Swim Coach Confidential: Emory University Coach Jon Howell

by SwimSwam 3

December 17th, 2014 College, NCAA Division III, News

Courtesy of Trevor Ziegler

EmoryWe’re back with another exciting edition of Coach Confidential! I was given the opportunity to speak with Emory University Men’s and Women’s Swimming Head Coach Jon Howell. Located in Druid Hills, GA, Emory is a member of the Division III University Athletic Association. Throughout his 16-year tenure, Howell’s Eagles have had 31 top-10 finishes at Division III NCAA’s and won 32 conference titles. He is also a four-time UAA Coach of the Year. Coach Howell’s swimmers have amassed a plethora of individual successes achieving All-American honors, conference champion swims, and multiple conference swimmer of the year honors.

During his own collegiate career, Jon Howell was a highly-decorated Division III swimmer for Kenyon University. During his time at Kenyon, Jon Howell was an 11-time NCAA champion. Coach Howell also helped his team win four-straight NCAA titles. Before being named the Eagles’ head coach in 1998, he was an assistant coach at Clemson University.

Take a look at what Coach Howell had to say for our latest Coach Confidential:

What was your major in college?

Philosophy and Studio Art

What was the last book you read?

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

Describe your coaching philosophy in 3 words:

Care, Commitment, Individualization

What is your favorite set to give your swimmers?

Any set that empties their equipment bag. I enjoy variety and being creative with practices/sets.

What has been the most valuable piece of information you’ve learned from coaching?

First and foremost, you must care for your student-athletes and treat them with the respect they deserve.

Describe your relationship with swimming growing up:

I started when I was 6 years old after our family moved to Michigan. My parents enrolled me in a summer league team to make some friends before the school year started. It was a slow start (I was DQ’d at my first three meets), but I loved everything about the sport and it snowballed from there.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a coach?

I coached during the summers in college, but after graduation I pursued jobs in politics and then the arts. I moved to North Carolina with the intention of establishing residency, and applying to UNC’s Master’s in Art History program. To make money while establishing residency, I coached. First Master’s and summer league, and then I was offered a job with North Carolina Aquatic Club based out of UNC. I was never able to leave coaching to apply to the art history program, and my career was born.

Are there any individuals who have directly-influenced your coaching style?

Absolutely, I have been blessed with many incredible mentors: Jim Steen, Frank Comfort, Rich Deselm, Jack Ryan, Dick Sloan, Bruce Marchionda, Fletcher Gilders, and Peter Smith to name a few.

Where would you be if you hadn’t become a coach?

Good question; something less fun and rewarding to be sure.

What are you commonly doing when you are not fulfilling your coaching duties?

Spending time with my family, running, cooking and reading.

What would you consider to be the key to becoming a successful student-athlete?


What are/were you most excited for this season?

NCAA’s. We have a very special team this year, and they are on track to do something exciting.

Favorite dryland activity?


What would you consider a “fun” practice?

I would like to think all of our practices are fun.

Favorite facility to compete?

At the Madeline Jude Brown Aquatic Center here at Emory University. There is so much history for me at Emory, and when we compete at home, our team feels the incredible legacy our alumni have worked hard to create here.

Do you go into a season knowing the type of team atmosphere you want to cultivate, or do you take a more adaptive approach in creating team culture?

I go into each season knowing what I want the team to become, but each team puts their own unique spin in it each year.

What has been your favorite “toy” to use with your swimmers during practice (useful or dud)?

I like toys in general. I am not good with favorites … weight belts, snorkels, different types of paddles … we just got a couple of FINIS turn boards and my head is full of fun and productive ways to use them moving forward.

Trevor Ziegler, HeadshotTrevor Ziegler is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst where he also swam for the Minutemen. In addition to being well-immersed in the swimming world, Trevor is also a self-proclaimed pop culture aficionado. He spends most of his time brainstorming how he can write about both his favorite bands/tv shows and swimming in one coherent article.

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8 years ago

My daughter recently graduated from Emory and swam for Jon. He is definately a talented coach, but academic excellence is also a key priority. I think the average GPA from his swimmers will attest to his success. I absolutely enjoyed the four years supporting the Emory Eagle swim team and can tell you he has incredible support from the parents of swimmers! Any parent looking for a DIII program for their kids should encourage them to talk with Jon, Chris and the entire coaching staff.

Tim Liebhold
8 years ago

I actually swam for Jon at his first coaching gig at Hollow Rock Racket and Swim Club in Chapel Hill, and can say he’s the reason I stayed in the sport for so long. My second day at practice, Jon noticed I couldn’t do a breaststroke kick correctly, so he pulled me out of my lane to work with me. He got so into helping that he hopped in the water to demonstrate, and forgot that he had just stuffed about 100 checks from all of the parents in his shorts pocket!

At the end of the first summer he convinced my parents to sign me up for NCAC and try the sport year round. He was the first to… Read more »

Polar Bear
8 years ago

Connections — His favorite book is by Anthony Doerr, graduate of Bowdoin College — where Howell still holds the 50 free record from nationals in 1989.