University of Michigan head coach Mike Bottom announced his retirement on Wednesday, bringing to an end a 15-year run in charge of the Michigan Wolverines swimming & diving team.
While the ending of Bottom’s time in Ann Arbor will be remembered for some frictions and transfer, focusing only on the way it ended does a disservice to his legacy with one of the country’s great swimming programs.
Bottom led the only team in the last 14 years to an NCAA title besides the duopoly of Texas and Cal, and that alone is an impressive feat. He built that group on the strength of a gigantic 2016 recruiting class that had 20 swimmers when it began – which is a scale that is almost unheard of in college swimming history.
But Mike Bottom was a unique figure in college swimming history. His unkempt-by-design look, with ruffled hair and unbuttoned sleeves on a buttoned shirt, gave him a mad-scientist vibe, and for most of his career, that’s what he was.
Remember the Michigan Water Carnival? Bottom was ahead of his time with a 4×75 yard medley relay, a 50-yard underwater dolphin kick race, dancers and musical performances in between races. Things that Bottom pioneered in 2012 are now “new” again.
He would later incorporate the water polo team into the event, and in 2013, and moved the pool to short course meters so his team could break World Records.
In the same season as the Water Carnival was invented, Bottom also hosted Eatern Michigan for a 20-yard dual meet.
Bottom was also a pioneer of freestyle development: in 2007, he gave a landmark talk about the Three Styles of Freestyle, which became the vocabulary of freestyle swimming for future generations of athletes and coaches.
It would be amazing for a coach of this stature to end their career on a high note, at least a conference title, if not a national title, but in swimming, the great coaches rarely seem to walk away until the writing becomes abundantly clear on the wall. There’s no Coach K final victory lap ending in a riveting Final Four appearance. Maybe that’s a cultural problem within swimming that could be addressed.
But Coach Bottom, even with the transfers and drop-off in team performance at the end of his career, brought many good things to the sport of swimming. Those positive things should be celebrated, because that kind of innovation is hard to come by in a sport dominated by habit and tradition.
We’ll sign off with this empassioned speech by Bottom that demonstrates his unmatched passion for the sport. This is peak Bottom in one video.
I think that Bottom – and many others – were shocked when he didn’t get the Cal job when Nort retired. He did an admirable job at Michigan, and no doubt is one of the sharpest minds in swimming from a technical perspective.
But there is no reason why Michigan shouldn’t be a perennial top 5 program at NCAAs. They’ve got the academics (see Cal), the facility (see Texas, Indiana, etc), and the tradition. Ultimately, college swimming is recruiting hidden or apparent talent and then developing that talent.
So, with the exception of the 2013 title, it’s pretty meh in terms of results vs expectations.
When can we start speculating about his replacement? There is a lot of talent on that Michigan squad.
A great coach and mentor to the student athletes at Michigan. This guy changed swimming.
Mike began the Auburn sprint program in 91-94 and laid the foundation for the Auburn sprint dynasty.
Mike coached Gary Hall Jr and Anthony Ervin to O gold in 2000 and 2004 – and had other Olympic / WC sprint finalists in the same period (Salim, Duje – don’t want to do research now but someone back me up).
he was putting science behind sprint ahead of many others … his legacy can’t be diminished.
true genius coach
Thanks, Mike, for all did for Michigan and swimming.
“The mad scientist” lol of what? Producing a mid program? Michigan hasn’t been good since the early 2010s. Enjoy retirement Mike.
Believe it or not, the sport of swimming started long before 2010. Hard to believe; If only there was a place where you could look this stuff up.
Swimming, as a general rule hates innovators or at least any innovation that veers away from the traditional high-yardage, “tough as nails” mindset. I witnessed first hand the tar and feathering of Dave Salo, many coaches outwardly made fun of him (real professional). No matter the success (even in mid-distance and distance swimming) he was a pariah for violating the traditional model. It’s in many ways a quite twisted sport. We cheer the traditionalists when their swimmers achieve, and pay no mind to the bodies left over from injury, over training, burnout and unfortunately mental and physical abuse. Is it any surprise that so many elite swimmers retire or leave the sport with mental health issues? So cheers to Mike… Read more »
I think Salo was amazing. My only problem with him was his association with dopers. Anyways this article isn’t about him.
Thanks for all you’ve done for the sport, Bottom. Cal and Michigan wouldn’t have been the same with out what you brought to the sport of swimming.