After a long wait and months of suspense since the retirement of 27-year coach Jim Richardson, questions have mounted around the Michigan women’s swim team. Unlike Stanford, the other job left vacant, Michigan had seen this move coming, and Richardson’s retirement was announced in the spring (as compared to Lea Maurer, who retired just after the Olympic Trials).
We finally got our question answered: men’s coach Mike Bottom will take over the women’s team in a unification of the men’s and women’s programs in Ann Arbor. This is the second time this summer that we’ve seen separate men’s and women’s programs unified under a single head coach (after Tennessee).
In reality, now that we’ve heard the answer, it makes sense. There’s no way that a program like Michigan could reasonably go from April until midway through August without a head coach.
He has a tall task ahead of him with the two programs combined. The women will be trying to rise to the level of the men’s program; though the lady Wolverines have had success in their history, in 2012 they sent only a single swimmer to the NCAA Championships, and she (Caitlin Dauw) graduated. But they have some things working in their favor, not the least of which is the “Michigan Swimming” name. Even when the programs were separate, a big-name program is enough to get the attention of a recruit; to get the coaches into their living rooms.
But Richardson also left them with a very good incoming freshman class to make their nucleus. Canadian Marni Oldershaw can swim just about anything; she’s a phenomenal IM’er, and will likely be called on to fill many other roles for this team. Combined with Jessica Wolf, Marie Georger, and Zoe Mattingly, the Wolverine women have four top-100 recruits coming in, per the CollegeSwimming.com rankings.
The interesting part about this combination is the different levels of the two programs. The Michigan men placed 5th overall at NCAA’s last year; the Michigan women didn’t. That’s as compared to Tennessee, where the women had a more successful season in 2012, but both programs are clearly high-performing. Bottom will have to be creative to figure out how to manage the two programs and make them both elite. Fortunately, creativity and flexibility is one of Bottom’s biggest assets as a coach.
He is already planning on altering the coaching structure within the new combined program, which is a necessity when programs are combined like this. That will include two associate head coaches and two assistant coaches (though none of those appointments have been announced yet).