The following article is reprinted with the permission of the Battalion, the student newspaper for Texas A&M University. Our thanks to both the Editor in Chief and to Sports Editor Jordan Meserole.
Please see Newsmaster's Note after the end of the article.
Head coach Mel Nash Celebrates 25 years
In a quarter century, Nash has turned
A&M swimming and diving into a winner
By Jordan Meserole
Published: Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Texas A&M men´s swimming and diving head coach Mel Nash is in his 25th season as head coach at A&M. Nash has a 147-81 dual meet record for his career at A&M. (Photo by Art Wright/The Battalion)
Texas A&M men's head swimming coach Mel Nash is never hard to locate on the pool deck. His booming voice and boisterous laugh resonate throughout the Student Recreation Center Natatorium. His radiant smile can be seen from the other end of the pool, and he readily extends his bear-like hand whenever he sees a new face. Nash can make anyone feel welcome in what he has called his home for the past 25 years.
For a quarter of a century now, Nash has been building an A&M swimming program, that was once considered a joke, into one of the most respected programs in the nation.
When Nash got a phone call from the University 25 years ago, he said he was quite surprised. Nash said he wasn't sure what to think about the opportunity initially, especially based on his first impressions of the school.
"When I had come down the previous year for a dual meet, the pool was dusty, we drove through the bad part of town and all I had ever heard about A&M were the jokes," Nash said. "I was not all that impressed."
After much consideration, Nash accepted the job. It would be a decision that would eventually add many more accomplishments to his resume.
Nash began his swimming career in Monroeville, Pa., a small suburb of Pittsburgh. Before he graduated from high school, Nash had earned a gold medal in the Pan American Games, was named the National High School
Swimmer of the Year and had been a high school All-American for four straight years.
Nash went on to attend Indiana University, where he would continue to compile accolades. He won eight conference titles, participated in 15 NCAA Championship finals, earned a gold medal in the 1973 World Championships and then a bronze medal in the 1975 World Championships.
With diploma fresh in hand, Nash entered the coaching ranks at the University of Texas at Arlington. Nash was 22 years old at the time, making him the youngest head coach of any sport in NCAA Division I history. After two years, the university decided to cut the program, leaving Nash looking for a job. With A&M searching for a new coach, the timing couldn't have been better.
Nash and his wife Carol packed their bags in the summer of 1979 and headed for College Station. It didn't take them long to fall in love with the University and town.
"We were here for about six weeks, had gone to about three or four football games, and we both suddenly realized that we were going to be here a while," Nash said. "I felt like this was the place I was destined to be."
In his tenure at A&M, Nash's teams have achieved 147 wins on the men's side and 81 wins by the women, both school records. Over the previous five years, Nash's dual meet record of 35-8 is one of the top winning percentages in the nation. He has coached 38 All-American men and 23 All-American women, as well as some who have gone on to medal in Pan American Games, Goodwill Games and U.S. national championships.
Assistant coach Jay Holmes, who has been Nash's right-hand man for the past 18 years, said Nash's success comes largely from his coaching style.
"His instincts are maybe one of the best in coaching," Holmes said. "He coaches from his gut a lot."
Nash has had many athletes come to the A&M program with average high school times and unusual form, but his successful coaching techniques transformed them into top-ranked swimmers. Holmes said Nash is a type of master motivator, getting the athletes to achieve many things they thought they couldn't.
"Mel really coaches the individual and the person, not just the athlete," Holmes said. "There's really no magical things Mel does – he just does what he does really well."
Senior Josh Hill has experienced the benefits of being coached by Nash. Hill has dropped a considerable amount of time off his personal bests and owns the fifth best time in A&M 200-yard backstroke history. Hill said Nash was a big deciding factor for him when choosing which school to sign with four years ago.
"Mel seemed committed to keeping the team as a family," Hill said. "He really gives us a strong sense of team-being, whereas other schools seem to focus on individuals."
Away from his "family" at the pool, Nash has a family that is just as involved with the swimming program as he is. Carol Nash, his wife, is administrative director and head counselor for an Aggie swim camp the two host every summer. Their two children, Kathryn and Mel II, have participated in many of the camps and swim competitively.
Carol said the key to keeping a strong family and relationships has been doing as much as possible together at the pool as well as away from it.
"We've never tried to keep everything separate," Carol said. "It's always been part of our life – pretty much swimming 24 hours a day."
It's hard to escape Mel Nash without hearing a story, such as a thriller about Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, or a bittersweet one about the 1976 Olympic trials or a delightful one about the women's team finishing in the top 10 in 1986. He seems to have an endless supply of stories. But there's one story that Nash loves to tell above all others. It is the story of how a young man and his wife came to fall in love with a school 25 years ago. And how does this story end? Nash said he doesn't have the answer to that yet, but does know that the ending will be good.
"I love A&M," Nash said. "This is home for us. We're not done here yet."
Newsmaster note: Reading the story now carries an unmistakable tinge of irony, especially the last three sentences which sensed no end in sight for Coach Nash's loyalty, service and success at Texas A&M. Nash was forced to resign less than five months later, as was reported by SwimInfo on 06-29-04 (check the left side of our home page for the Past Stories archive section under Swimming News).
A&M Athletic Director Bill Byrne has a long history at other institutions of inheriting previously healthy, even excellent, swimming programs and severely downgrading or even terminating them on his watch. The A&M program continues so far, and even with an apparent commitment to maintain the Nash tradition of quality staff (See July 26 SwimInfo note on hiring of Doug Boyd as a men's assistant coach). Hopefully Byrne has turned over a new leaf for the long run. We will be watching with interest.