Phelps' coach returns to college ranks at Arizona State
May. 25, 2015
Bob Bowman will always be known as Michael Phelps' coach.
Phelps won't be around forever, though, so Bowman started thinking about his future.
It led him back to the college ranks and a new job at Arizona State, a school that he believes has the potential to be one of the top swimming programs in the country.
"When they first called I was like, 'There's no way I can do it,'" Bowman said. "Then I thought, 'When is going to be a good time? The opportunity is there. I'm just going to take it.'"
This won't be the first time Bowman has led a college team. After the 2004 Olympics, he spent three years at Michigan, succeeding longtime coach Jon Urbanchek.
During his time in Ann Arbor, Bowman learned plenty of lessons that he hopes will be helpful in his new gig, such as how to divvy up the scholarships. In non-revenue sports such as swimming, not everyone gets a full ride, so it's up to the coach to figure out the best way to split the funds.
"My first two years at Michigan, I was so dumb with the money," Bowman remembered. "I fumbled that big time and paid for it a few times, just trying to figure out how the whole thing needs to work."
Since 2008, Bowman has served as head coach and CEO of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, where he has continued to work with Phelps — a Baltimore native — along with a number of top swimmers, including Olympic champion Allison Schmitt.
Phelps and Schmitt are among those who will follow Bowman to Tempe, Arizona, forming a new pro training group that will work alongside Bowman's college team.
Bowman thinks the change will be good for his most famous athlete, a swimmer who has won a record 18 Olympic gold medals and came out of retirement to compete at the Rio Games next year.
"It's going to shake him up a little bit," Bowman said. "It doesn't hurt to change things up every now and then, just from an athletic standpoint. That's one thing about being in the same place for a long time. You kind of fall into some habits. Sometimes, you need to break those. I'm not saying they're all bad. You just get in this rut. Sometimes, you feel like you're doing the same things you were doing five years ago, 10 years ago."
For Phelps, it was a no-brainer of a decision.
The two have worked together since Phelps was 11 years old. They are friends and business partners, a relationship that wasn't going to change just because Bowman was moving 2,000 miles to take a new job.
"I'm never going to swim for anybody else," Phelps said. "And it is a good opportunity for me."
The timing of the move actually excites the swimmer, who recently got engaged. Phelps and his fiancee, Nicole Johnson, are already looking at homes to rent, preferably one on a golf course so he'll be able to pursue his other passion when he's not at the pool.
"It's a chance for Nicole and I to go somewhere where we can start fresh," Phelps said.
For now, the plan is to live in Arizona for less than a year, while he's training for Rio.
But they might wind up finding a new permanent home.
"We're not going out there with closed minds," Phelps said. "If we go down there and somehow fall in love with it and want to stay, we'll stay. If go and use it as temporary home, it will be temporary. We're very open-minded about the move right now."
Bowman, of course, is committed for the long haul. Arizona State has never made much of an impact in the sport, despite its favorable climate and being in one of the best swimming conferences in the country, the Pac-12. His hiring signaled a change in priorities for the Sun Devils.
"There's no reason we shouldn't succeed," Bowman said.
Phelps' presence can only help the program climb to the new heights, bringing unprecedented attention and the chance — for one year at least — to train alongside the sport's biggest name.
"This is a good opportunity for some of the kids at Arizona State," Phelps said. "I'm sure they haven't been a program like this, where they've been able to swim with people like Allison or myself. They're going to see what training is really all about. I think it's a good opportunity for everybody."
Because of commitments this summer, which include training some of his swimmers for the world championships and getting Phelps ready for the U.S. national championships (he was barred from worlds as part of his sanctions from USA Swimming following his second DUI arrest), Bowman won't be reporting full-time to his new job until August.
He can't wait to get started.
"It was time," Bowman said, "for me to do something else."
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