Dennis Pursley Bringing “The Best of Both Worlds” in Training Styles to Alabama
PHOENIX, Arizona, October 12. DENNIS Pursley has had a “fast and furious” first few weeks as head coach of the swim teams at the University of Alabama, and on today's edition of The Morning Swim Show, he talks about the steps he's taking to ensure long-term success in Tuscaloosa.
Pursley's coaching philosophies have evolved since he worked with Mary T. Meagher in the 1980s, and he talks about how he is combining the high-yardage and high-quality concepts at Alabama to suit every swimmer's needs. He also discusses his coaching staff, which includes former 100 free world record holder Jonty Skinner, as well as two of his children, David and Lisa. He also looks back on his time as national head coach for British Swimming and analyzes the swimmers' performances in London. Be sure to visit SwimmingWorld.TV for more video interviews.
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Tiffany Elias: This is the Morning Swim Show for Friday, October 12, 2012. I am your host Tiffany Elias. Our guest in the FINIS Monitor has one of the most decorated coaching resumes. His accolades include the U.S.A. National Team Director, Coach to numerous Olympians and world record holders and right up there on the list he was my own high school club coach. After spending the last 4 years working for British Swimming, Denny Pursley has headed back over the pond and can now add the head coach of the University of Alabama swim team to the long list. Denny, welcome to the show.
Dennis Pursley: Thanks Tiffany. It is great to be with you.
Tiffany: Yeah, congratulations first off on your new head coaching position over there in Alabama. How about the first couple of months taken off?
Dennis: Well fast and furious, so we are having fun. We have got a great staff here and we are having fun working together. The team has really embraced the new regime so and it is everything I had hoped it would be.
Tiffany: Well new regime is definitely probably an understatement knowing where you are coming from, but let's talk about that first. You were over in Great Britain for 4 years. Now what were your overall thoughts on their performance in London and the overall swimming while you were over there working for British Swimming?
Dennis: Well it's a great program, a great system. We have got exceptional coaches, swimmers are very focused and professional and a pleasure to work with and I think British swimming is going to be a contender internationally in the years to come with the system and the program they have set up. We were real pleased with a number of swimmers we got to the finals, which was more than Britain has ever gotten before in Olympic finals and I think maybe third behind the U.S. and Australia, but to be honest we were disappointed that we didn't get more to the podium but they fought hard and you know they swam well and were right there and I may be good things in store for me in the future.
Tiffany: Overall, do you think the expectations of swimming were fulfilled? I know each event is a little bit different but overall as far as records and speed, were you satisfied with that?
Dennis: Well, I was pleased with the attitude and the approach and the way they were racing but I was hoping to see us thinking another step is as we are then as far as the performances are concerned and it just didn't happen and there is probably 101 reasons that you could look at it as you always do in the debriefing process to try to determine why that step wasn't taken at that time, but as I said they were right there. It is not that the system is broken. It got the swimmers in position to be competitive and to get the podium and I am sure that they will have that figured out and we will see them in the future.
Tiffany: All right so you are back on American soil making a pretty large change there to take the Head Coach position of Alabama. What was your motivation behind accepting that position?
Dennis: Well to be honest Tiffany, it is my Alma Mater, so there is an attraction there and finished my swimming career here and started my coaching career 40 years ago here at the University of Alabama. I was on Coach Don Gambril's first staff as a graduate assistant. That is where I got my start and of course I have had a little bit of Crimson in my blood since then it really wasn't on the radar screen and it was only in the last spring when the position opened up and I was contacted and at first really wasn't looking in this direction, but I did manage to get out for a visit for a couple of days and when I came here I was sold. It is just the culture here and the university and in the athletic department, the optimism, the enthusiasm it was contagious and the athletic department is on the move. Sports are succeeding at the highest level in the NCAA, more than just football and kind of permeated to the whole environment and you just you get caught up in it. It is hard not to. It is a fun place to be right now.
Tiffany: So is it pretty similar to when you were back on the pool back there 40 years ago? Have things stayed pretty relatively the same there in Alabama?
