Arizona Head Coaching Job: Who’s Next In The Swim Legacy?

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Commentary by Michael J. Stott, Swimming World staff writer. 

Each summer from 2007-2011, I spent one week in June working in Tucson at the Arizona Swim Camp. Hillenbrand Aquatic Center became my home away from home. There I became acquainted with Frank and Augie Busch, Rick DeMont, Greg Rhodenbaugh, Whitney Hite and Roric Fink, each of whom I have since used as sources for stories I have penned for Swimming World.

I read with surprise when Swimming World broke the news that Rick DeMont had elected to retire. My mind quickly shifted to “who will replace him?” If this were a NFL position we’d have a panel of seven former players and a loquacious moderator beating this subject to death. Lots of names out there, but probably far fewer options for a program that once was a permanent resident in the NCAA top five (and double NCAA champs in 2008) but has slipped a bit (men and women were 24th and 16th, respectively, at NCAAs in 2017) since Frank Busch took the USA Swimming National Team Directorship in 2010.

So, who is next? All of the above names, former Wildcat coaches each, may seem like obvious candidates.

Let’s start with them.

Frank Busch relinquishes his position in Colorado Springs as of September 1 — and he’s moving back to Tucson where his roots run deeper than those of his native Northern Kentucky. He could step in and not miss a beat. He doesn’t mind the 323 days of Tucson sun. He can navigate his McKale offices with ease. He knows the administration. What’s not to like? One problem. As Frank has said publicly, “I don’t want to be in charge anymore.” And to be honest, he has earned the right to enjoy his family on his own terms.

His return raises one spector. With Frank back and DeMont still in town, are they the elephants in the room, looming large over any candidate? Perhaps not if its Frank’s son Augie who, after success with the women at the University of Houston and Virginia (and lesser with the men) could also effect a seamless transition. He recruits well, certainly knows the Arizona traditions, the Wildcat Code (“Honor your team with your effort”) and has proven he can handle a head job. Coming home might have great appeal, especially if he could bring his assistant and former All-Americans Cory Chitwood and his wife Ellyn Baumgardner Chitwood with him.

Greg Rhodenbaugh, head coach at Missouri, was at Arizona for 11 years. He has done an exceptional job growing the Mizzou program. He has the Tigers on an ascendant path. At the 2017 NCAAs the men finished eighth, the women 11th. He is developing domestic recruits quickly, enticing international Olympians (Dominique Bouchard, etc.) and attracting scoring transfers like Fabian Schwingenschlogl. Plus his aquatic venue is state of the art. Columbia has become home to him, his wife and eight children. Greg Rhodenbaugh is an outstanding breaststroke coach but he’s not crazy. Why move?

Whitney Hite just finished his sixth year at the helm with the men and women of Wisconsin. He has the swimming chops. He swam for Eddie Reese at Texas, he was head man at the University of Washington until the school folded the women’s team, and he spent two years in Tucson. Badger teams have improved since his arrival. He had a NCAA champion in 2013 with Drew teDuits, 2016 Big Ten Swimmer of the Year in Matt Hutchins, developed two-time swimmer of the Big Ten Championships in Ivy Martin and recruits well having attracted Beata Nelson and transfer Cierra Runge to Madison. Hite also loves the Colorado Rockies, and Denver is closer to Tucson than Madison.

How about Roric Fink, assistant to Frank Busch and head coach of the very successful Tucson Ford USA Swimming juggernaut? For the last five years he has assisted Carol Capitani at Texas, helping boost the Lady ‘Horns to a fourth place NCAA finish this spring. Prior to that he spent two years with Rhodenbaugh at Missouri and 11 years at Arizona. Fink clearly knows the territory and has worked with world class swimmers Gary Hall, Jr., Jeff Rouse and Klete Keller, in addition to the decorated athletes at Arizona. Surely he is ready for a top spot. This needs to be a name on Wildcat athletic director David Heeke’s list.

That takes care of the home grown. What about the free agent name on everybody’s list — David Marsh. What’s not to like? 12 NCAA men’s and women’s titles at uber-competitive Auburn, 2016 Olympic coach, head Team Elite USA Swimming’s enclave at SwimMAC in Charlotte. He knows everyone in swimming worldwide. Name a better international recruiter (well, maybe not better than Brian Reynolds at Drury). He has an excellent rapport with swimmers, has trained the best in the world and is available. But on what terms?

Question, if Marsh located to Tucson would the collegiate aquatic landscape take a seismic shift westward? You’d have both 2016 head U.S. Olympic swim coaches in Arizona, 112 miles apart. Bob Bowman and Michael Phelps reside in Tempe and are quickly resurrecting a moribund (the men went from 44th to 14th in one year) Sun Devil program. With Marsh in Tucson, a returning Busch and resident DeMont there would be immense residual knowledge. Bring back the recently departed Bob Gillett and Arizona Desert Fox, and swimming might displace football and softball as the state’s favorite sport.

Want to shake things up? Bring back Dick Jochums, the former Arizona coach who became the USA’s middle distance guru, placing swimmers on every major USA international team from 1973 through 1988.  He was assistant or head coach of eight major USA National Teams. Among his swimmers are two hall of famers: Tim Shaw and Bruce Furniss. At one time, Shaw simultaneously held the world record in the 200m, 400, 800m and 1500m freestyle.

Just a thought. What’s yours?

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

6 comments

  1. avatar
    Steve Schaffer

    Greg Byrne is now the AD at Alabama. The Arizona AD is David Heeke and it is his list the candidates need to be on.

    • avatar
      John

      As usual Steve,you are incorrect. The head AD will be one of severalAD’s making th decision on the coach.

  2. Correct. Author oversight. Thank you.

  3. avatar
    Jill

    Coley Stickels (alumn) and arguably the best sprint coach in the world. Would be great transition from Rick to Coley