The Golden Years

by Casey Barrett

A Dynasty is Born at Cal 

The hills are alive with the sound of… Durden? Did the boys of Berkeley really just win NCAA’s for the second year in a row? After losing an irreplaceable graduating class, led by none other that Nathan Adrian, and replacing that crew with bunch of no-name freshmen? Yeah well, they’re no-names no more. Those Diaper Dandies (cheers, Dicky V) just won the big one for the Bears. And that means the dawn of a dynasty in the Berkeley Hills…

Meanwhile, one week earlier, Teri McKeever led her legion of Lady Bears to yet another title at the women’s NCAA’s. That makes three national championships in the last four years for the ladies. Or, if you’re counting combined, this means that Cal has won five of the last eight national NCAA team titles available over the last Olympiad.

How did this happen? Wasn’t Stanford supposed to be the spot where hot shot recruits flocked in the Bay Area? No longer. There’s been a changing of the guard, and it looks like it’s just getting started.

Admittedly, I’ve got some pro-Bears bias in this regard. While I didn’t go to Berkeley, my wife and my business partner are both Cal alums. Meaning, the two people I communicate with more than anyone else are Go Bears to the core. If my schools (USC and SMU) aren’t winning, I’m cheering for Cal, because of them. But who needs a bias? You could look at this as objectively as a sober judge and still come out pulling for the Bears. There’s a lot to like.

Among the Cal women, you have – not sure there’s any argument here – the greatest woman swim coach in history. This summer, Teri McKeever will be the first female head coach of the women’s U.S. Olympic Swim Team. That’s sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? The first ever, in 2012? But it’s true. The first time a woman’s had this top spot. Obviously, she’s more than earned it.

Among the men, you have Dave Durden. The guy’s 36 years old; he just won his second straight NCAA championship. When he was hired by Cal five years ago, succeeding the legendary Nort Thornton, the decision was met with random shrugs. Apparently, Durden blew everyone away when he interviewed for the job. But this is a gig that’s supposed to go to a proven commodity. Swim coaching jobs just don’t get much better. It’s a destination job, reserved for coaches who’ve already been around a few Olympic blocks. Durden wasn’t that. He was coming from the University of Maryland, not exactly a swimming powerhouse. (In fact, not a swimming house at all anymore, as the program got the axe just a few months ago…) But before Maryland, Durden had apprenticed at Auburn – at the Dave Marsh School of Higher Coaching. He clearly studied hard.

No one’s shrugging anymore.

I hate to jinx Coach Durden, and as his profile grows there will inevitably be grumbles, but I have never heard a bad word uttered about the guy. This is more than unusual, it’s something that doesn’t exist among high profile coaches. Everyone has enemies at that level. I consider Florida’s Gregg Troy to be the best swim coach alive on earth, but not everyone agrees with me. In fact, I know a few old swimmers who might disagree with that opinion rather vehemently. But with Durden, all you seem to hear is sunshine. How it’s all about the team with him, how he gets everyone to buy in to a bigger mission. How he’s “so Zen.”

I’m not sure what that even means, but I wish it was something said about me. Don’t we all.

Meanwhile, at the rival across town, there seems to be a program with its priorities bizarrely out of whack. Over at Stanford, it seems to be all about the Streak. That is, its mind-boggling streak of consecutive Pac-10 / 12 titles. It’s been 31 straight years now. Stanford has not lost a men’s conference swimming title under Skip Kenney since 1981. That’s insane. (If you swam at another Pac-10 / 12 school, it’s also infuriating, but that’s another story…) Yet as impressive as that streak might be, it’s pretty clear that, for the last two years at least, it’s being extended at the expense of a much bigger prize. Sure, the Cardinal won again at the conference meet last month. But where were they this past weekend? A distant third place. 109 points behind their biggest rival when it mattered most…

Over at Berkeley, there’s no confusing the priorities. These young men and women are buying in for a pair of coaches who are fast defining the state of their art.

Here’s hoping those Berkeley Hills are hosting some raucous swimmer parties right about now… And here’s betting that this time next year, Cal is going to win it all again.