Friday, September 30, 2011

Coaching Changes for 2011-2012: Who Made the Best Moves?

With every summer comes a new game of musical chairs as coaches and programs sort out new relationships for the coming season. This year, there were very few moves on the men's side, with only a couple of assistant coaches shifting programs, such as William Boyce moving to Harvard to take over the Freshmen squad, as Bill Manning was elevated to the position of Associate Head Coach in order to help Harry Parker with the varsity squad while Harry battles illness. Ed Golding was another notable move leaving the Columbia Lightweight Freshman position to work for Greg Myhr at Penn, filling the vacancy created by Tom Paradiso, who has come out of retirement to train for next year's Olympics.

On the women's side, however, there was plenty of movement, and it's time to take a look at some of the biggest coaching moves of the off-season:

Top three moves in NCAA coaching this year - 
The West Coast Conference: Stronger Than Ever
With NCAA automatic qualification set to come into play starting in the Spring of 2013, the WCC saw a dramatic shift in coaching talent. A conference that went from having very little competitive depth and parity saw some highly experienced coaches take head coaching positions in the WCC for the 2011-2012 season. Most surprising was Glen Putyrae's decision to return to Gonzaga where he coached from 1997-2007 before leaving to take the Georgetown head coaching position. Also moving into the WCC are Bill Zack, who takes the reigns at the University of Portland in the first year of their program's existence, and Vaclav Kacir, who becomes the Head Coach at Loyola Marymount University. Surely the introduction of NCAA Conference Automatic Qualification was the draw that led these gentlemen to join what has been a struggling conference to date. It will be interesting to see if any of these three coaches can unseat defending WCC champion USD. It certainly appears that Putyrae at Gonzaga has the easiest road to achieving that goal, while Kacir and Zack will have a much tougher time preparing their programs to take on a more competitive edge.

Clemson Tigers Add New Talent
Clemson seemed to be headed for a tough season when first year assistant Lincoln Laroe bolted for the Cal job, but we have got to tip our cap to Robbie Tenenbaum, who had yet another trick up his sleeve when he manage to lure Melanie Onufrieff to South Carolina as an Assistant Coach after spending the previous seven years as the Head Coach at Columbia before resigning last Spring. Onufrieff has an impressive resume and will certainly be a valuable asset to the Clemson program.

After a strong career as an assistant coach at several top NCAA programs, Robbie Tenenbaum landed his first big time head coaching job, only have that relationship come to an end in his second year. He then managed to get an even better coaching job just a year later when Rich Ruggieri parted ways with Clemson. We don't know how Tenenbaum does it, but just when it looks like he has been dealt a tough blow, he recovers in amazing fashion and finds himself in an even better position than he was in before.

Ephs Looking to Stay Dominant
Williams made a great offseason move when they hired former Yale and Junior National Team assistant coach, and Olympian, Kate Maloney. Obviously, Williams is a program used to great success (having won six straight NCAA Championships), and this is a great move for the Division III power to try to maintain its stranglehold on the competition. Kate has worked hard to build her resume and is quite accomplished as both an oarswoman and coach. She has a history of working with former Ephs Head Coach Justin Moore with the U.S. Junior National Team. One would presume that relationship will give her an inside tract on what it takes to win there and a familiarity with the challenge. We will be interested to see if Kate can continue to build on the dynasty that was put in place before her arrival.

Three moves to keep an eye on this year -
Columbia Scuffling?
Columbia seemed poised to make a significant move this offseason in the wake of Melanie Onufrieff's resignation. However, when Columbia announced several months later that Scott Ramsey would be taking over we must say we were puzzled. When Ramsey was at Columbia previously as an assistant coach with the women in 2009 he is listed as having coached the varsity four, which finished 12th at Eastern Sprints that year. At Iowa, his novice eight placed last in his first year, and sixth (of eight) this past year. Also, he is (re)entering a very competitive conference -- there is no denying that it is much more daunting to win the Ivy League to get an automatic bid to the Championships than to win the WCC or even the MAAC. Perhaps Columbia thought that it was making a wise move in hiring a guy who had been at Columbia before, and who will be aware of the landscape and the challenges inherent in the Columbia program. But we are still surprised that Ramsey was handed the keys to what we view as one of the top 30 women's head coaching jobs in America. We acknowledge the fact that it is a unique job in that it requires someone to be willing to live and work in New York City, and the Harlem River is certainly not the most ideal place to row, but it also has significant upside from a recruiting point of view in that it is in New York City, and is one of the top academic institutions in the U.S. We will be eager to see if he can prove us wrong and find some success in New York.

Huskies Will Miss Minett
Washington lost a tremendous asset when assistant coach Nicole Minett announced that she was leaving the program to focus on her family as she prepared for her second child. Minett was the perfect fit for the Husky program -- one steeped in tradition, with a great history of alumni serving as leaders and role models in the coaching ranks. As a Husky alum and accomplished oarswoman, Minett was the perfect fit, not only attracting the top athletes to Conibear Shellhouse on a yearly basis, but also arming them with the tools to succeed and pushing them to achieve at a high level.

Immediately after announcing Minett's resignation, Ernst stated that the Huskies would conduct a nationwide search to bring in her successor. It then took almost four months for Ernst to announce that they had hired an up and coming coach from their own backyard. Taking nothing away from Conor Bullis, who appears poised to continue to build what has already been a strong start to his coaching career, but is this what Ernst envisioned when he announced that Washington would begin a national search for the perfect fit?

Depth is a hallmark of the Husky program, and it will be interesting to see if the current arrangement of three men will be successful in continuing to foster an environment in which a host of young women on the fringes of the program will be driven to continue to play a role and push those above them. We are sure Bob Ernst is wise enough to have at least one or two Husky women working as volunteer coaches to serve as role models for the young women, but this is the only all-male coaching staff that we are aware of in the Division I NCAA ranks.

Hoyas Have Battle on Their Hands 
Georgetown lost Glen Putyrae who returned to the WCC (as discussed above) and, in a similar move to Columbia, replaced an experienced coach with a young one. Again, we think this is evidence that it is unappealing to the top assistant coaches in the country to go to a relatively underfunded program in a major conference, in which they would have to compete against strongly supported programs. What this year seems to show us is that it is more appealing to go to a less prestigious conference and less prestigious program in the NCAA AQ era. Although Georgetown is a great university that can attract top recruits nationally, it must compete in the Big East with very well-funded programs at Notre Dame, Louisville and Syracuse. Without the same resources as those three schools, Miranda Paris will have an uphill battle. However, we do want to give her kudos for her hire of a young assistant coach Steve Full, who coached the remarkably talented Mia Croonquist and the Vashon Island Girl's Junior Rowing Program to a 2nd place finish in the 4x at USRowing Youth Nationals this past June finishing just behind a loaded and well-coached GMS JW4x.

-The RR Team

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