All wet: New coach signals dawn of new era at Dedmon Center natatorium
When Radford University freestyler Emily Turner first met the Highlanders new swimming coach last summer, one point was abundantly clear to her. This man does not intend to be running a country club here.
Ian Coffey was all business.
“He’s a tough coach. Difficult,” said Turner, one of only two seniors on the team. “Lots of yardage. He gets you to work on not just your best strokes but your worst strokes too, so that’s good.”
Coffey made clear his objectives from the start.
“Be the best team we can be this year,” junior backstroker Jessica Frazelle said. “Dramatically change the face of Radford swimming and diving.”
Change is already afoot on deck. After beating UNC Asheville last week, the Highlanders were 2-0.
“We haven’t been 2-0 since I’ve been here,” Turner said.
Coffey, 35, isn’t planning on that being the last time that happens, either.
“I’m very happy with all the progress so far,” he said. “I told them the first day, we’re going to train and we’re going to win. They’ve embraced what we’ve been doing. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Coffey is being assisted by first-year diving coach Patrick Pyrch.
For Pennsylvania-born bachelor Coffey, who came here after being the head women’s coach the past four years at Mansfield University, a Division II school in his home state, it’s almost as if his career has made a circle. Before coaching in the high school ranks and doing stints as an assistant coach at Syracuse and Villanova, he began as a graduate assistant on Ned Skinner’s Virginia tech staff 10 years ago.
“Ned’s taught me a ton of stuff,” Coffey said. “A lot of what I learned from him is implemented in what we do here – structuring, how we deal with the athletes, things of that nature. Can’t ever repay him everything he taught me.”
Any chance Hokies and Highlanders will be jumping in the same pool anytime soon?
“Maybe next year,” Coffey said. “We’ve talked about that.”
Meanwhile, it’s nice to be back in the same area code as his old boss.
“It’s great to be down here where I can see him a whole lot more often than I used to. It’s good to talk shop with him.”
Future topics of conversation are unlikely to often turn to Coffey’s own collegiate swimming career at LaSalle in Philadelphia. The Explorers known for swimming, Coach?
“Ah, no. LaSalle is known for rowing.”
There have been days Radford swimming has been up another sort creek without a paddle. This is a new day down at the Dedmon Center pool, though.
“It’s been great with the new coach,” said Lexington, N.C., resident Frazelle. “Everybody has acclimated really well.”
Added Turner: “It’s been a great transition.”
Did somebody say something about a new day down at the Dedmon Center pool?
The swimming day dawns early now in Radford.
“Six a.m.,” Coffey said.
No wonder the swimmers had to battle their early apprehensions.
“People may see him on the outside and go, ‘Wow, your coach is kind of scary,” Turner said. “But inside, he really cares about us and wants to see us do our best.”
To that end, set those alarms for dark o’clock, girls.
-Ray Cox covers recreational, high school and college sports in the New River Valley. If you have information you’d like featured, email email@example.com or call 381-1672.