It’s rare for assistant coaching positions to garner the same level of attention and speculation as head coaching vacancies, but at programs like Stanford, even assistant coaching positions only open once-in-a-blue-moon.
When the Stanford women’s longtime assistant Tracy Slusser stepped down yesterday to pursue a career outside of swimming, though, the world was set aflutter with the possible replacements.
When considering what wild speculation to throw out, there were a few key criteria we honed-in on.
- It will probably be a female – Besides the informal quota system that is pervasive in college swimming, where almost every women’s team has at least one female coach on staff, just knowing Greg Meehan and his philosophy and ethos, I’m 99% certain the hire will be a female
- This is a ‘hit the ground running’ kind of job – This is not a developmental hire. Whoever gets this gig has to have the experience, credibility, and reputation to plunge into the deepest recruiting pools in a hurry. With only three weeks until June 15 and the start of recruiting for the class of 2025, and Texas and Virginia landing most of the biggest (announced) fish from the classes of 2023 and 2024, Stanford needs to be ready for the class of 2025 to stay competitive.
Stanford is the most successful women’s swimming & diving program in NCAA history with 11 titles, including a recent threepeat in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
They were 9th in 2021, coming out of the pandemic, and 3rd in 2022 and 2023. 2024 is going to be another tough championship for them with their two best swimmers, Claire Curzan and Torri Huske, both taking Olympic redshirts. If the Cardinal are going to make a run in the near future at running-down the dominant Virginia Cavaliers (or keeping up with Texas, for that matter), they’re going to need a hire that renews some momentum – pumps some energy into the program.
While there is a known problem with getting female coaches high-level swimming experience, there is sort of a paradox in play here: there is probably not a female assistant at any job in the country who is off-limits here. A stint at Stanford would be the final stepping stone for any to take a Power 5 head coaching gig. A lot of great female assistants have been given their own programs in the last few years – like Stefanie Williams Moreno at Georgia or Jeana Kemp.
But there are still a ton of successful female assistants around waiting to take that next step up the ladder.
Below I’ve listed who among those I think are the leading candidates. At least one of these is a bit off-the-grid, but I think it’s entirely possible.
- Blaire Bachmann, Virginia – Virginia is almost-everything in women’s college swimming right now. They won 12 NCAA event titles last year. Nobody else won more than 2 (Alabama, Stanford, UNC). If Bachmann wasn’t the first call Meehan made, then he made the wrong first call. Her 2021 base salary (the most recent we could find without an FOIA) was only $56k, but even with supplemental salaries, Stanford can probably afford her services (and a significant increase).
- Catherine Kase, Out of Swimming – Her last job was as an associate head coach at USC, and when Dave Salo left there, her husband’s company moved its headquarters to Boise, Idaho – and she followed along. After a couple of years away, might she be ready to get back into coaching? Her husband’s company, a private equity firm, certainly seems like it could operate out of San Francisco – the soul of the private equity world. It’s a longshot, for sure, but I think it’s worth mentioning.
- Stephanie Juncker, Louisville – Juncker has been at Louisville since 2014, including the last two seasons as an associate head coach. Louisville continues to fly under the radar in spite of the fact that there are a number of metrics that point to them being one of the top two-or-three programs in the country. Recruiting to Louisville and recruiting to Stanford are a whole different animal, for a number of reasons, but Juncker is sort of the lone longtime Louisville assistant who hasn’t been poached away by another program.
- Dana Kirk, PASA-Dana Kirk Swimming – She has a different resume than the rest of the women in this group, but its still huge in its own way. The Site Director and Coach of Dana Kirk Swimming, a site of the powerful PASA club, Kirk is a Stanford swimming legend. A 2004 Olympian, Kirk was a 17-time All-American for Stanford. She also won 8 Pac-10 titles, and still has a spot in many Stanford Top 10 all-time lists. There aren’t many club coaches who I think would be ready to jump into this gig and be ready to hit the 2025 recruiting trail full-blast, but bringing Kirk back would be pretty special for this program.
Assistants on the Rise
If Meehan is looking for an assistant who has experience, but is maybe less-recognizable to the community than the list above, or still coming into their prime, there’s a lot of great candidates available there too.
- Emily Eaton, Indiana – The lone female assistant on the staff of a consistent top 10 men’s and women’s program, she has spent four seasons as an Indiana assistant, and two as the team’s Director of Men’s and Women’s Recruiting. Anna Peplowski’s 1:57.02 in the 200 free last week could be great timing for Eaton’s stock, which has to be skyrocketing.
- Kristy King, Wisconsin – It’s easy to miss, but the Wisconsin women have been stacking NCAA titles. Paige McKenna, Beata Nelson, and Phoebe Bacon have combined for five NCAA titles since 2019. While the Badgers haven’t yet found the depth to compete for a top 10 NCAA finish, they are climbing the ladder, placing 15th at NCAAs last year, and with some strong recruiting classes coming in and a brand new facility could be there soon.
- Katie Trace, Ohio State – Trace only has one year of college coaching under her belt, but it’s with the dominant program in the Big Ten at Ohio State. She’s an Ohio native, so there’s a regional pull to stay in Ohio, but she was also very recently a successful college swimmer, and a nine-time Big Ten medalist. I think it’s probably a bit early for her, but she’s going to climb this list in future years.
There are a few other names floating around who I think are candidates, but for whom a move probably doesn’t make sense. Kelsey Floyd, for example, is working at USA Swimming, where she’s probably being paid pretty well – and if she wanted to move into coaching, she would have done so by now. Kristen Murslack at Florida is another one, but with what Florida has coming in, and with the access that she gets via Anthony Nesty, there’s not an obvious upside for her to make the jump.
There are also a few D1 head coaches around who I think could fit the bill, like Mandi DiSalle-Commons at Cincinnati, but I do think the coaches above will be the focus of the search.
They should be calling Maria Abrams up!
One year of coaching absolutely doesn’t prepare or qualify someone to step into a role like this. Braden even contradicts himself by naming her after saying this is a hit the ground running kind of job.
That would be a big career step backward for her.
Stephanie Juncker at Louisville is really doing amazing things with Arthur Albiero. I don’t think that she is looking to leave, but Stanford Women is one of the few jobs that could interest even the most loyal of coaches. Either way, the discussion of who is qualified to be assistant or associate HC at Stanford is very different to who might “make sense” from other angles.
One wild thought … what about combining the men and women at Stanford and making Dan and Neil associate HCs? Might be perceived as a step down for Dan, but combining the programs might actually allow the coaching staff to hire more assistants who are very qualified, too.
Both the men’s and women’s swim team are fully endowed so Stanford could not combine the teams without upsetting their rich and powerful donors. Doubt it will ever happen.
How about Margo Geer from the University of Alabama?
Emily Eaton is no longer listed as a coach at Indiana , for good reasons.
Yes, it’s very sad that she left Indiana. FOR GOOD REASONS EXACTLY!!! Being a women coach in that environment is VERY tough! She was the longest lasting women’s coach under Looze. That alone says a lot about her commitment to a program but there’s only so much a person can take. I’m sure she has moved on to a less TOXIC place.
She never coached there.
She’s been there the last four years. Got the recruiting back on track and that’s one of the main reasons IU has been doing so well.