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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Replacing a legend

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Annie Marum
Annie Marum / Arizona Daily Wildcat Eric Hansen, Head Coach Men’s and Women’s Swim and Dive.

Frank Busch coached Arizona’s swim and dive teams for 22 years, his career highlighted by a 2008 NCAA National Championship and consistent top-10 finishes for both the men’s and women’s squads.

But in March, Busch decided it was finally time for a change of scenery, and he was hired as the USA Swimming national team director. The biggest question, however, was who Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne would choose to replace Busch in what is one of the elite NCAA coaching jobs in the country.

“When you think of Arizona swimming, first name that comes to mind is Frank Busch, in spite of all the great Olympians we’ve had here over the years,” Byrne said.

“He had mentioned to me early on when I got here that he may have some interest in something else at some point,” Byrne added, “and he obviously had given so much to our program and our university that he earned that right to that on his time frame.”

Who would replace a man who won a championship, coached 48 NCAA individual national champions and 31 NCAA relay champions, was named Pac-10 coach-of-the-year 11 times and NCAA Coach of the Year six times?

Enter Eric Hansen.

If there is such a thing as the perfect successor to Busch, Hansen just might be it, based off of his credentials and history as a Wildcat. His ties to the program — he earned a master’s in exercise physiology, swam for Busch and coached alongside him at the UA — and his success at the University of Wisconsin, where he coached for 12 seasons, were obvious driving forces behind the decision for Byrne.

“It was great (coaching at Wisconsin),” Hansen said. “I really enjoyed it and learned a lot. We had some success up there and it was tough to leave, but no better place to come than Tucson, Arizona.”

Just as Busch did with Arizona, Hansen left the Wisconsin program in great shape after coaching the women’s team to 10 finishes in the top-20 at the NCAA Championships, not to mention an eleventh place finish at the most recent national championship. Individually, 56 of Hansen’s swimmers at Wisconsin — 36 women and 20 men — earned a total of 289 All-America mentions during his 12-year tenure.

The sentiment in Madison, Wisc., is that while he certainly will be missed, the Wisconsin program he leaves behind is in great shape because of him.

“He did a tremendous job here, and you know, we don’t have the best facilities in the world,” said Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez. “But (I) never heard him complain one time.”

“He was so focused on his job and recruiting and coaching his kids up. He just did a magnificent job here.”

As successful as Hansen may have been the last 12 years, the past is the past. Expectations are much higher at the Arizona than they were for him in the Midwest. Not only does Hansen have the tough task of continuing the tradition Busch established, but he must attempt to ease the transition and keep his Busch-recruited swimmers happy.

“I was obviously heartbroken,” senior Alyssa Anderson said of Busch’s departure. “I came to school here for him. I never thought in a million years that he would leave during my time here. (His decision) definitely came out of left field.”

Redshirt senior Cory Chitwood swam for Busch for four years (he was a medical redshirt his sophomore year due to a shoulder injury), and he also coached Chitwood’s mother at the University of Cincinnati. When Busch made the announcement that he would be leaving the UA program, it was upsetting for Chitwood.

“It sucked,” Chitwood said, adding that he was in favor of the Hansen hire. “I was a little devastated because, you know, Frank was one of the reasons I came here.”

“I was upset he was leaving but also very happy for him for the opportunity he has to be a part of USA Swimming and to make it better. I liked the coaching change, I think the change is going to be really good and I’m still very happy.”

According to Byrne, the transition to a new coach was made a lot easier because of Busch’s involvement with the process.

“I wanted to hear his opinion on if he were hiring a coach, what would he would be doing. I think it would be irresponsible if I hadn’t done that. We spent a lot of time during that time talking,” said Byrne.

Byrne went through the process of identifying different candidates, and said that Hansen’s “name came up right off the bat because of his ties to the UA program.”

Byrne proceeded to have a conversation with Hansen over the phone, which led to a meeting in Phoenix where Hansen impressed the UA athletic director.

“Not too long after, we offered him the job and we’re really glad that he’s here.”

Busch’s familiarity with Hansen certainly helped his cause, as the long-time coach spoke highly of him and the job he had done at Wisconsin. Other than all those factors, it was Hansen’s passion for the Arizona program that really sealed the decision, both for Hansen himself and the Arizona athletic program.

“I was drawn to (Arizona) because I know the U of A and I know Tucson, and I think it’s a really rich tradition for swimming and diving and a really great place to live,” said Hansen.

And replacing his mentor and an Arizona legend doesn’t faze Hansen at all.

“I’ve prepared my entire life to be in this position,” Hansen said. “As an athlete swimming on the national team … I set the bar for myself very, very high.

“I think I’ve done my homework and we’re ready to go.”

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