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The End of an Era

Feb 10, 2014, 9:12 AM EDT

When I sat down to interview senior swimmer Frank Dyer, it was almost chilling to hear the song “1985” by Bowling for Soup playing in Rolfs Aquatic Center. Normally Bowling for Soup doesn’t have much of any effect on me, but that day I was asking Dyer about Men’s Swimming and Diving Head Coach Tim Welsh, whose era at Notre Dame began the very year that song recalls. This year, that era is coming to its close. After all these years—29, to be exact—after standing on the deck of the pool in Rolfs Aquatic Center, Welsh is retiring. He revealed his plan to the team in October, before the season’s commencement. “He’s the type of guy who doesn’t want it to get out through leaks, so we had a meeting in our classroom. We didn’t really know what it was about because we didn’t have a meet that week, and it was really pretty dramatic, but it was heartfelt and he said this would be his last season,” Dyer explained. “I was really happy that he did it that way because we had kind of been wondering when he’d be retiring, and if and when he did, we’d rather he told us before the season so it would more like a tribute to his last season, rather than post-season, where it would be like, ‘Well now what?’”

Welsh planned out the timing of his retirement strategically. The roster currently contains a junior class of 14 members—that’s 14 people who Welsh is confident can help ease the transition to a new head coach, current Associate Head Coach Matt Tallman–and continue the transition into a new conference. “They’re great leaders. They’re not only numerically large; they’ve played a large role in the success of this program. They’ve achieved things on a national level that we’ve never achieved before. So there’s a lot of weight in that class that’s helped move the program forward, so to have them as senior leaders, I thought, would just make the transition as smooth as it could possibly be.”

source:  Sophomore Andy Jensen agrees with Coach Welsh in that respect. “Not only are there individual leaders in the junior class, but as a whole, they really lead the team. As a sophomore, I definitely look up to all of them when it comes to being good people, good swimmers, and good students. I think it’s a good transition for next year.”

After speaking with both Dyer and Jensen—and of course Coach Welsh, himself—it’s easy to see what a difference he’s made. He’s been crucial to every swimmer’s growth as athletes and students, and has encouraged them to push themselves and set goals they may have never even considered. Both Jensen and Dyer mentioned how important Coach Welsh was in their decisions to attend Notre Dame over other schools.

“I met him in December of my senior year [of high school],” Dyer recalled. “He saw my stroke, and he told me that I had so much potential. He said he saw the future of my stroke, not just what it was at that point in time, and that was something totally different from any of the other coaches that I met with. That really stuck with me, and…while I’ve been here, he’s been a great role model both in the pool and even more so outside the pool.”

Jensen’s decision came down to a similar question of role model: “I had to decide between Notre Dame and two other schools seriously. My dad and I sat down, and he looked at me and said, ‘You realize your swim coach will be like your second father?’ And I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he said, ‘Which school do you feel most comfortable with that?’ And I said Notre Dame because not only is Tim great as a second dad, but so is Matt Tallman…I’ve moved a lot, so I’ve had a lot of coaches in my life, and I think Tim is probably ranked #1 on all of them. He’s a great teacher in every aspect of life.”

Aside from his fatherly quality, Jensen recognized how “innovative” Coach Tallman is. He was responsible for getting the team to Colorado Springs this season for training, which they’ll do again next year. He’s even worked with the NCAA to change how swimmers qualify for the NCAA Championships. “He’s very, very involved, and I look forward to building upon it. He’s in charge of recruiting. He’s actually the one who recruited all of us, including myself, and I just look forward to seeing where he goes with the team. I think he has big goals and the ability to reach them.”

It’s those very attributes of Tallman’s that make Coach Welsh so confident to pass down the head coaching position to him. “I think that we will have begun as a very local, Midwest, don’t-travel-very-much, don’t-recruit-very-much, don’t-have-very-large-ambitions [team]—and that was exactly the way it was when I got here—to a team that says, ‘We’re going to compete on a national stage.’ The men are at that place now. We have our NCAA qualifiers and our All-Americans. But I think that’s part of the reason it’s time to move on. [The team] needs a different vision, and it needs a different commitment and a different leader. I think Matt has that vision.”

Notre Dame is no stranger to legendary coaches. Tim Welsh now joins the likes of other coaches who fostered and oversaw the growth of their programs at Notre Dame for decades, such as Digger Phelps with basketball and Bobby Bayliss with tennis. “I wanted to be here,” Welsh expressed. “Before we came here, once upon a time, I knew that if the Notre Dame position ever opened up in my career, I would apply for it. And when I came here, I thought there was nothing in swimming I wanted to do that couldn’t be done here, so I haven’t looked at a job since. Didn’t want to.” Also similar to Phelps and Bayliss, Welsh might be leaving, but he’s not really going anywhere. After he passes down the position Tallman, Welsh plans to continue living in South Bend, staying near and dear to Rolfs. He did add, however, “I’ve promised Matt I wouldn’t haunt him, so I won’t. But we’re not moving, so I expect to be around and supportive, and be doing something but in a different capacity.“

“What I’ll miss most is the opportunity to walk in here and be on the deck and coach every day. I’m going to miss that. I’m going to miss seeing the people, I’m going to miss knowing everybody,” Welsh stated. “It occurred to me this morning that a day will come when I won’t even have a key to this place. That’s never happened since this pool’s been opened. I’ve always had a key to it, but a day will come when I won’t have a key to it anymore. But not for a while. My last day isn’t until the end of June. At some point, I do want to add it all up and draw a line under it, but not yet. We still have meets to go. Six more months of good fun.”

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