BLOOMINGTON, IN., October 18. THE Indiana University men's swimming and diving outlook changed drastically one morning this past June.
That day, Athletic Director Michael McNeely named former University of Southern California All-America and more recently — the extremely successful coach of the University of the Pacific Tigers — Ray Looze, Jr., as the eighth head swimming coach in Hoosier history.
The Looze era formally opens today with the annual red-and-white intra-squad meet. The Hoosiers then swim Evansville's Purple Aces Saturday at home.
Looze succeeds former University of Texas sprint star Kris Kirchner, who was a member of Longhorn Coach Eddie Reese's initial NCAA Championship team in 1981.
In naming Looze to head the men's program, McNeely handed the California native the keys to a program that has secured six national championships, 23 Big Ten titles and innumerable Olympic gold medalists in its illustrious history — Mark Spitz and Gary Hall, whose son Gary Jr. is still one of America's top sprinters.
However, Indiana has fallen on hard times since the retirement of fabled coach James (Doc) Counsilman in the late '80s — so Looze has a major rebuilding job ahead of him.
Looze was recognized as the Big West Conference men's Coach-of-the-Year following four of his five years at the Stockton, CA. school, and last spring he put paid to U Cal Santa Barbara's 23-year-reign as men's league champs in a stunning upset.
At Indiana, Looze inherits a program that finished seventh at the 2002 Big Ten Championships — the Hoosiers' worst Big Ten finish since 1954. Despite recent struggles, the Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatic Center, which was completed in 1996, coupled with the recruiting allure that a world-renowned university provides, should provide the energetic, achievement-oriented Looze with a strong foundation upon which to build.
"The major goal is to get everyone accustomed to a new philosophy, new goals, and direction," said Looze. "I presented the goals to the team at the very first meeting. Thus far things are going well. This year we want to set a foundation from a team standpoint of how we are going to do things from this point into the future."
(While the strength of NCAA Division 1 swimming has been centered in California, Texas and Florida for nearly the last three decades Michigan, under Coach Jon Urbancek, won the title in 1995 and has been a consistently high finisher since. Minnesota has also risen to the fore under Coach Dennis Dale and Northwestern is showing signs of life too.
Despite last season's disappointing finish, Looze does not take over a program totally void of talent. "We had three swimmers and one diver qualify for NCAAs last year," said Looze. "I've identified the talent on the team and there are probably seven to eight guys that could make (2003 NCAAs) in a perfect world. So that's the standard. If we have a perfect season we'd get seven or eight young men to the meet and we'd get back into the Top 20 with the same personnel in place
that took seventh [at Big 10s] last year. If we do this, we're pointed in the right direction."
He adds that he'd like to increase the team's visibility to a point where his program is as talked about as the Hoosier men's hoop team, which was co-Big 10 champ and made it into the NCAA Final Four.