Friday afternoon in Tempe, Bob Bowman was announced as the new head coach of the ASU swimming program. He was most recently the Chief Operating Officer and Head Coach at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. While there, he notably coached 18-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and 5-time medalist Allison Schmitt.
Phelps will be coming with Bowman to Tempe to train for the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. As Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports wrote Friday, it marks a huge geographic shift in the focus of USA Swimming.
"I look forward to returning to coach at the collegiate level and be part of the great community that Arizona State University has to offer," Bowman said in a statement. "I am motivated by the opportunity to help develop student-athletes as individuals and I am confident that we can build a swimming program that will be a source of pride for all ASU students, faculty and alumni."
Over the better part of the last decade,I, along with millions of others have been glued to the television every time Phelps raced in the summer Olympics both in Beijing and in London in 2012. I leaped off my coach when he beat Milrod Cavic by 1/100th of a second to win his 7th gold medal in 2008.
Now I'll also be the first to admit I pay almost no attention to swimming outside of the Olympics, but you can bet with the hire of Bowman, I'll be keeping an eye on the ASU program from here on out.
Unfortunately, something else I've become acutely aware of over my time at ASU is the issue of children drowning in pools during the summer months in Arizona. With temperatures soaring into triple digits, a backyard pool is a common. Every couple of weeks, I'll see a story on the local news about a parent looking away for just a second, but within that short timeframe a child falls in and by the time they're pulled from the water it might be too late.
According to the Phoenix Fire Department and statistics compiled by the Arizona Republic, there were 14 drownings in Maricopa County in 2014, 19 in 2012 and 20 in 2011 and 2010. Steps that can be lessen these numbers include vigilance and fences around pools, but the best defense is actually teaching the child to swim, a place where Bowman has experience.
He's involved with and serves on the board of Phelps' foundation which helps educate children about water safety. Phelps' foundation has created what's called the "im program" which teaches water confidence and safety in tandem with overall fitness and a healthy lifestyle for children.
It's exactly the kind of initiative Ray Anderson was looking for in a new coach. He also wants to work with USA Swimming, an idea he expressed to the Republic's Jeff Metcalfe in a recent article:
"We want to serve our community," Anderson told Metcalfe. "We have four campuses all equipped with really high-level swimming venues. We can really help serve a need by utilizing our venues for learn-to-swim programs."
The ASU swimming program has never been historically great, but Bowman's hiring immediately raises the prominence of the program to another level. He's a former Big Ten Coach of the Year at Michigan and has won the USA Swimming Coach of the Year six times. His swimmers have set more than 43 world and 50 American records.
Could this also mean a rising interest in swimming in the Valley?
It means more kids in the Valley could take up an interest in swimming knowing Michael Phelps, Bob Bowman and a host of other olympians are training in their backyard. That's why Bowman's hire is more significant. While I admit an underlying sense of hyperbole, the hiring of Bowman may save lives if it means more children wanting to learn to swim which equates to fewer drownings.