After it was announced that Frank Busch would take over as the USA-Swimming National Team Director last winter, the immediate point of interest turned from that position to the new highest-profile position in the country: that of head coach at the University of Arizona.
In general circles, the decision seemed to be down to two men: Rick DeMont and Eric Hansen.
If Busch was the captain of the Wildcat ship, then DeMont has been its first-mate, coal-man, and activities director in his 23-years in Tucson. He has for years been in integral part of the training of several of the University’s club-swimming arm, Tucson Ford Aquatics, that won the team title at the USA Swimming National Championships last year. In fact, there are swimmers within the organization who owe more of their success to DeMont than even Busch himself.
Hansen has served as the head coach of both the men’s and women’s teams at the University of Wisconsin for 12 seasons. He had his most successful run in 2006, when the Badger women took 9th at NCAA’s in 2006. He also coached Maggie Meyer to the NCAA title in the 200 back this past season. He has Arizona ties of his own, as he spent 3-years as a Wildcat assistant under Busch in the late 90’s, and earned his masters degree there.
This is a move that makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons. Needless to say, both Hansen and DeMont have the skills and credentials to take over the position. Arizona runs a very unique training regime, and it’s a hard position to take over for someone totally unfamiliar with the program.
Though no official word has been made about DeMont’s future with the program, I feel as though he decided that too much effort was warranted by Tucson Ford’s Olympic hopefuls for him to take on the administrative duties that come along with the head coach position in the NCAA. If this timing were different, say after 2012, I’d bet that DeMont would instead be the announcement. But as the timing is, Hansen was in a better position. His biggest Olympic hopeful, Maggie Meyer, finished up her eligibility at the end of last season, and can likely follow him to the desert.
Hansen makes sense too because he has experience as a head coach, which is excessively important after recent mixed results (nationwide) when top assistants have taken their first head coaching jobs at high-profile programs. Hansen also has youth on his side: still in his mid-40’s, he could theoretically bring stability to the position for another 25 years, if all goes well.
Though it won’t get as much attention, I’m curious to see who will take over at the Wisconsin program. There are a lot of great assistants around the country that have been stuck behind an aging class of head coaches, as well as an increasing rank of mid-major head coaches. The cupboard is by no mean’s bare in Madison, despite the graduation of Meyer. Returning next year will be USA National Team member Ashley Wanland on the women’s side, along with 4 other women’s All-Americans. On the men’s side, junior Daniel Lester will still be in the fold for the Badgers. He finished 5th at last year’s NCAA’s in the 200 fly.
Coaches I like for the Badgers to take a serious look at include Towson’s Pat Mead, Texas’ Jim Henry, or eith
er one of the Minnesota co-head coaches (Kelly Kremer or Terry Nieszner), if either decides they would like to take over the sole command of a program. (Both Minnesota coaches are staying put.) Geoff Hanson, who himself is a former Arizona assistant, has been at Wisconsin for 11 years, and would also make a lot of sense for the program. He’s young (he only graduated from college in 1998), but is about the same age as Hansen was when he took over the program. (Hanson is headed to the desert with Hansen, which begs the possibility that an Arizona assistant might be coming back north in a trade of sorts).