By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Jim Henry had a lot of success as an All-American and NCAA team title winner at the University of Texas, where he also coached before moving to Yale. The former Peddie and University of Denver coach is learning a lot building a Yale program that includes a lot of talent, including National Team member Eva Fabian, as Henry talks about in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. Was the move to Yale something you planned on?
Coach Henry: You know, I have always thought about the Ivy League. Right out of college, I taught in suburban Dallas. Right after that I took the job at the Peddie School, in New Jersey, and that was a boarding school – a different kind of learning. I fell in love with the east coast.
2. So you felt like you were properly prepared?
Coach Henry: I like the small, hands-on learning environment. I have always had this huge admiration for the Ivy League. I had sent so many kids from Peddie to the Ivy League that I got to know their coaches as well, and I respected how they balanced top-notch academics with athletes.
3. How did you end up with the Yale job?
Coach Henry: For me, the job at Yale was about timing. (Olympian and former Yale coach) Cristina (Teuscher) helped me tremendously. (Longtime Yale coach) Frank Keefe was kind of my mentor when I was a younger coach. Having conversations with him and discovering more about Yale…I love the history so much, and I have read a lot about it, and I knew what Kiphuth had done, and the Olympians who had come from Yale. I have always admired Yale from afar.
4. You really learned a lot at Texas, didn’t you?
Coach Henry: I did. With me being the assistant at Texas, I had the opportunity to stay there. But I really wanted this move for my family. The move to the east coast has been amazing.
5. The time at Texas and DU really got you ready for Yale, didn’t it?
Coach Henry: It’s weird, because I look at the collection of my resume, and at how every place along the way has helped me. Being at the University of Denver, it gave me the experience of being a head coach, and how selective admissions operate. Also, not having the resources of a big state school, but making it work; it’s not just about the resources you do or don’t have, but how you use them.
6. You have a special group of student-athletes there, don’t you?
Coach Henry: I am working with some great student-athletes. More than anything, we have momentum working in our favor. The kids are working to produce and that is all I can ask for.
7. One of your sons is named Finn, is it all right if I ask how that happened?
Coach Henry: We are really good friends with a family I met at the Peddie School; when you work at a boarding school, you get to know the faculty well, because you live with them. I was a dorm supervisor for (students) 14 to 17 years old. One of the English professors, who now works at the Peddie Admissions office, had seven boys. We got to be really good friends with him, and this was when it was uncommon – it has become more common – to name a kid Finn. I have a common last name with “Henry,” so we wanted a different first name to standout a little bit.
8. You earned college honors as a 400 IMer, is that something you utilize as coach?
Coach Henry: I do use that. I like to think that I coach all the events well. You can learn a lot by trial and error, but you can learn a lot more importantly by talking to the best. What I tried to do in creating a program is the training philosophies and techniques of some of the best coaches in the U.S., and the world.
9. Eddie Reese at Texas – how much did that incredible man shape your coaching philosophy?
Coach Henry: When it comes to my coaching style, I have to credit a lot of it to Eddie, and the way he works. I was lucky when I was in college; I had seven Olympians on the team. I was a good swimmer, but not a great swimmer. My role was to find a place and get better. When it came to IM, I knew I would do whatever it took to contribute to this National Championship team.
10. Isn’t the NCAA title something that, more than anything, doesn’t fade with time, and in fact actually means more?
Coach Henry: It does. I can remember it like it was yesterday. More important than winning the National Championship, it’s the memories of the time you spent together with your team. The meet itself was phenomenal and the winning was amazing, but the workouts, and the daily ins and outs of getting to know the team and spending time together was second to none.
11. Do you stay in touch with those teammates?
Coach Henry: I talk to or email or use social media to communicate with those teammates daily. There is not a time where I am not in constant contact with at least half that team – at least once a month. We’re all still pretty close.
12. All of you from that group have gone onto outstanding professional careers, is that something you realized could happen at the time?
Coach Henry: I think we knew at the time that we had something special. I mean, it’s hard to describe, but I think each person had their own, unique skills and talents. We knew that what we were doing chemistry-wise was working, and that made us work even harder. I think all of us knew even though we weren’t projected to win, that we had a special group. We went through and would lose a couple of dual meets a year, but we trusted Eddie and (Assistant Coach) Kris (Kubik) and each other and knew it would work out. It was a trust thing, where we knew we would be ready to bring it when it was time.
