With the news that Sean Hutchison is leaving the Fullerton post-grad training center, reportedly to begin his own program (though no firm arrangement on that matter has been announced). Meanwhile, most of the focus has been on the circumstances surrounding his departure and his prior relationship to King Aquatic Club, where he remained the CEO and owner even after he headed to Southern California to coach.
But the real focus should be on the swimmers, and specifically those members of the US National Team who traveled to Southern California to train with Hutchison. Some of the swimmers, like Tyler Clary, moved there to train with Jon Urbanchek. Many of them, like Dagny Knutson, went there specifically to work with Hutchison.
Of course, Hutchison has every right and freedom to move where he pleases, and made what was clearly the best decision for him and the club given the rumors that were chasing him around Fast. He never made any secret that his position at FAST was permanent, though many had probably hoped he wouldn’t make the move until after London.
But was it a mistake by USA-Swimming to name FAST as a post-grad professional training center in the first place?
Basically, they took a hired gun (Hutchison), moved him 1100 miles south, put him in a new program, and asked him to make the magic happen. This was in stark contrast to the other two original post-grad centers: SwimMAC Carolina and NBAC, who already had well-established coaching staffs.
SwimMAC, led by former Auburn head coach David Marsh, and NBAC, led by Bob Bowman, had solid foundations. FAST was a wonderful program, but the fact was that they had to bring in a coach (two, really, if you count Urbanchek) to run the National Team program. These coaches had no particular attachment to the club, besides a paycheck, and were specifically designed to work with the elite athletes. At SwimMAC and NBAC, Marsh and Bowman are the top-dogs, respectively.
(Though Marsh’s arrival at SwimMAC also coincided closely with the beginning of the Olympic cycle, it was clear that his motives were permanency as he was named the CEO and program director.)
Take this as no slight to Bill Jewell and the rest of the FAST coaching staff. They did an outstanding job with the program before Hutchison’s arrival, and will continue to do so after his departure. But now, swimmers will be forced to uproot themselves to follow him, or they will have to acclimate themselves to a new coaching methodology (given that, as has been noted, his coaching style takes some amount of time to adjust to).
But this gives us an opportunity to discuss the idea of these centers. The post-grad center concept would make a lot more sense if there were 3 or 4 coaches who were far and away the best in the country, and that their methodologies were the best for every swimmer. However, in the real world, there are at least a dozen coaches who are capable of leading swimmers to Olympic gold.
Several programs have managed to amass hoards of Olympic-caliber talent without the official backing of the USOC. Eddie Reese (Longhorn Aquatics) and Gregg Troy (Gator Swim Club) are accumulating huge collections of talent that rival those of any of the post-grad training centers.
I’d rather see the USOC work off of an expansion or extension of the already-established Dirks/Gould Coaches Incentive Program. This is a program that divides up a pool of $330,000 to coaches of medal-winners at each year’s major international competition (Pan-Pacs this year, World Championships next year). Why not simply distribute a pool of money to programs that raise and attract National Team performers?
There’s two major benefits to a program like this. Number one, it puts the control back in the hands of the swimmers. They are no longer instructed upon where they need to live; where they need to train; and who their coach needs to be. They are afforded opportunities to train at many different programs around the country for training programs subsidized by USA-Swimming.
Number two, this system would depoliticize the process. USA-Swimming would no longer have to deal with accusations of certain programs receiving favoritism from the governing body based on back-room negotiations and “the old boys club.” Be these accusations accurate or not, given the current climate of the sport, USA-Swimming would do well to avoid as many perceived improprieties as is possible.
I will recognize that this too would not be a perfect system. The most obvious flaw is in the business model, which allows for economies of scale. Financially, it makes more sense to concentrate all of the National Team in a few centralized locations. This system would also not encourage swimmers to venture outside of their comfort zones of their home clubs that provides high-level training environments that most athletes thrive in.
But, with their designation as “post-grad” training centers with a mission for swimmers to continue their swimming careers beyond their NCAA years, wouldn’t most of the top swimmers be leaving home one way or the other? This has also not prevented the aforementioned Troy and Reese from attracting the nation’s top swimmers: even without these designations.
I’m sure that similar ideas are being thrown about in other circles, and I’m sure there’s both other benefits and drawbacks to my proposed system. Sound off in the comments below.