By Mike Watkins // Contributor | Thursday, September 14, 2017
David Marsh never really thought much about coaching as a career until his own coach and mentor Richard Quick pointed him in that direction.
Initially, he simply saw his post as the coach of 70 athletes at the War Eagle Swim Team as a quick way to make money while he figured out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
But by the end of his first practice, he knew coaching was his calling – and it’s a ride he’s enjoyed for more than 30 years.
“Richard obviously saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself; he had that kind of insight,” said Marsh, who swam for Quick at Auburn University and eventually took over the program in 1990. “I had all ages at the pool – eight-year-olds on one side and National qualifiers on the other side of one 8-lane, 25-meter pool. It was a great start for my career.
“I watched Richard every day in practice and basically had my finger in his belt loop following him around everywhere so I could learn from him. He was a fantastic mentor, coach and friend. I attribute much of what I do and how I do it to Richard.”
Having learned under Quick as a swimmer as well as young coach, marsh said his mentor was the guy he wanted to be.
In the process of finding his own coaching process and philosophy, Marsh said he looked to Quick’s coaching style and approach as a model.
But he also looked to many other coaches and mentors who influenced him along the way – Pat Tomer and Jim Shed among them.
“My coaching outlook and philosophy about swimming is different if I’m working with seasoned veterans than with younger swimmers just starting out,” he said. “With young swimmers, it’s important that they find joy in the experience while learning safety and practical technique.
“With older athletes, it’s about holding them accountable and giving them the tools and instruction they need. Having fun and learning to love swimming are important for both.”
And Marsh’s coaching record speaks for itself.
During his 18 seasons at the helm of the Auburn program, he built it into a collegiate swimming powerhouse. He led the Tigers to 7 men’s (including 5 consecutive from 2003-07) and women’s team to 5 within a six-year period (2002-07). The men also were national runners-up three times and the women’s finished second at NCAAs once under Marsh.
For USA Swimming, he was named as an assistant coach on the 2000, 2008 and 2012 Olympic team staffs, and led the 2016 U.S. women’s team to 16 medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Marsh left Auburn following the 2007 season, and for the next 10 years he led the SwimMAC program in Charlotte, N.C., helping multiple swimmers find their way onto numerous USA Swimming National teams as well as international teams, including sending six to the 2016 Olympics.
Earlier this spring, he parted ways as the head coach at SwimMAC but continued to coach the Team Elite he established at Queens University in Charlotte, leading several of his swimmers to spots on the U.S. World Championship team in Budapest, Hungary. He plans to continue to run that program despite coaching and living on the other coast.
Shortly after that, Marsh learned about the head coaching position opening at the University of California San Diego in La Jolla, a Division II school with great facilities and, of course, great Southern California weather.
“I contacted the Athletics Director, Earl Edwards, who originally didn’t give my application serious consideration because he thought I was very overqualified,” said Marsh, who is relocating to his wife Kristin’s home state.
“But we met, and I convinced him that this was the right opportunity for me because of everything the program offered and the opportunity I saw to start a Team Elite on the west coast. It offers everything I want.”
Marsh also said he’s looking forward to returning to coaching among the collegiate ranks, and with a program like UC San Diego that has two 50-meter pools, on-deck weight training and plans to move to Division I status soon, he said he’s taking over a program with tremendous potential and opportunity.
He also said he’s incredibly excited and energized by the overall swimming and water culture supported by the San Diego community – observing the connection to the ocean quickly during his first few days in town.
“My first day or two, I went for an ocean swim, and I was just thrilled by the amazing aquatic culture in the area with so many people out swimming, surfing and just enjoying the water,” said Marsh, who takes over a men’s and women’s programs that have won the past 9 Pacific Collegiate Swim Conference team championships and finished high at Division II NCAA Championships.
“When I arrived at the pool the other day, I was greeted by 80 people in the pool participating in the UCSD Master’s swim program – people of all ages and abilities. That says a lot about the way people view swimming and the value it brings to their lives.”
After being away from the academic realm for the past decade, Marsh said he’s charged about working with a top 20 academic university that also recognizes the value and importance of athletics.
“This is a great atmosphere for students who want to swim and want to swim fast, and that’s a great environment to coach in,” he said. “I’m excited about the Team Elite West program that we’re building, and I’ve already talked to a few athletes who are thinking about relocating here.
“It’s great to be back among the college ranks. I missed the engagement, and I’m excited to see what we can build and create here for the future of swimming -- NCAA, USA Swimming and for those people who just enjoy swimming. It’s something people can do their entire lives.”