Feature By Shoshanna Rutemiller
PHOENIX, Arizona, February 5. JAMIE Martone spent most of his life competing on a swim team, but it took four years swimming for Michigan (2005-09) for him to truly appreciate the meaning of the word team.
“I thought I understood what a team meant, but I really understood what it embodied and stood for at Michigan,” he said. “We swam for Michigan. That common belief, passion and desire really kept us together.”
That “bigger picture” mentality helped the Michigan men's team through one of the biggest changes a college team can face: losing its head coach and ushering in another.
Martone spent the first three years of his collegiate career swimming under Bob Bowman. Then, prior to Martone's senior season (2008-09), Michigan announced that Bowman would step down as head coach. After three seasons coaching at Michigan (2004-08), Bowman had decided to return North Baltimore Aquatic Club (NBAC) as CEO and head coach. Bowman spent nine years (1996-2004) at NBAC prior to accepting the position at Michigan.
“We were kind of in limbo through [the 2008] Olympic Trials,” commented Martone.
Michigan hired Mike Bottom in the fall of 2008 to fill the vacant head coach position. Bottom left a ten-year tenure (1997-2007) as the co-head men's coach at the University of California, Berkeley for the position. Bottom has also coached alongside Mark Schubert at the University of Southern California (1995-97) and at Auburn with Dave Marsh (1991-94).
Even with his impressive resume, the Michigan men's team knew that weathering the transition would take a lot of effort and effective communication on their part. Martone, as a senior and co-captain, found himself at the forefront of the battle.
“It was the first time for us to be captains and the first time for [Bottom] to experience Michigan and who we were and where our goals were as a program,” Martone explains. “[The team] had a blank slate, and said [to Bottom]: 'This is what we want to do, these are our goals, this is how we got there in the past, and this is what we need to change.'”
With a team seeped in as much history as Michigan, educating a new coach can be a daunting task. In its history, the Michigan men's team has won 11 National and 36 Big Ten titles, making them one of the most successful swimming and diving programs in history. International Swimming and Michigan Sports Hall of Fame coach Jon Urbanchek coached the men's team from 1982-2004, setting up a dynasty that won 13 Big Ten Championships in that time.
“[The history of the team] goes back to Urbanchek, and everyone that created a legacy that was the Michigan program,” Martone explained. “[We had to] say: 'Mike, this is what is important to us.'”
Even though Bottom has seen much recent success with the program (in 2012, he took over as head of both the men and women's teams), any time a new coach steps in the existing team may feel a bit of unease. Questions begin to pop up: are our old traditions still going to be respected? What kind of philosophy is the new coach going to have? Is that philosophy going to be in line with our own vision for the program?
Team captains, as mediators, work to find the middle ground between coach and team. In this position, Martone recognized that leading a program in flux was a bit daunting.
“[It was a matter of] getting over the fear of the unknown, but also putting your own fears aside and figuring out how you will make a lasting impact on the individuals around you.”
Martone found the experience personally impactful, as well. He discussed gaining organizational skills and learning balance as a Michigan captain.
“Michigan was great in teaching me how to prioritize my life and establish a routine. That helps in managing the day-to-day, month-to-month, and in putting an overall plan together. [Bottom] told us: 'Everything has a system. The tricky part is learning the system. Once you learn the system, master it and then you'll become a success.'”
Martone currently balances classes in his last semester of law school with a small but growing clothing company called The Versatile Warrior. He created the business in 2009 as a partnership with his brother, Jonathan. The brothers wanted to build quality clothes that are easily adaptable to an active lifestyle.
“I was tired of spending money on clothes that I didn't like,” Martone said. “[The Versatile Warrior is] lifestyle-based clothing for what we like to call the multi-dimensional individual, whether professional, social or athletic.”
So far, Martone says that The Versatile Warrior has gotten a lot of consumer product appreciation. Although he has high hopes for the business — he wants to see it evolve into the next Ralf Lauren or Lacoste brand — he currently focuses the majority of his attention on completing his law degree. Finding this balance is something he credits handily to his time as a swimmer and captain on Michigan.
“I learn what I used as a swimmer today,” Martone said. “[Michigan] was a great growing experience. You got to see 18-year-old boys grow into men, and 22-year-old men act like boys sometimes.”
Leading the Michigan men during the program's coaching transition was an irreplaceable experience for Martone.
“[Captainship] will make you a better person.”