Weber looks to ride wave of success

By Tim Murphy

At long last, the search is over. After three months of uncertainty about who would take over as the new head coach for men’s and women’s swimming and diving, athletic director Tom Weingartner promoted from within, naming men’s assistant Jason Weber to the newly consolidated position on June 8. Weber will also retain his duties as aquatics director, which he inherited from former men’s coach George Villareal.

The decision was reached at the close of a thorough but unusually lengthy nationwide search to fill the opening. From a strong pool of initial applicants, several candidates

in addition to Weber were brought to campus for interviews. They met with Weingartner and members of a search committee comprised of three faculty members and four swimmers. In the end, Weber’s familiarity with the program and enthusiasm for the tasks ahead made the difference.

“It took a little longer than expected because they got such a late start,” Weber said. “I didn’t have any head-coaching experience, but I was pleasantly surprised.”

A 2002 graduate of Brown University, where he excelled as a swimmer and earned a spot at the United States Olympic trials, Weber joined the Maroons program in 2004 as an assistant to Villareal. With his wealth of competitive experience and commitment to success, he quickly fit in with the program. Handling most of the recruiting duties, Weber helped to reel in top talent to Hyde Park to compliment the new state-of-the-art Myers-McLoraine Pool. While he had a strong relationship with Villareal, Weber was never one to sit back if he saw something he didn’t like.

“We were always throwing ideas back and forth. It’s important for assistants to not be afraid to share ideas. I don’t want to be close-minded,” Weber said. “George handled most of training, workouts, but I would construct some from time to time. I’m a little more serious about what’s going on, a little more organized. But we still have some of the same views.”

The hiring also served as a ringing endorsement of the direction in which the swimming program is heading. From the time of Villareal’s arrival in 2003 to the afternoon this

March when he finalized his resignation, the men’s swimming program underwent a sweeping renovation. Long a minnow in a pool full of sharks, the team ascended from its status as a bottom-feeder in the division’s toughest swimming conference while shattering school records in the process. Now, with the merging of men’s and women’s teams and the hiring of a new coach, it may be time for the women’s squad to make some waves as well.

“I know the guys team liked him a lot and thought he was a great coach, so I think the women’s team has a great future ahead of us,” second-year Sarah Laws said. “I think he will be a great coach and I think he can teach us all a lot since he was such a great swimmer when he was in college. I can only see good things in the future from the joining of the two teams.”

“His greatest strength is being able to connect with the swimmers on a number of levels,” fourth-year James Viccaro said. “He has the absolute respect of the entire team, despite being only a few years older than us. That narrow age gap is what allows him to understand what we go through on a daily level with classes, swimming in college, and life in general.”

With the merger of the two teams, doubts have been raised about just how much focus will be paid to the individual members of each team. Weber, an alumnus of a Brown program that likewise featured one head coach for two squads, dismisses the notion as unfounded.

“Some people were concerned that some swimmers aren’t going to get enough attention. That is not true,” Weber said. “With the guy’s team, we’d always split into different groups based on what event you swam. Usually you’d have at least three groups, but only two coaches. Now we’ll have three coaches rather than two. It’s going to be better for all of them. Most college teams are combining now.”

Due to the timing of the announcement, Weber’s formal introduction to the women’s squad won’t come until school begins in late September, but he has sent out e-mails to the teams and spoken with those athletes who stayed on campus during the summer.

“I have a lot of passion for the sport. I’ve had a lot of great coaches and I think I have the excitement and the knowledge to do well,” Weber said. “Both teams have a lot of potential. Our goal is to be a top five, top 10 program in the next couple of years.”

When practices begin in a few weeks, the swim teams will be breaking in a pair of yet-to-be-named assistant coaches to go with a talented incoming class. But with a familiar face at the helm, the program is once more secure in thinking that despite the turmoil, the future is bright.