STANFORD, California, May 16. ONE of the most respected coaches in the world of swimming, Stanford's Goldman Family Director of Men's Swimming, Skip Kenney, 69, announced his retirement today following 33 years at the helm of the Cardinal program.
Kenney will coach the Cardinal through the U.S. Trials, ending July 2.
“Who would have ever have thought it? I grew up in California and in Fresno, went to Long Beach State and Stanford was always the big name.” said Kenney. “We exceeded all levels of expectation. The kind of people you get to work with here, the athletes that come through here. You pinch yourself when you are really here. It's just unbelievable.”
To understand Kenney's impact on the sport, it goes beyond the seven NCAA titles or 31-straight Pac-10/12 titles, the 1086 All-America certificates or 72 NCAA champions. The three-time Olympic coach also produced 20 of his own Olympians, which won a combined 18 medals from 1984 through 2008. But that still doesn't tell the whole story.
“Coach Kenney is one of the iconic figures in college swimming and he has had a profound impact in shaping the lives of hundreds of young men,” said Jaquish & Kenninger Director of Athletics Bob Bowlsby. “Skip has always been a coach that put the team first and in doing so, he has taught lifetime lessons about how to weave the fabric of a high achieving organization. The Stanford Men's Swimming Program under Coach Kenney's guidance has established many standards that will never be equaled in the PAC 12 or nationally”
His teams made NCAA history. No other team has finished fourth or better at every NCAA meet from 1982 to 2012. And conference history, too. The 31-straight titles crushed John Wooden's UCLA team record of 14-straight titles in 1995. Wooden was on deck that day to honor that accomplishment.
“These athletes are so bright, so dedicated and I don't know how you describe it,” said Kenney. “They are just really, really good people. Most of them have leadership skills, which means they care about their teammates.”
Individually, he was a six-time NCAA coach of the year and 20-time Pac-10 coach of the year. In 2004 he was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame and in 2005 the American Swim Coaches Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the Fresno Athletics and Stanford Athletics Halls of Fame.
His coaching position is also endowed, courtesy of the Goldman Family in 2011, mostly because of his efforts.
Equally impressive is the fact that 100 percent of his athletes have graduated, including 10 which were Academic All-Americans– including Olympians Pablo Morales, Ray Carey, Kurt Grote and Ben Wildman-Tobriner.
“When I think of swimming, the 10 things that are most important to me, all 10 come from Stanford,” said Olympic Gold medalist Jay Mortenson. “The Olympic gold medal is a good distance behind.”
As former swimmer, Adam Messner noted in a Stanford Magazine feature six years ago, “A generation-spanning community of swimmers and former swimmers would all 'lie down in traffic for him,'”
There are certain traditions that likely will continue– the passing down of a pair of sweats from the 1967 NCAA championship team, given annually to the teammate with the best team spirit; or the annual run around campus in their Speedos and running shoes; or the gloves of 1993 graduate Chas Morton, for the swimmer with the best leap from dual to championship season.
Every New Year's Day, swimmers went to the Veteran's Hospital to watch football with the residents. Kenny was especially fond of the veterans from the Greatest Generation, and what they could pass on to his athletes.
His swimmers have also tried to get out of practice, by singing the Marines' Hymm on the Marines birthday. It sometimes works.
Kenney was looking up at his wall of NCAA champions, recently and said, “That's why I've been here. It is how much each individual athlete cared and wanted to make their teammate better. You saw it over and over. They would say, let me stay after practice to look at your stroke, let me look under water and look how you're pulling. It went on for years.”
That culture, which Kenney first built when he came to The Farm in 1979, has survived because of his athletes, who routinely come back, most notably during the Pac-12 and NCAA Championships to root on their team first, coach second.
The Stanford Magazine article put it best from Kenney then said, “I rely on the alums for some of the decisions we make on the team. Think of it: most of them were in swimming for 18 years. And the last four of those years they were surrounded by all this other great talent. Why waste all that knowledge and experience?”
Kenney never swam competitively. The Fresno native graduated from Long Beach State in 1972. He was an assistant for the 49ers from 1968 to 1971 and also coached at Harvard from 1971 to 1972. For the next seven years he coached AAU teams in Houston (1972-76) and Cincinnati (1979). A former Marine, he served in Vietnam and went to then California State College, Long Beach, on the GI Bill.
Keneny was hired by athletics director Andy Geiger to replace the retiring Jim Gaughran.
Compare and contrast Kenney's impact on the program. When he got the job at Stanford, the Cardinal had won one national title (1967) and finished third another three times from 1936 to 1980. Under Kenney, the Cardinal were third or better, 27 times. From 1916 to his arrival in 1979, Stanford had won conference 31 titles. In his 33 years, he won 31.
The Cardinal finished sixth in the Pac-10 his first season. Three years later they were Pac-10 champions for the first time, and finished third at the NCAA meet. By 1985, he won the first of three-straight NCAA titles. He won another three-straight NCAA titles from 1992-94. He won his last NCAA title in 1998. His teams have finished as NCAA runners-up another seven times.
His teams also set the standard in swimming. The 1992 NCAA champions set the meet record with 632 points, with a record 276 points over second place Texas. That team set seven American records, as the Cardinal were the first-ever team to sweep all five relays. The 1998 team became the first NCAA team to produce a swimmer in every A final of an individual swim event or relay. His first NCAA champion, in 1985, paced by Olympians Pablo Morales, John Moffett and Jeff Kostoff, won eight events. Morales, a sophomore at the time, won three of his 11 NCAA titles that year.
An Olympic coach as well, he was an assistant for Team USA in 1984 and 1988 and was the head men's coach in Atlanta in 1996. He was also a U.S. National coach at the Pan-American, Pan-Pacific and other world championship events.
The 20 Olympians also included two walk-ons– Ryan Grote and Tom Wilkens. Maybe the ultimate testament to his athlete's commitment from start to finish. The record books are now filled with his athletes. The Stanford top-15 is entirely Kenney-coached athletes. His legacy is set, but his teams will live on.
“Skip will leave a long-lasting legacy of leadership and excellence from his incredible career here at Stanford,” said senior associate athletics director and swim administrator Earl Koberlein. “He not only won championships, but he produced great men. To paraphrase many of his former student-athletes, “He made us better men, husbands and fathers”.”
Kenney By the Numbers
Years at Stanford: 33 (1979-2012)
NCAA Titles: 7
Conference Titles: 31 (all in a row)
Top-Three NCAA Finishes: 27 (never lower than fourth)
NCAA Coach of the Year: 6
Pac-10 Coach of the Year: 20
Top-16 Individual Finishes: 1086
NCAA Champions: 72
Olympic Medals: 18
CoSIDA Academic All-Americans: 10
Graduation Rate: 100 Percent
Stanford Olympians Under Kenney
Pablo Morales (1984, 1992)
Jeff Kostoff (1984, 1988)
Joe Hudepohl (1992, 1996)
Jeff Rouse (1992, 1996)
Eddie Parenti (1992, 1996)
Siobhan Cropper (1996, 2000)
Markus Rogan (2004, 2008)
John Moffet (1984)
Anthony Mosse (1984)
David Sims (1984)
Sean Murphy (1988)
Jason Plummer (1988)
Kurt Grote (1996)
Ray Carey (1996)
Tom Wilkens (2000)
Ben Wildman-Tobriner (2008)
David Dunford (2008)
Jason Dunford (2008)
Phillip Morrison (2008)
Tobias Oriwol (2008)
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