Eddie Reese: Inside the Mind of One of Swimming’s Greatest Coaches

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Eddie Reese has been one of the most successful swimming coaches of all-time. What makes him so good? Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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Eddie Reese has one of the most talented training groups in the entire world, and has had that for the better part of four decades, having been the head men’s coach of the Texas swim team since the fall of 1978. In those 40 years as head coach, Reese has won 14 NCAA team titles. Getting dynasties started and maintained in any sport is difficult and swimming is no different. So the obvious question: “what makes Texas so good?”

“Everybody always wants to know ‘how many Olympians do you have?’ Reese says. “I don’t know. I just want to make this group better.” Texas has had 39 Olympians in men’s swimming according to its own fact book, but that figure doesn’t matter to Reese, who just takes it one year at a time.

So how is it this year?

“This is probably the best team I’ve had in the fly-back-and breaststroke events. The year we got six in the final eight in the 100 fly–we’re not that good but we are a strong solid through 3-5 people in all those events.”

That depth was on full display this past weekend at the Minnesota Invitational when the Longhorns squashed defending champions Cal putting out the number one time in Division I in nine total events. Texas put together two 400 medley relays faster than Cal’s A, which is pretty impressive considering the Golden Bears had four All-Americans on their relay and still got beat by Texas’ B team. That weekend in Minneapolis was certainly a statement made by the Longhorns, but it assuredly doesn’t change Texas’ season at all.

“We never talk about winning. I just talk about how can they help me make them better,” Eddie Reese said. “And they know I don’t accept anything easier than what we are doing. Easy doesn’t work in this sport.”


What Makes Eddie Reese So Good at What He Does?

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Eddie Reese chatting with Jack Bauerle at the 2018 NCAAs. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Eddie Reese claims he doesn’t know everything and he is constantly trying to find ways to get better.

“You’re never an expert in your own country or your own town. I’m not even an expert in my own house.”

“Best advice I’ve gotten in the past five years was from Wayne Goldsmith. I listen to people in the world — he is one of them. Wayne said ‘stay engaged.'”

One thing he does every day is he always has his eyes on the pool. He never wants to miss something going on in practice so he never turns his back.

“I just talk to them. During practice, before, after. When (volunteer coach) Patrick (McCloskey) first started, he asked what am I supposed to do? I said to stand over a lane and talk to them. That’s all anybody needs in this sport. When people come in to look at our program, I tell them that I will answer any of your questions but you watch what I do and let me know what I can do better.

“It’s a joke to think we are good at everything all the time.”

The Longhorns have finished in the top two every year at NCAAs since 2008 except one. Not even Nick Saban or Mike Krzyzewski can claim that sort of dominance. Of course swimming is hardly comparable to football and basketball, but the level of dominance that Texas men’s swimming and diving has had in the last two decades is unmatched in those sports.

All teams want to win but Texas doesn’t seem to obsess over winning a national title. Their goal is just to make everyone around them better, and it has resulted in 14 national championships over 40 years. Reese doesn’t know where his championship rings are but he does know the work that everyone has done to get them there.

“One of our mottos is ‘take care of yourself. Take care of each other and that takes care of everything else.’ We think we are complicated. We’re not. We’re really simple,” he said.

“I tell (my swimmers) in practice I want you to notice what the people around you are doing and comment positively. Don’t say anything negative. Because if a peer said ‘oh you got to pick it up’ they will either cuss you out or blow you off. So you say the good things. The negative stuff is (the coaches) job. There are no miracles in swimming. Everybody is alike.”

Like Eddie Reese said, there are no miracles and there really are no secrets. The only secret it seems is that it’s not even about swimming. Who you surround yourself with can drastically impact your swimming for better or worse. Ultimately you want to be around people that you like, and those people will help push you to be the best you can be. Motivation is key, but Reese doesn’t believe he can motivate someone to work hard every single day. It is up to the swimmer themselves to do the work.

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Eddie Reese with Will Licon; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“The way I explain it, you take the X-Y axis…that 0 around the intersection is the level that you live at. You get up in the morning and start doing 15 pushups and 20 sit-ups on the minute for three rounds and you keep doing that…it will raise your level. That’s the only way you can do that in swimming – to raise your level. You can’t get motivated to work hard.”

