Ted Bresnahan, Hopkins Water Polo Coach, Steps Down after 27 Years

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Johns Hopkins Head Coach Ted Bresnahan leading his team. Photo Courtesy: Johns Hopkins Athletics

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

In an announcement that was expected though still surprising, after 27 seasons Johns Hopkins water polo head coach Ted Bresnahan is retiring.

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“We are lucky to have had Ted Bresnahan lead our water polo team for nearly three decades,” Johns Hopkins Director of Athletics and Recreation Alanna Shanahan said in a statement. “He is synonymous with Hopkins water polo. He turned a fledgling program into a perennial power and we are very thankful for his years of dedicated service.”

Shanahan’s challenge is to replace the best coach, by far, in program history. After three different coaches led the program in its first three years, Bresnahan, a former swim and polo athlete at the University of Kentucky, took over in 1991 and had an immediate impact. Hopkins improved from last to third in the Mid-Atlantic Conference, then proceeded to repeated this feat again in 1992, setting a standard of excellence at the small, Division III program with a distinctly shallow pool.

Any opponent foolish enough to under-estimate Bresnahan’s charges paid a heavy price for their arrogance. A dominant program in DIII ranks, where the Blue Jays won a record 17 Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Division III Championships, it was against Division I and II level opponents that Hopkins truly shone brightest. Despite zero athletic scholarship money and some of the nation’s toughest admissions requirements, the Blue Jays were always a dangerous opponent to face, as friend and former adversary Mike Schofield attested.

Oct 14, 2018; Baltimore, MD, USA; at the Newton White Athletic Center Natatorium. Greg Bartram/betterImage

Mike Schofield. Photo Courtesy: Greg Bartram

“Our Navy teams played the Blue Jays at least three times a year, and we never had an easy time, not once. They gave us fits.” Schofield said in an email. “Coach Bresnahan’s teams were always in shape, featured great drivers and ball handlers, executing his system of play at a high level.

“I’m not sure I can quantify what an incredible job Ted did in almost 30 years at Hopkins,” Schofield, now a water polo referee, added. “The guy worked 3 jobs, yet outperformed everyone at the DIII level, not to mention all of us in DI and II. He did this with a shallow-deep pool, Ivy League type admissions requirements, and a tiny budget. Ted was a tireless recruiter, developed dozens of All-Americans, looked after his players and made sure they graduated.

“There should be a statue or something on campus with his name on it.”

Bresnahan led Hopkins polo to a 414-389 (.515) record, and is just the fifth head coach in Johns Hopkins’ athletic history to reach 400 wins. Named the ACWPC National Coach of the Year in 2005, 2008 and 2015, since 1996 his program has produced at least one All-American in every season. In addition, two of his players have been inducted into the Johns Hopkins Athletic Hall of Fame: Chadd Crump (Class of 1996) and Brian Mead (Class of 2005).

In addition to his work with the Blue Jays, he was the founder of the Greater Baltimore Swim Association, an important resource for the city’s age groups swimmers.

Perhaps no single season exemplifies Bresnahan’s impact at Hopkins—a prestigious research university known mostly for alum Mike Bloomberg, as well as a successful men’s lacrosse program. But the Blue Jays’ 2015 campaign, where an unsung team came within a goal of qualifying for the NCAA men’s water polo tournament, demonstrated just how far the intrepid coach could take the program.

Coming into the 2015 Collegiate Water Polo Association men’s championship, which would crown a champion as well as award an NCAA berth, Hopkins had nine losses—four by two goals or less. The Blue Jays proceeded to knock off St. Francis Brooklyn and top-seed Brown to advance to their first-ever CWPA final.

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2015 Blue Jays. Photo Courtesy: CWPA

In a competitive championship match against #2 seed Princeton, Hopkins was tied late in the third period when a missed Blue Jays penalty shot turned the game in favor of the Tigers, who captured a 7-6 victory. It was the closest that an Eastern DIII team has come to qualifying for an NCAA varsity berth in the history of CWPA championship play. Hopkins finished the year ranked 12th in the nation, the program’s highest finish ever.

The best record produced by a Bresnahan-coached squad was in 2005, when the Mead-led Blue Jays went 24-6, losing to Navy and Princeton twice, Bucknell and Slippery Rock—but also handing the Tigers a 15-14 OT loss, one of the greatest wins in program history.

“Ted turned the JHU into a destination for generations of East and West Coast water polo players,” said Paul Ramaley who played for the Blue Jays from 1999-2002. “Players who have gone through the program have a special bond that is all tied to him. Ted has put everything he has into the program and it will be almost impossible to replace his passion for Baltimore, Hopkins and the sport of water polo.”

A national search for his replacement will begin immediately. Max Schlegel, an assistant for Hopkins the last three years who helped guide the team to a 9-18 record this season, will lead the program during the search process.

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Hopkins polo won’t be the same without Bresnahan. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

“The Hopkins guys are in good hands with Max, but those are some very large shoes to fill,” Schofield said. “The Navy water polo family wishes Ted well and thanks him for decades of fantastic competition.”

2 comments

  1. avatar

    Great article. Congratulations Ted on an amazing 27 years building Hopkins water polo.

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Dear Chadd:

      Thanks for commenting – though of course you’re a BIG part of Hop’s success! I suspect that having the career you did as a Blue Jay was a HUGE boon to Coach Bresnahan as he was establishing himself as one of the nation’s sharpest offensive minds.

      What I find remarkable is that you all figured out how to succeed despite the challenge presented by your pool (I mean hey, it is home to Hop but…!). There’s no question that what Ted accomplished over his tenure is both remarkable AND worthy of recognition (I’m with Coach Schofield that a statue – or plaque – be installed…).

      Your correspondent