13. You knew a lot about Texas going into your career there, how?
Coach Henry: For me, my brother swam on the 1981 National Championship team. So I met Coach Reese at a really early age – I think I was 9 or 10. So it’s been a lifelong mentorship for me. He’s been a great role model.
14. Kris Kubik does get some notice but he deserves so much more – how important is he to the success at UT?
Coach Henry: I agree. I think Kris’ strongest attribute is his instincts. I think he is a great complement to Eddie’s strengths and skills. They have a tendency to be on the same page and really work well together. I think they can read each other’s minds at times. When they do have a difference of opinions, it helps both of them make better decisions
15. Those two taught you what, in general?
Coach Henry: More than anything, the way they work with their athletes is something to admire. They will challenge their athletes but they will give them all the support to meet those challenges.
16. How did being a coach at a boarding school like Peddie help with where you are now at Yale?
Coach Henry: It’s a respect for balance of life. I think you have to, in going through something like a top-notch boarding school like Peddie, you respect the time and the day. You see how the successful students organize and plan every moment of the day, and how they work that plan – even when that plan includes some downtime, which is necessary. You can’t do that without putting in a lot of time. So you have to be extremely organized. That has helped me, especially in my current role
17. How important is communication with your student-athletes when they are doing so many things at such a high level?
Coach Henry: I rely on my students for communication when planning their workouts. We have groups that train together. But I have groups within those groups who have certain needs. There are only two practices out of nine where I have the full team because of academic conflicts or something that comes up – there might be an engineering lab that is only offered at 4 p.m. when we have practice. So you work to find a good solution but you respect when they need that time to make up that work. And the important thing is that communication.
18. I like your mention of downtime – do you actually plan that?
Coach Henry: There has to be some downtime involved in that balance. I don’t organize or plan anything on Sundays. It is their day. Some of them have to – some need to – catch up on work in the classroom. That’s one of those things I know that they need that. And then they might come back and double their work out on a Monday or Tuesday. We have to see the bigger picture and have it work in both areas, and that only happens when you have the correct plan and work that plan.
19. National titles, coaching at the best academic and athletic schools in the country – could you imagine that maybe halfway through life, you’d have all of these successes?
Coach Henry: First, I consider myself to be very lucky. I have been fortunate to be surrounded by great people. My daily success now is not me, it’s (Assistant) Danielle (Korman) and I working together. I have been with some great coaches. I learned a lot about coaching from Kim Brackin. So first, I feel fortunate. I am lucky to have the success I have had. But more than anything, it has never been me by myself, it has been the group I am part of, and the people who are with me. To this day, I still set goals, whether they are personal or professional. I work toward the goals, and those are usually seasonal. One of the great things about swimming is that it is seasonal, and you work toward goals. It’s about setting a goal, striving for it, assessing it afterward, and setting out new goals. I want to help our kids to reach their personal, academic and athlete goals. It’s not just about their times in the pool; it’s about their development as people. When they graduate from Yale with that degree, did we do enough to prepare them for their dream job? And when we do that, it is as satisfying as anything.
20. You have Eva Fabian, one of the neatest, smartest, most well-rounded student-athletes on the planet – what’s it like coaching her?
Coach Henry: With someone like Eva, I have different plans as well – her big focus is Open Water Nationals in June, which is used to qualify for Pan Pacifics. And that’s a difficult thing to do, because of the advances in open water swimming in this country and around the world; they will always get stronger and stronger as the sport grows, and that is great. It’s impressive to be around Eva. She motivates me to be a better coach. She motivates her teammates because she is so strong and so determined. There are moments when she is tired or hurting, but she wills herself to success. She might be beat-up and tired from a workout, but I can throw out any workout for her and she will work to the end to achieve what she sets out to do. She gets the success she has because she has worked for it; daily, she has this indescribable drive. The effect she has had on the culture around here is amazing. She makes everyone in her lane better, everyone in the pool better, and everyone on the deck better because she is always prepared to do what it takes. I am happy to work with her, but I’m happy to also try to make her better, to reach the goals she has and to translate some of those open water successes to pool times. And also prepare her for her ultimate goal, making that 2016 Rio team and more than anything, medaling.