Dennis: Well some things have, a lot of things have changed. This 50-meter pool that we have, we did not have when I was here. We still – it is attached to the one I did swimming the 25-yard pool and we still got that, but the campus itself of course everything that was here when I was are still here but it has expanded well beyond that and just the strides at the university has taken academically and in the rankings and standings has been very impressive so it is a university that has made great strides in every area in recent years.
Tiffany: Now what is also special about your coaching situation is you have some of your kids there working with you. Lisa and David are out there also on the coaching staff so how have their roles played in and how is that been with them on your coaching staff working for you?
Dennis: Well it has been great because we have got the guys, the old guys have been around the block a few times like myself and Jonty Skinner. We have got coaches that are have had a lot of experience but maybe not quite far down the road as Jonty and I are and Mike Davidson and James Barber. We have even got a coach from Australia that is over here with us for this year and he is enjoying it so much. Scott Crawford is his name and he is trying to find ways to be able to stay longer. But then we have got David and Lisa who bring some enthusiastic and fresh ideas and youth in the mix and I think we have got a great mix that we all kind of complement one another well and we get all the bases covered and it is just a fun group to work with.
Tiffany: Yeah, definitely sounds like that. So now I personally knowing where your coaching philosophies used to be, and you were also the coach of Mary T. Meagher and many people I have had rumors of her training which you are responsible for a lot of that, and looking back on the sets we used to do that I know carried over from those years: 10,000 freestyle sets, 6,000 stroke sets. Have you maintained those philosophies and has that carried over into the college level because we have seen a lot of decline from the club emphasis on quantity, quantity over to quality in college. So how would you say your philosophies have changed or have stayed the same here at Alabama?
Dennis: Well, Tiffany, we talked about this with the team and in my opinion there is no question that the school has evolved in recent years and recent decades for that matter and we are doing some things more effectively and better in training the athletes than were doing when I first started coaching, but I also believe that we kind of thrown the baby out with the bath water in some cases too and maybe left some behind some training methods and philosophies that we may have in some respects been doing a better job in years past and what we are trying to do is bring the best of both worlds to the University of Alabama program and all other programs. We have different training programs. We have different training programs for sprinters as compared to distance swimmers and IMers and breaststrokers do event-specific training as do the middle distance swimmers and the other strokes and so it is different for each group, but as far as the basic philosophy is concerned we try to incorporate the best you know with the new energy. If you look at the swimmers making it to the podium and at the highest levels of our sport at the Olympic level for the most part those are swimmers that are coming from programs with that philosophy.
Tiffany: Well that was really my follow-up question was what you want to do with Alabama this year and your goals for the team? You really covered that there, but if you could have your swimmers walk away from practice with one thing in their head, what that be? What do you really want to enforce on these swimmers that can kind of curve their way of thinking?
Dennis: Well we are starting, I think even more important than the workout that is on the paper each day, is just the culture that we are trying to build in the program and we have got it written in big black letters across the pool wall and we are trying to develop a culture of excellence that will enable every swimmer on the team to fully maximize or develop his or her individual potential and fully develop the potential of the team. And we believe that that is based on the three pillars that that is based on our attitude, character and commitment and it has just flashed all over the walls and that is what our focus is now and to build that culture and we feel like the results will come from that over time and the team would as I said has really brought in couldn't be more pleased with the buying that we have had from the team and it really is a positive fun environment to work in right now.
Tiffany: Well, Denny I know from personal experience swimming under you for 4 years really changed my outlook and a lot of ways I looked at life in general not just swimming so the swimmers are very fortunate to have you up there as their head coach and we definitely look forward to seeing how you do this season and hopefully see you and a large team out there at NCAA's.
Dennis: Well thanks Tiffany and we have got – it is going to be a long process to get to where we want to be. We will take one step at a time, but we are having fun getting there.
Tiffany: Great thank you Denny.
Dennis: Thank you.
Tiffany: That is Dennis Pursley in the FINIS Monitor. That will conclude today's Morning Swim Show. Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with all the latest news. I am your host Tiffany Elias. Thanks for watching.
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