product.
“Part of my decision to leave UCLA was the opportunity to just be a coach, which is something many college coaches aren’t able to do,” he said. “So the last several years, I’ve been able to dedicate a lot of time to my craft and I think I’ve improved as a coach. We’ve also done a lot of things on the women’s side that I think will go a long way toward improving the men’s programs.”
Baker has been Last summer, Baker became the first women’s Olympic coach to guide his teams to medals at both Olympics, winning a silver in 2000 and a bronze in 2004. He led the U.S. into the Athens Games having won gold at seven of eight international tournaments, including the top spot at the first-ever FINA World League Super Final for women in Long Beach (Calif.) in June. In 2003, the U.S. women’s team became only the second non-European squad to win a World Championship, the only other being Australia in 1986. The U.S. followed its World Championship run by dominating its way to a gold at the Pan American Games. In 2002, the U.S. played its way to a silver medal at the FINA World Cup.
It didn’t take Baker long to engineer the women’s turnaround after coming on in 1998. After coaching the team to its Olympic qualification on its last chance, Baker’s team made it to the gold medal game of the Sydney Olympics – a game attended by a record 17,500 fans – only to lose out to host Australia on a last-second goal. From there, Baker’s teams medaled in all but one major championship, finishing in fourth place at the 2001 FINA World Championships. Overall, the U.S. women only failed to play for a medal in one international tournament since 1999.
Baker is also no stranger to coaching men. As the Head Coach at UCLA, Baker guided his men’s teams to NCAA titles in 1995, 1996, 1999 and 2000. He also coached the Bruin women to three straight titles from 1996-98. He became the first coach to lead a men’s and a women’s collegiate team to titles in the same academic year, a feat he accomplished twice: 1995-96 and 1996-97.
“I think that Guy Baker will make the transition from the women’s side to the men’s side quite easily,” said USA Water Polo President Richard Foster. “He had great success at UCLA on the men’s side and really has his finger on the pulse of international water polo. Italy just moved their women’s coach, Pierluigi Formiconi, over to the men’s side and he and Guy are fierce rivals, so the battle continues.”
Baker will be joined by his assistant coach of the last four years, Kyle Kopp (San Bernardino, CA/Long Beach State) and former men’s assistant coach Dan Leyson (Los Angeles, CA/USC).
Baker’s selection is scheduled to be ratified by USWP’s Men’s International Olympic Committee at the upcoming Annual Meeting (Jan. 13-17) in Houston (Tex.).
Baker on Baker
“My philosophy is that everything you’re doing is preparation for the Olympics. What makes the difference is your focus on the short term goals that go into that preparation.”
There are four components, according to Baker, that comprise that philosophy.
Training – “We have to have effort, intensity and purpose. And we must always be training to compete. So we constantly have to evaluate the efficiency of our training.”
Competition at home – “When we’re at home, we play well. That’s the bottom line. We don’t get many home games over the course of a year, so when we do and we have fans coming out to watch, it’s extremely important that we play well. That adds to the excitement of what we’re doing and it keeps our fans behind us. So we have to perform well when we play in the U.S.”
Competition abroad – “Just like when our fans come to our games and expect to see us win, our opponents’ fans expect to see their teams win. So we basically want to make sure that their fans leave disappointed. This helps us maintain our focus on the road.”
Major championships – “Everyone knows that everything is a lead-up to the Olympics and that the Olympics are what we do this for, but it’s important to field competitive teams for major championships. There’s a lot to be learned from them. You are working toward the Olympics, but you want to be able to evaluate your team’s standing from these championships: How did we do? What can we learn? What can we improve? What did we do well?”
Men’s International Olympic Committee
The Men’s International Olympic Committee that selected Baker to his new post consisted of an A-List of water polo figures, including three previous U.S. men’s head coaches.
Bill Barnett – Chair (U.S. Men’s Olympic Head Coach 1988, 1992)
Rich Corso – (U.S. Men’s Olympic Head Coach 1996)
John Vargas – (U.S. Men’s Olympic Head Coach, 2000)
Dan Hackett – (U.S. Olympic Goalkeeper 1996, 2000)