Assistant coaches Anna Heller and Clif Robbins are both out at the University of Arizona, as the Wildcats look for a new path forward after a disappointing 2022-2023 season. The university has listed their positions for hire on the school’s official jobs site.
Robbins has been an assistant to head coach Augie Busch for more than a decade. The partnership started together at the University of Houston, where Robbins was a volunteer assistant in the 2011-2012 season and a full-time assistant in the 2012-2013 season.
The two then traveled to Virginia together for four seasons, and finally to Arizona, where he was named associate head coach.
Robbins was a four-year letter winner as a swimmer at the University of Texas.
Heller joined the Arizona staff in August of 2019 as an assistant coach. Before that, she spent two seasons as an assistant at SMU and a season at Texas A&M, her alma mater, as a volunteer.
Heller began her college career at Oregon State, qualifying for the NCAA Championships in 2010, before transferring to Texas A&M.
The Arizona men finished 4th out of 6 teams at the 2023 Pac-12 Championships. They qualified one individual swimmer for the NCAA Championships – Ralph Daleiden Ciuferri – who finished 47th in the 50 free (19.68), 29th in the 200 free (1:33.37), and 39th in the 100 free (42.69). The men’s team also sent two relays to NCAAs – a 200 free relay, which placed 12th in 1:16.08, and a 400 free relay, which was DQ’ed.
The 10 points from that 200 free relay, plus one from senior diver Bjorn Markentin on platform (16th place), put them 32nd in the meet. That’s the team’s lowest finish since they didn’t score at the 1975 championships.
The women finished 6th out of 8 teams at the Pac-12 Championships, and qualified two individual swimmers for the meet: Maddy Burt and Julia Heimstead, both juniors, but no relays.
The team’s lone scorer was diver Delaney Schnell, who was 2nd on 1-meter, 4th on 3-meter, and won the NCAA title on platform. That placed the Wildcats 18th with 52 points, which was a one spot improvement on last year and a seven spot improvement over 2021.
Head coach Augie Busch‘s contract expires at the end of the 2023-2024 season. In an interview published on tucson.com in December, Busch said he felt good about where he was, and described himself as “Augie 2.0” and a “kind of a rebirth.”
“I think that the results aren’t what gave (the administration) pause. It’s that (I) allowed the minority on their way out — either through my removal or on their way out through transferring — that certainly got their ear and made them really question what was going on,” he said. “That might be that might have been the biggest sort of wake-up. You’re scared you might lose your job.”
He also described the women’s team as a “soap opera” and said that was disrupting the team’s performances. He also claimed to have cleared the deck of the negative elements within the program, and took steps to improve the team’s culture – including having a women’s team retreat and changing the structure of practices, giving the women’s team more practice time alone without the men’s team.
He also said he was more open and loose in practice.
“Everybody can totally be themselves and it’s like a full judgment-free zone,” junior Maddy Burt said. “It feels like a family, and now walking into practice every day, everybody’s just so happy to be there. It’s just so much fun.”
The two remaining assistant coaches, Roric Fink and Lara Jackson, are both Arizona alumni with ties to the era when Augie Busch‘s dad Frank Busch was the program’s head coach. That included leading the men and women to an NCAA title in 2008 when Fink was an assistant coach and Jackson was a member of the varsity team.
SwimSwam has reached out to Arizona and both coaches for comment, but has not received any responses.