Ray Looze Dishes On Difficulties of Coaching From Home, Denies Rumors Of Move To USC

Ray Looze chatting with Lilly King. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Much like the rest of the world, Indiana head coach Ray Looze has had difficulties processing the coronavirus pandemic that has caused normal life to be turned upside down. Looze and his Indiana team lost a chance to compete at the NCAA Championships and he has had to resort to coaching from home while trying to prepare for an Olympic Games that is now another 400+ days away.

But he has put a positive spin on it.

“Typically we take the month of August as a break time so we are trying to look at now as a break time. But I feel like this will be a much longer break than any of us are intending on taking, but we are taking it,” Looze said in a conference call on Friday morning.

“We just did our first Zoom team meeting on Wednesday and I thought that went pretty well. It was really great for everyone to see each other. The level of maturity on that was not the best. You had some jokers making faces and making everyone laugh, but I think it was really positive for everyone to get a chance to see each other.”

Coach Ray Looze cheers on his swimmer.

Ray Looze. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Ray Looze has a talented pro training group in Bloomington, Indiana littered with Olympic medalists Lilly KingCody Miller and Blake Pieroni as well as Olympic hopefuls Zane GrotheAnnie Lazor and Zach Apple. With no access to their own pool in Bloomington, the postgrads have had to get creative with finding training. Some have gone home and some have found smaller pools within driving distance to keep their feel of the water.

King for example, who is aiming to make her second Olympic team and defend her 100 breaststroke gold medal in Tokyo, is training three crossfit sessions a week and in the water four days a week.

“It’s a lot less than she would normally be doing. But that is still more than a lot of people,” Looze said of King’s current training regimen. “These people that are world record holders or Olympic gold medalists, their degree of dedication and sacrifice is about as high as can be. We are making sure that we are safe and following the guidelines of health and safety.”

There is still no word on when the virus will slow down enough so the rest of the world can continue with normal life like getting back in the water and training for the Olympic Trials. Luckily for many, the Trials and the end-be-all Games have been pushed back to 2021, so the dire need for training is lessened. But for some, like this year’s 2020 senior class that wanted to end their careers at Olympic Trials, had to make the difficult decision of retiring now rather than competing in Omaha next summer.

“I’m a big believer in moving on in life – if you’ve done what you can in your sport and not hanging on to hang on,” Ray Looze said. “That’s kind of my thought process but ultimately it’s a personal decision. It’s a bummer how that ended for the seniors and life is not fair.

“This was something bigger than anybody could imagine and continues to get bigger. I think missing a meet is such a minor thing when you’re watching things unfold.”

With the NCAAs being cancelled this year because of the coronavirus outbreak, that senior class lost out on a chance of ending their college careers on their own terms. Spring sports had their whole seasons wiped out because all schools have closed down campus activities, but they were allowed an extra year of eligibility to make up for a season that was lost and out of anyone’s control.

The NCAA did not grant the same privilege to the winter sport student athletes, which did not sit well with many, which we have detailed on this website. But Looze was glad the decision was made in the way it had been handled.

“I don’t think it is fair to institutions. The NCAA has a tremendous amount of funding that is meant for its institutions and it gives these spring athletes another year so it is up to you to pay for it and we are not going to help you,” Looze said.

“I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that. I’ve thought about it and I don’t think there is any fair way to do it. Say you have a big senior class – that means you are bringing in a big freshman class and those situations by happenstance and they become super teams and there is just no level playing field.

“I am relieved because that would have been a mess to try and deal with it and fund it. We are as well positioned as everybody but it gets concerning – how do you pay for all of this?”

Ray Looze

Ray Looze. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Right now, his Indiana swimmers are not allowed to be in organized practices per NCAA rules. And Looze is trying to stay as engaged as possible with them starting with those weekly zoom calls, and giving them dry land exercises they can perform in the safety of their own homes. But Looze admits that that is starting to get a little stale.

“Typically you have a whole bunch of things going on with distance people, sprinters, and what-not, so this general thing has been OK but we are thinking of ways to do more specific work,” he said. “I talked to our soccer coach and I think we are able to send some equipment home with them. I think that’s OK but I will have to check with compliance. In swimming, there’s a lot of on-land cords you can use. If that is permissible we will start to send that stuff home to the kids and give them something to do.”

Like mentioned earlier, there is no end date to when it will be safe to go back to the pool and have organized practices. And even then, it’s still going to take some time to get back into a groove with training.

“I don’t think this is going to be a situation where you can ring the bell and everyone will come back and start from 100% effort. And I mean that in a sense of it will be a very gradual return for everyone. I’m preparing myself for not until the fall to have a normal resumption of training.”

“We are just trying to keep people as fit as we can now and once we get back in, we can build them up and really have our sustaining period of training going into Trials, which I believe will be right around the same place they were. If this were a normal time period, you would be training very intensely right now as an Olympic potential athlete or medalist. We have to keep that in mind where we don’t be de-trained.

“I was talking to Annie Lazor who took a year off and she goes, ‘I don’t think there is a big difference between taking 3 months off or taking a year off. You are pretty much at square one outside of maybe muscle memory.’ It’s going to be interesting.”

Ray Looze’s name has also been circling around the rumor mill with the open USC job after Dave Salo stepped down. Looze swam at USC but has been at Indiana for nearly two full decades. When asked about his potential of interviewing for the job, he denied on all fronts, saying he wanted to help bring a national championship back to Indiana.

“I’m going to be staying at Indiana. Although my alma mater means a great deal to me, I wish that they are successful as possible. I’ve been at Indiana 18 years now and I’m excited about where we are going as a program,” Looze said.

“I feel really good about our future and where we are at. It’s one of the best programs in the country presently and we have unfinished business here. I think the institution, the kids, and the coaches would really like to bring that national title back so I’ll be staying here.”