Reese brings up Brendan Hansen, who won eight NCAA titles in the 100 and 200 breaststroke during his time at Texas from 2000 – 2004. He lost only one race in his entire college career — a duel meet loss to Erik Vendt in a 200 to which Reese still jokingly blames himself for killing Brendan in practice resulting in his one loss. Hansen came into Austin in the fall of 2000 having just come off two devastating third place finishes at the Olympic Trials. And Hansen never wanted to feel that again.

“He didn’t drive at it. He didn’t write it all over things. He just raised that X-Axis and made his zero higher than it used to be,” he said. Ultimately, Hansen had an incredible NCAA career, broke a couple world records, and won three individual Olympic medals across three trips to the Games.


Even after losing NCAAs in their home pool to Cal last season, the Longhorns were in fairly good spirits after the last day despite having their national title winning streak snapped after four straight seasons.

“We were happy with what we had done and I think it’s important to emphasize what you’ve done and then be upset about the results and take that out in the pool later,” current Texas junior Austin Katz said about last year’s NCAAs. “I think that was the general consensus for everyone.”

“We wanted to enjoy what we did really well and focus on getting better because I think channeling that negative energy isn’t benefitting anyone and just looks bad on your character. I think that’s something we wanted to bottle up and use it in training later on.”

Success isn’t defined by winning and losing. It is defined by how you improve yourself.


Texas This Year

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Drew Kibler has been huge for the Longhorns this season. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The Texas men put on a show at the Minnesota Invitational last weekend. They currently sit 1-2 in four different events and are even 1-2-3 in the nation in the 100 free. They have at least two swimmers ranked in the top eight in every single event except the 50 free.

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Austin Katz. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

It was expected that guys like Maxime RooneyAustin Katz and Ryan Harty would be good. But it was the emergence of Texas’ sophomore class that really caused heads to turn. Daniel Krueger and Drew Kibler are two of the best freestylers in the country, which hasn’t been a huge surprise; it’s the results of the rest of the class that has been alarming. Braden Vines is ranked in the top eight in the 200 breast and 200 IM after he didn’t score a single point at NCAAs a year ago in those events. Matt Willenbring is the second best guy in the country in the 200 IM after he was 29th in that event at NCAAs last year. Andrew Koustik, Charlie Scheinfeld and Alex Zettle all put up swims ranked in the top eight at Minnesota last week as well. Where did these guys come from and how did they get so good?

“The sophomores have been here for a year and they are way better than they were last year,” Eddie Reese said. “We do a quadrathlon – a 50 of each stroke (suited) – for fun and give them point totals. It has more to do with strength than speed. Almost everybody was a half second to a second better per 50. We did it four days into practice in early September after a real good spring and a real good summer… they were probably just rested.”

Daniel Krueger won that quadrathlon, swimming a 21.2 fly, 22.1 back, 24.6 breast and a 19.2 free. Reese believes that the only person to ever score higher in the quadrathlon in recent years was 2016 Olympic gold medalist Joseph Schooling. Not bad for a guy who didn’t break 23 in the 50 fly last year.

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Daniel Krueger. Photo Courtesy: Texas Athletics

Eddie Reese brings up a story about Krueger, primarily a sprinter, doing a set of repeat 100’s designed for distance guys this season. He was behind one of the distance swimmers and by the end of the set, Krueger was on his feet.

“He just came out of a program that the work load was here and last year it was here,” Reese said raising his hands. “He did well but last year was the key to this year.” Now Krueger is the top 100 freestyler in the country.

He brings up Scheinfeld, who “was a total beginner last year;” a 53.6/1:55.9 breaststroker out of high school and in a year became a 51.4/1:52.7 breaststroker. Reese predicts he will be a 59.5 long course by the summer and will be “in the race at the 150” in the 200 at Olympic Trials.

“He is going to really go this year,” Eddie Reese said.

So why are all the sophomores so much better this year?

“A year,” Reese said. “Your program is supposed to move them up in strength and background for swimming.”

A year. It’s just that simple. After losing the national title in their home pool last season, the Longhorns went back to work. Reese believes that the work you do in April and May will carry the load for the whole summer, and the same applies for September + October for the spring. And it’s already starting to pay dividends.

Picking up Maxime Rooney doesn’t hurt either.


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Maxime Rooney. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

“He is a plus in workouts physically and he is so positive and he takes care of everybody,” Reese said of Rooney. “He talks to everyone at the end of practice…not just the coaches. He goes around to everyone on the team.

“He is one of the reasons we are so strong in a lot of places.”

