In the Desert, Coach Bob Bowman Using Pitchfork to Sow Fertile Programs


In the Desert, Coach Bob Bowman Using Pitchfork to Sow Fertile Programs

In the Northwest corner of the United States, Arizona State celebrated a unique climb to the top of the Pac-12 Conference on Saturday night. Just hours earlier, in the Southeast corner of the U.S., Regan Smith unleashed a pair of dynamic performances while racing at the TYR Pro Series stop in Fort Lauderdale.

Because teleporting is only a sci-fi imagination, Coach Bob Bowman – now in his eighth year in Arizona – could not attend both events over the weekend. And while his physical presence was in the Pacific Northwest, his influence – and that of his staff – was equally felt several thousand miles away in the Sunshine State.

One day, Bowman will earn enshrinement into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. His entry will obviously include the work he did with a guy named Michael Phelps. Together, they enjoyed a journey which materialized in 28 Olympic medals and allowed others to envision what was possible in water – and across several events.

In the non-Phelps chapters of his career, Bowman has also enjoyed tremendous success. Allison Schmitt is an Olympic champion. The University of Michigan captured Big Ten Conference titles under his watch. Olympic titlist Chase Kalisz, now reunited with Bowman, emerged as a future star of the sport while working with Bowman as a developing talent. There, too, is more, and Bowman’s ISHOF entry will eventually reflect his vast contributions.

These days, Bowman is spinning magic in the desert, and the past weekend served as evidence. First, let’s start with Arizona State University, and what the Sun Devils pulled off at the Pac-12 Champs. In a wire-to-wire triumph, ASU captured the school’s first conference crown in the sport – a championship that arrived just 15 years after the university announced it was taking a hatchet to the program.

Think about that. In 2008, Arizona State was given a death sentence. And while the program was saved by a passionate effort by alumni, there were lean years. Why would anyone want to compete for a school that didn’t fully support its athletes? It took time to erase that stigma, and Bowman is the primary reason. Through his hiring, the school had a major name to dangle in front of recruits and, once those athletes arrived on campus, to mold into top-tier performers.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Bowman did not turn the Sun Devils into championship contenders overnight. But improvement was immediately noticeable, and the program gradually earned respect. Now, Bowman is the director of a championship program in a major conference, with an NCAA title push to come later this month. With the support of Rachel Stratton-Mills and Herbie Behm as elite assistants, Bowman has attracted top talent to Tempe – headlined by the likes of French superstar Leon Marchand and Grant House, a fifth-year standout who has provided as much to the Devils’ rebuild as anyone.

In elevating the program to national prominence, Bowman & Co. have attracted a potent mix of American and international athletes. As important, the staff has turned second- and third-tier recruits into key contributors and point-scorers at the conference and national level. Put it all together, and Arizona State figures to battle for the NCAA championship in Minneapolis in two weeks.

Yet, collegiate excellence accounts for just a portion of the success groomed by Bowman, who has also been sowing a pro garden with his pitchfork. At this weekend’s TYR Pro Series stop, Sun Devil Aquatics athletes filled plenty of championship-heat lanes at the refurbished Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center. Kalisz won the 200 individual medley. Simone Manuel continued her comeback. Olivia Smoliga and Jay Litherland positioned themselves for runs at invitations to this summer’s World Championships in Fukuoka.

It was Smith, though, who led the group, and that scenario was hardly surprising. Since foregoing the final three years of her collegiate eligibility at Stanford and joining Bowman as a professional, Smith has looked sharp. She has routinely delivered impressive midseason times and is carrying a newfound level of confidence into competition, belief jumpstarted by the work she has logged during training.

Donning her trademark pink cap, Smith contested a trio of doubles from Thursday through Saturday, the highlight her Saturday showing of 57.92 and 56.60 in the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly. The outing in the butterfly was a massive personal best and came one day after Smith went 2:05-low in the 200 backstroke. Unquestionably, the move to Bowman has paid dividends – and at a crucial time, given that the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris are fast approaching.

What will exactly unfold in the coming weeks and months? We’ll soon find out. If nothing else, look for Arizona State to be in contention for an NCAA team title. And look for several college and pro athletes to make considerable noise at the World Championships.

After all, Bowman has turned the desert from a dried-up wasteland into a fertile playground.

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17 days ago

Good work, John.

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