Swimming

Wild Speculation: Who Are the Top Candidates for the Head Coach Job at Pitt?

With the announcement on Monday that John Hargis will not return as the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh, another Power 5 job is open and more wheels will be turning.

Along with USC, Notre Dame, and Illinois, this is one of four such head coaching positions that are definitely up for grabs already the day after the NCAA Championships (with the rumor mill swirling about a few massive openings on the horizon).

In spite of recent struggles, this is a decent job. The women were 11th of 12 teams at ACCs, ahead of only scholarship-less Boston College; the men were 9th out of 12 teams.

Pennsylvania has different public record laws regarding salaries than most states, so coaching salaries are harder to come by, but most coaches I asked think this is about a $150,000 per year job. It’s in a Power 5 Conference, and is a job that has proven that it can produce top swimmers – evidenced by All-American Blaise Vera.

Pitt has a very good swimming facility, and the university is located in a major metro, but a relatively-affordable one. That environment can be appealing to a lot of coaches who might not find as much appeal in the traditional ‘college town.’

While the school doesn’t have much recent tradition to recruit on, they have scored at a combined 36 NCAA Championship meets (their best finish was 15th place from the men’s team in 1938, 18th place from the women’s team in 1983). They also have a good diving program, which has produced their only NCAA Champion Dominic Giordana on 3-meter in 2016.

It also has very good academics (#59 in US News National Rankings), which should soften one part of the recruiting conversation.

Pitt is a program where a good coach can carve out a good career by building a team to consistently sit 5th-7th in the ACC, which doesn’t take a huge leap in a very-competitive conference.

Here’s the wrinkle that complicates this conversation: Notre Dame is also looking for a new head coach. That means a lot of regional overlap for as much as that matters, and also another ACC team that’s looking to get better. Of the two programs, I would suspect that Notre Dame will get their first choice ahead of Pitt in cases where there were the same applicants for both jobs.

Without further ado, here is our wild speculation for the head coaching job at Pitt.

Chris Lindauer, Associate Head Coach, Louisville

Lindauer was a three-time All-American at Louisville and has been an assistant at Louisville since 2009. He was promoted to associate head coach in June of 2021, and the Cardinals had another glittering season – especially the women, who finished 6th at NCAAs last season (the men were 12th).

Lindauer was at Louisville for most of the team’s rise to the upper echelon of NCAA teams under head coach Arthur Albiero. Now in his early 30s, and with a year as an associate head coach under his belt, he’s going to start to become a candidate for every big job that opens.

Louisville is a model for a team like Pitt. In a broad stroke, the two schools have a whole lot in common – urban campuses in mid-sized metros with good facilities and not much swimming history – so if I’m the Pitt AD, I’m looking at Lindauer and wondering if he could recreate that program at the Trees Pool.

The biggest weakness in his resume is that Louisville is basically all he’s known. He’s only seen one way of doing things, and has only worked for one head coach. That leaves some uncertainty for an AD about how he might react in a new environment.

Lindauer is rumored as a candidate for the Notre Dame job as well.

Matt Bowe, Senior Associate Head Coach, Ohio State

Bowe and Pitt’s Athletics Director Heather Lyke have a lot in common: the two overlapped at Eastern Michigan, where Lyke was the AD before Pitt, and both also had stints at Ohio State (though not overlapping).

Bowe has spent 5 seasons at Ohio State, and like Lindauer received a recent promotion – from associate head coach to senior associate head coach. Bowe has mostly focused on the men’s team in his time at Ohio State.

He has previous experience as an assistant coach at Indiana, Eastern Michigan, and before that at Loughborough University in England.

Bowe has big roots both in the midwest and internationally – and if history proves anything, it’s that internationally recruiting will probably be the path to kickstart this program.

While he works mostly with the men at Ohio State, he has worked with women at other jobs – he coached the US Open Champion in the 200 fly Tilly Gray while at Loughborough, and worked with both teams at Eastern Michigan and Indiana. He’s really only worked with highly-successful programs, and that speaks well for his track record.

The Buckeye men have earned three-straight Top 10 finishes at the NCAA Championships – doing so again this year even without peak performance at the meet.