Indeed, Rooney has added a lot of depth to Texas. He swam on all five of Texas’ relays and did both butterfly events at the Minnesota Invite, something he might have to do at NCAAs since his third event would likely be the 200 or 100 free, which wouldn’t fit well with the butterfly events in the line-up. And Texas can afford to have Rooney swim only two individual events, having done the same thing with Joseph Schooling in 2016.

And the guys at Texas love having Rooney around as well.

“One of the best things he brings is his attitude,” said Katz, who swam with Rooney on Team USA at World Juniors in 2015. “In the weight room and in the pool he is just really encouraging to everyone around him.

“Whenever someone new comes, everyone realizes what they are bringing to the pool and how they train, and I think it generally gives everyone a new edge. Because when you’re racing, you kind of figure out how people race. When a new person comes and they train in different ways, then you have to figure out their strategy. He brings different ways to train.”

Another swimmer who has brought something new to Texas this year is Dean Farris, who is taking the year off from school at Harvard to train in Austin for the Olympic Trials. Farris broke the American record in the 200 free at last year’s NCAAs and also won the individual 100 free and 100 back. He followed that impressive spring up with two gold medals in freestyle relays at the Summer Universiade in July as well as a fourth place finish at US Nationals in the 100 free and third in the 200 in August. Heading into 2020, Farris has a legitimate shot to make both freestyle relay teams for the Olympic Games.

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Dean Farris. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

“It’s always good to have the people that are on a mission,” Reese said of Farris, who had volunteered on this particular day to swim earlier in the day with Ryan Harty who couldn’t make practice with the rest of the team because of class.

A selfless gesture that speaks to what the Texas program is all about: caring about those around you.

Farris fits in well with the team at Texas and makes everyone around him better, adding to what is already a competitive environment on the deck. It is so competitive every day in practice that the guys would start racing in designated recovery practices, so much so that Reese and the other coaches had to stop doing them because the guys “don’t know how to do them” and they start going too hard.

The competitive nature is just the Texas culture, according to Katz.

“When I first got here, I remember we would be doing a recovery practice and you would see someone inching forward ahead of you and then you would try to inch ahead of them and eventually you’re just racing this recovery practice. And then everyone would get mad like ‘it’s supposed to be recovery!’ but you want to beat the person next to you and that’s how it ends up snowballing into just racing all the time.”

There’s the cliche of “we hate to lose more than we love to win” and that definitely applies to the men’s team at the University of Texas. Even in a practice that isn’t supposed to be designed as a race day, they end up making it a race day. And with only positive comments allowed by all the guys at practice, it makes for a good atmosphere and team culture. Reese doesn’t give too many thoughts into what the team culture is; he just wants the guys to be around who they like, and that in turn will bring out the best in them.

And it has already brought out the best in the whole team this season.

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Texas cheering on their 400 free relay to an NCAA title last season. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“Last year I thought the team was so close,” Katz said. “The work ethic and just the culture was very unique.”

“But this year I think it is doubled.

“There are people in practice throwing some crazy times…These new freshmen are really pushing us to go even faster and wanting to be better because we don’t want these youngins beating us in practice.”

We asked Eddie Reese in October who he thought on the team would surprise some people this year. He said his sophomore class.

“Cal won (NCAAs) last year because of their sophomore class and they scored so much more than they did as freshmen. That’s what mine is going to do,” Reese said.

The Golden Bears did receive a big boost from guys like Ryan HofferDaniel CarrSean GrieshopTrent Julian and Bryce Mefford who all had tremendous jumps in their careers last season.

“You can’t control what others do. They talked in September about they’ve never worked this hard in the weight room, never worked this hard in the pool this early and I just said ‘it’s almost like it’s the Olympic year.’

The Olympic year is definitely driving the Texas team to be better, but it really feels like it’s the love and respect they have for each other that is what is pushing them to be such great swimmers.

And Eddie Reese is a big part in building that.

4 comments

  1. avatar
    Jennifer Parks

    Bravo, Eddie! Being positive!

  2. avatar
    Gui Rego

    Great article! Congrats!

  3. avatar
    Alan Atkinson

    Suoer excellent! I first heard of Eddie Reece from my daughter, Laura Atkinson; who now swim for Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois.

    #LauraKristenAtkinson
    #millikenswimming

  4. avatar
    Dana Abbott

    A great article on the definition of MAGIC. Well done!