After the retirement of a very well-liked Erica Quam from the Washington State swimming program (women’s only) last month, there was a bit of a hole in Pullman. That hole has been filled with a headline name that could attract some top-notch talent. Tom Jager, who is one of the most decorated Olympians in U.S. History, will become Washington State’s head coach after 7 years at the University of Idaho.
At Idaho, Jager restarted a program that had been wiped of the books for 20-years, and created a team with a great academic and community-service reputation. They never had a ton of success in the pool, but were a clean program that struggled with a very limited local recruiting base. Now in Washington, Jager will have access to the state’s loaded recruiting grounds (they have 3 out of the top-12 ranked high school recruits in the country this year, including the number 1 overall ranked swimmer: Amber McDermott). While it will take some building before they can land swimmers of her caliber, but if he can build the program, he does have the only major Division-1 program in the state of Washington (Seattle University rejoined Division 1 in 2009, and will soon become a member of the WAC). In the short-term, he will need to sell recruits on the ability to stay close to home, racing against some of the world’s great swimmers, and the program’s impressive Academic record, which stands against the best in the country. Under Quam’s tenure, the program only once finished lower than 15th in the CSCAA’s GPA rankings.
Jager’s personal achievements will surely pique the interest of many recruits. He earned 7 Olympic Gold Medals as a swimmer (5 of which were gold), and 6-times broke the 50 free World Record. The latter of those records (21.81) stood for over 10 years. As a true sprinter, Jager was possibly the world’s first superstar 50 freestyler, as he won the first two World Championships (1986 and 1991) ever held in the race.
Jager has also served administrative roles in USA Swimming (including as a part of the National Steering Committee), as a US National Team Captain, and has a lot of organizational experience that will be very valuable for the Cougars.
Jager is very familiar with the Washington State program, as his Idaho squad swam a dual meet each of the past several years against the Cougars and were also in town for many Invites. Despite a down year last season (where Idaho lost by over 100), his charges managed to pull off an upset win in the 2009-2010 season. It’s going to be tough going next year in the renamed Pac-12, which is the most loaded swim conference in the country, but I think this is a great pickup that could lead the Cougars to at least respectability over the next decade.