Former swimmer, coach meet on opposites sides of pool
By NOREEN GILLESPIE
ANN ARBOR, Mich.
On a pool deck in North Carolina years ago, 14-year-old Bailey Weathers stepped out of the locker room and onto Jim Richardson's YMCA team.
The teenage breastroker and distance freestyler wasn't the best kid on the team, but he had a work ethic far and beyond the other athletes, Richardson remembers.
"He wanted to do anything he could to get better," said Richardson, who is now the head coach of Michigan. "Anything you asked him to do as a coach he would try and kill himself to do."
When Weathers thinks back to his club swimming days, he laughs when he talks about his former coach.
"He was my first coach," he says, with a smile spreading across his face. "And he was hard."
Saturday at the University of Michigan, Weathers and Richardson coached against each other during the Notre Dame-Michigan dual meet. Both of the rivals were coaching in one of their most important dual meet of the season, but animosity was absent.
Weathers and Richardson have been friends since the Notre Dame coach's competitive swimming days, when he began to develop a deep friendship with his swim club coach.
It was when he returned for summer visits during college to train with the
Winston-Salem YMCA that Weathers' and Richardson's relationship began to be less of a coach-swimmer relationship and more of a peer relationship, Richardson said.
The two have followed each other's coaching careers through Richardson's tenure as an assistant coach at the University of Iowa and Weathers' time as an assistant at Texas, to their head coaching positions at Michigan and Notre Dame.
Today, the two talk about their programs, trade workouts and training stories, and have molded a common coaching philosophy they believe has enhanced both of their programs.
"Jim has inspired me to try to coach for the right reasons," Weathers said. "Jim does it the right way, and for the right reasons. He really understands people very well, and that's important."
"It's made us both better coaches, and better people," Richardson said. "Notre Dame has a teacher in Bailey who is concerned about those kids far beyond how fast they swim."
Both Richardson and Weathers have steered their teams to national rankings, loaded the rosters with All-Americans and NCAA qualifiers, and can boast numerous conference titles in their tenures as head coach.
That makes for hotly contested duals between Michigan and Notre Dame. Since beginning the series in 1992-93, Michigan has won the match-up four times. But Weathersâ Irish have snatched the last three victories from Michigan, letting the series record stand at 4-3.
Still, that doesn't make coaching against his friend and mentor easy.
"He's tough," Weathers said. "He knows what he's doing. You can't underestimate him. He swims to have his kids do well at the end of the season, so you kind of know what to expect."
But no matter how close the matches get, the two don't let the rivalry get in the way of their friendship.
"It's one of those relationships in sport that makes doing what you do very special," Richardson said. "Of course, he wants to see his kids get their hands on the wall first — and I want to see my kids get their hands on the wall first, too. But that doesn't get in the way of what's more important, and that's our relationship."
But laughing, Richardson admits it might be time he gets a little more competitive with his former athlete.
"I need to get some faster swimmers in here," he laughs. "Because he's kicked us the last three years in a row."
All Sports Stories for Monday, February 4, 2002