The Tennnessee Athletics Department had a problem. They dealt with a case of purported “gross misconduct” from men’s head swim coach John Trembley, and they dealt with it by dismissing him.
Now they have a different problem moving forward, only this is a much more positive, opportunity-laden problem. Where do they take this program moving forward? Specifically, do they leave the Tennessee programs separate, or do they attempt to combine them into one, co-ed training group.
There are certainly options. Head women’s coach Matt Kredich is an outstanding coach who has done impressive things with the Tennessee women’s program, among them the likes of Christine Magnuson and more recently Jenny Connolly. He’s got a huge educational background, including stops at academic juggernauts Duke, Stanford, Brown, and Harvard. You’d be hard-pressed to find a coach with a better coaching background from an academic standpoint, and that’s shown up in his teams at Tennessee – they’ve dominated academic listings in Kredich’s time there.
In his six-plus years with the Volunteers, he’s only worked with the women, but he certainly has co-ed experience. He was the head coach for both the Brown men’s and women’s programs; was the men’s assistant at Harvard; and was a co-ed graduate assistant at Duke.
And from speaking with coach Kredich personally, I’ve had only positive experiences with him – and trust me, all NCAA coaches don’t fall into the category of “the good guys”.
On the other side of the coin is the Tennessee men’s interim head coach – Lars Jorgensen. Prior to his time at Tennessee, he did an oustanding job with the Toledo women’s program (including 2010 Conference Coach of the Year honors). Prior to that, he was an assistant coach at LSU.
I’ve never had any personal interactions with coach Jorgensen, but since yesterday I’ve spoken with those who have, and their feedback has been overwhelmingly positive as well.
The drawback of both coaches is simply this – specific experience. Kredich has never run a major co-ed program, and Jorgensen has never run a top-15 program. So whether they decide to put the whole program under Kredich’s control, or if they decide to leave Jorgensen as the head coach of the men’s team, they’d be taking a touch of a leap-of-faith. (There’s also an option C – go outside of the program to find a men’s head coach).
To Separate or Not to Separate
So it seems as though the Volunteers are left at a cross-roads. If they were ever to make the move to combine the programs, now would be the time. Unifying them under the positive guidance of Kredich could help put a positive face on the program. At the same time, talented young coaches like Jenssen are few-and-far between, and he seems destined to end up at a good program one-way or the other.
If one were to look around the country, it’s pretty clear that the difference between combined and co-ed programs are nary an indicator of success. Georgia, Arizona, Florida and USC are combined, whilest Cal, Stanford, and Texas are separate.
However, the Tennessee Athletic Directors are more likely to look in their own back yard, where the conference’s powerhouses (Georgia, Auburn, Florida) are all combined programs, and question the way that they’ve been doing things.
There’s also a financial implication here. The cost of a men’s head coach (Trembley was reported to be making up to $180k per year, including the perks and the camps) easily outweighs the cost of, say two assistants. If you factor in having to give Kredich a raise, promoting a pair of “associate head coaches”, it may break even, however, or cost a bit more.
But let’s tie this back in to a post made by Casey Barrett at Cap and Goggles the shortly before this news broke. The idea behind his post was that there is a way to make a swim team indespensible to the community. Part of the challenge of founding these intiatives (some ideas he and I tossed around included starting a free swim-lesson program for the local community) is bodies.
On deck, I see it as a wash. One great head coach and 4 great assistants can get as much out of a team in the pool as two head coaches and two assistants. On the peripheral though, the equation isn’t as balanced.
Including recruiting, community outreach, marketing the program, running community service programs, and monitoring academic performance; 6 rational, enthusiastic and educated adults can do the job better than 4. It’s those sort of peripheral metrics that will make a program indespensible to a community.
I think for the reasons mentioned above, and overwhelmingly for a need to put forth the best-possible face to the community, that combining the program under Kredich’s watch is the way to go.
What’s Actually Going to Happen
The subject hasn’t yet been discussed seriously in Knoxville, and the two programs will likely continue to be coached separately. The general tone of the alumni seems to be that they aren’t in favor of combining the programs, and the idea would be pretty easy to derail by convincing the AD’s that it would cost more to combine the programs. Of course, Kredich and the women’s staff would have to be on board with the decision if it were to happen, and they may be hesitant to toy with the momentum that program has.
Depending on the outcome of this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jorgensen is kept on as the men’s head coach. He has a lot of support within the Tennessee Swimming community and will probably come as a discount as compared to his predecessor. Unless a can’t-pass-up candidate throws their hat in the mix, expect Jorgensen to be announced as the permanent head coach of Tennessee this summer.
Note: We’ve had a few comments aptly pointing out that the Tennessee Men and Women have separate Athletic Departments, and wondering if this would be an issue. The two Athletics Departments are now unified into one operation under the direction of Dave Hart, which should become more-and-more apparent in the next year.