Brian Peresie, Head Coach, Akron

The head coach at Akron for the last 8 seasons, Peresie has built a mid-major program that is arguably already better than Pitt and its myriad of Power 5 resources – and has done so in a similar part of the American rust belt. The Zips have won 8 straight MAC titles, and consistently send swimmers to the NCAA Championships – this year it was Sarah Watson and Paulina Nogaj. The program has earned 5 CSCAA All-Americans during his tenure, and has had four swimmers named MAC Swimmer of the Year.

Peresie’s success at Akron has already far out-launched his resume: his prior stop was as head coach of Malone University, which were a provisional NCAA Division II member, and as an assistant at Ohio University (another MAC program).

His downfall is that Akron doesn’t have a men’s team. That could be a problem for the Pitt AD, but

Jake Shrum, Head Coach, Towson

Shrum has served as the head coach at Towson since 2016. In spring of 2021, he led the Towson men to its first-ever CAA Championships, winning by over 200 points. Prior to that, he was an assistant for the team for a few months before being named acting head coach.

Most importantly, Shrum has Jack Saunderson on his resume. Saunderson was the CAA Men’s Rookie of the Year in 2016 after setting 5 school records, during Shrum’s first season as an “acting head coach.”

Saunderson would eventually become an All-American and a member of the USA Swimming National Team.

Shrum has previous stops at the University of Virginia (pre-Desorbo era), with prior coaching experience at the club level. He swam for four years at Virginia too, so he’s got ACC experience.

If Pitt wants someone with head coaching experience, Shrum seems like a candidate who is at least worth a call.

Dorsey Tierney-Walker, Associate Head Coach, Ohio State

Things didn’t work out for Tierney-Walker as the head coach at Ohio State, but since being fired there in 2015, she has been climbing her way back up the ladder. As the head coach at New Mexico for 3 seasons, her teams went 7th-6th-6th (would have been 6th-6th-6th were it not for a relay DQ in 2016). In a 10 team conference, that’s better than they were on either side of her tenure. Her arrival before the 2019-2020 season coincided with the Ohio State women’s three straight Big Ten titles.

Without a lot of program history at the meet, the school could rely on some personal history for Tierney-Walker to reinvigorate recruiting. At Texas, she was an NCAA Champion in 1990 and 1991 and NCAA Record holder in the 200 breaststroke. She earned 16 collegiate All-America honors and had a number of international appearances, including four Pan American Games gold medals. She has stops at lots of big programs (Indiana, Auburn, SMU) and a handful of international appointments too, as an assistant at the 2001 and 2007 World University Games.

She would be able to use her success at Ohio State, just 3 hours down I-70, to recruit well at Pitt, at least in the short term.

The Longshots With Local Ties

Pitt doesn’t really have a great roster of alumni-turned-coaches to rely on, unlike a school like Auburn or USC. There are a couple, but they’re both probably a little early in their careers for this job.

Kristen Murslack, Assistant Coach, Florida

Murslack is the primary contact for women’s recruiting at the University of Florida, which is the hottest program in the country right now.

It might be a bit early for the Auburn alum to take over a Power 5 job, but she does have history at Pitt: she coached there for two seasons as an assistant, including during the peak of the Blase Vera era with the Panthers.

Murslack is a native of the Pittsburgh suburb of Gibsonia, so a trip back closer to be home could be appealing for her – especially if it comes with a big promotion.

I do think this is a long-shot, but perhaps she could be brought back as an associate head coach. If Florida continues to excel, though, and Pitt’s new hire stumbles (we’ve seen a lot of short term hires at big programs lately),

she might be a leading candidate on the next round.

Andrew Sheaff, Assistant Coach, Virginia

This would be a bit of a “jumping the ladder” for Sheaff, because there are two assistants on the Virginia staff (Blair Bachman and Tyler Fenwick) who are due for head coaching positions too.

But the caveat is that Sheaff is a Pitt alumni – he swam there from 2003 to 2007.

He also has a lot of experience at a lot of programs. In addition to working with both Pitt and the Cleveland Browns of the NFL as an intern, he was at Maryland as a volunteer from 2007-2009, Bucknell as an assistant from 2009-2012, and an associate head coach at Northwestern from 2012-2017.

After one season as a volunteer at Virginia, he joined the full-time staff there.

I don’t know if there’s any glory day that Pitt is eager to recapture, but if there is, and they want an alumni, Sheaff might be as good of a pick as anyone.

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