Dave Durden, Greg Meehan Were No-Brainer Candidates to Lead Team USA in 2020

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Photos Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By David Rieder.

When Dave Durden was preparing to leave U.S. Nationals in 2017 as the head coach of the American men for the second consecutive FINA World Championships, he had some fun at his own expense.

“Well in 2015, we had a terrible head coach for the men. Screwed up every relay,” Durden said. “He’s going to get that right in 2017 and rely on the staff to make the right decisions with that.”

He smirked.

But Durden wouldn’t get it wrong this time, and neither would the women’s head coach, Greg Meehan. The American team in Budapest won a record medal haul, with 38 total and 18 of them gold.

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Greg Meehan coaching Katie Drabot in 2017 — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Not that either man was desperate to fill up a résumé. Durden’s Cal men’s teams had finished first or second at the NCAA championships eight straight years (now nine), and he had placed six swimmers on the previous year’s Olympic team. And Meehan, after leading three swimmers to Olympic medals, had just won an NCAA championship by 140.5 points. He was also the personal coach for two of America’s most valuable swimmers, Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel.

Both men had just served as assistants on the 2016 Olympic coaching staff one year earlier. So even back then, in mid-2017, Durden and Meehan were the odds-on favorites to be named head coaches of the U.S. teams at the 2020 Olympics. And then they nailed the audition.

The two men share roots, as before Meehan became Stanford’s head women’s coach in 2012, he spent five years as Durden’s assistant with the Cal men. The two have remained close since then, in more than one way.

“I’m two days older than Dave,” Meehan said. “We’re both 42.”

On a conference call with media announcing—confirming?—their selection on Monday, the two men were understandably humbled. Durden rattled off some of the legendary names whose company he would be joining, including Bob Kiputh and Eddie Reese. Meehan simply stated, “It is the greatest honor of my professional career.”

Given the historic record of American success in swimming, there’s also a bit of a burden attached to the position, as both Durden and Meehan acknowledged. Both indicated they would lean on their predecessors in the role for advice, 2016 head coaches David Marsh (women) and Bob Bowman (men).

“There’s an added amount of responsibility given that it’s on the international scale, and we are part of a much larger legacy within USA Swimming at the Olympic Games,” Meehan said. “But we’re excited more than anything else.”

Both men explained that even as full-time college coaches, the Olympics are an end goal, a natural progression of the day-to-day task of training and trying to improve. Durden even used a visual aid to get his point across: On a video of the conference call, Durden was sitting in front of a four-year calendar in which the entire Olympic cycle was mapped out.

“I think having what’s behind me on the wall is a daily reminder to know where we are in relation to 2020 Games and 2020 Trials and where we are today, what we need to do today to get better. As we get from the end of the calendar year 2018 into 2019, the pulse rate starts to increase as we get closer and closer,” Durden said.

“For us at Cal, a part of our legacy is being world-class. That has been established by our Cal aquatics community, and carrying that forward is part of my job on a day-to-day. You don’t get more world-class than the Olympic Games.”

Of course, those Olympic Games are currently more than 19 months away. The U.S. team won’t be selected for another 18 months. Durden and Meehan both speculated that the teams they will lead to Tokyo will include the standard mix of veterans and newcomers, but it’s impossible to know for sure—such is the nature of the Olympic selection process.

So how do they start their role as head Olympic coaches now?

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Dave Durden — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“In a word, it’s just listening,” Durden said. “It’s listening to the athletes. It’s listening to the coaches. It’s listening to USA Swimming, USA Swimming staff, the sports science side, the United States Olympic Committee, to understand better help our culture be more successful as we go forward from Olympic Games to Olympic Games.”

Durden and Meehan both know how to put together college teams and put those teams in a position to succeed. They have both seen it done to near perfection on an Olympic level in 2016 and then done so themselves at the World Championships one year after that.

The four-person committee in charge of selecting the head coaches for 2020 unanimously recommended Durden and Meehan, and USA Swimming’s Lindsay Mintenko, Mike Unger and Tim Hinchey all enthusiastically agreed. No drama needed—these were the obvious choices and the correct choices.

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