The End of the Merner Era for University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

Photo Courtesy: UW Green Bay Swimming

By Kaylie Noll, Swimming World Intern

It is the end of a prosperous age for the Green Bay Phoenix.

After 25 years of coaching the college team along with 10 conference championships, 10 runner-up finishes and 11 Coach of the Year awards, head coach Jim Merner will be shelving his clipboard and time sheets for good.

The Horizon League will definitely feel the absence of the Green Bay coach that towered on deck, giving off the air of confidence that any successful coach and former swimmer should have while still maintaining strategy and humility.

As a member of UW-Madison swim team in the early ’70s, Merner transitioned his desire to go far as an athlete in the swim world to going far as a coach in the swim world, beginning as the Lady Phoenix’s head coach in 1990 and establishing the men’s team in 1992.


Photo Courtesy: UW Green Bay Swimming

Pride In the Books

From there trailed numerous accomplishments, ranging from the memorable seven straight Women’s Horizon League titles from 2005 through 2011, to incredible achievements in the classroom. The Phoenix athletics website proudly declares that the swimmers and divers have contributed to the entire Green Bay athletic program’s 30-semesters-and-counting cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher.

The College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) recognized the swimming and diving program this year for the Lady Phoenix garnering an impressive 3.51 GPA and the men posting 3.13 in the fall 2014 semester.

“It’s important to realize that college is there not just for athletics but for academics, and academics must be number one,” Merner said. “Taking pride on winning championships is good, but having academic achievements and graduating is special because it’s preparation for life.”

Touching Lives

Merner’s commitment is truly highlighted by the people he has affected.

“I have had the honor of knowing Jim for a number of years as a swimmer and now as a coach,” assistant coach Dana DeWitt stated. “His dedication to the growth of young men and women and his ability to mentor student-athletes inspired me to pursue a career in coaching. Jim has touched the lives of numerous athletes, and this sport will truly miss his passion and drive”.

Merner may be intense and extremely dedicated to both academics and athletics, but that doesn’t stop the Phoenix from remembering the funny moments. Some recall dancing and singing in his car during the annual winter break training trip. Others will never forget the stories that Coach Jim told about his college years before everyone would hop in the pool for warm-up.

And the whole team humored their head coach at his last end-of-the-year banquet by giving him a large PVC pipe signed by everyone in the spirit of a commonly practiced, yet least favorite drill. The “stick drill” in which one holds a PVC pipe while swimming freestyle, is one classic Merner drill that no one will ever forget – especially when preceded by the hilariously dreaded command, “Get your sticks out!”


Photo Courtesy: UW Green Bay Swimming

Lasting Merner Lessons

In an email to the team following the meeting in which Merner announced his retirement, titled “One Last Letter,” he gives words of inspiration for the team as they look toward the future, not only in their swimming careers, but the development of their entire lives.

“It is more than just going fast or ripping a dive that creates the purpose of what you do or have done. I hope that each of you will enjoy success as your life develops. I also hope that with each and every challenge that you encounter, you will be able to handle it with the strength and determination in which you handled all of the challenges and challengers that came from being a part of our sport. Each of you has something special inside that needs to be contributed to this world. I hope that you find a way to make a difference. Give back more than you have taken and this world becomes a better place for all.”

In essence, Coach Merner understands that while swimming and diving may be of key importance in the moment, the lessons learned in the sport are critical to not only the present, but also the future — a future which he has set up quite nicely for the current Phoenix.

It is the end of the Merner era, but another is right on the horizon, full of bright and fiery opportunities for the Phoenix.

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8 years ago

Have they hired a new coach yet?

8 years ago

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Dave Korst
8 years ago

Coach Merner is one of the greatest coaches I have known. He year after year get the most out his athletes and they perform at their best when they need too. As the story mentioned Coach Merner is more concerned about the life skills gained by being a competitive swimmer and the member of a team. Coach Merner has meant so much to myself in my development as a Swim Coach. Thank you very much Coach Merner. Enjoy your retirement!