By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, October 5, 2017
Some in the swimming world might think Louisville’s recent success in the pool is sudden or new.
But for Head Coach Arthur Albiero – who’s been at the helm of Cardinals swimming for 15 years – it’s been the product of many years of hard work, dedication, athletic department support and patience.
Translation: In his view, it’s been a long time coming.
“When I was hired, the program has been dormant for a while, was underfunded, had poor facilities and needed an infusion of energy and structure,” he said. “I saw it as an opportunity to create and build something special, and I believe that we have.”
What Albiero has accomplished in his decade-plus time in Louisville is build a swimming power – especially on the women’s side.
At the 2016 Olympics – contested in his home country Brazil – the Cardinals saw recent alum and NCAA Champion Kelsi Worrell earn a relay gold and just miss the finals in the 100 butterfly (9th).
Fast-forward a summer and Albiero placed two female swimmers – Worrell and Comerford – on the 2017 U.S. World Championship Team. Worrell came back to the states with 4 relay golds and individual bronze (100 fly), while Comerford was a relay stalwart – winning five gold medals.
There were also six other Louisville athletes who swam for their home countries at Worlds, and Albiero coached the U.S. women as an assistant in Budapest.
Similarly, fellow Cardinals swimmers Andrea Cottrell and Zach Harting were named to respective World University Games teams – alum Cottrell bringing home gold, silver, and bronze medals from Taiwan, while Harting won two golds in relays
Albiero said his experience coaching alongside legends Eddie Reese, Jack Bauerle, Gregg Troy and others at Worlds proved to be a great learning experience – in part with his formative mentors Ernie Maglischo, Pete Hovland and Jim Steen.
It’s been those relationships as well as the ones he builds with his athletes that Albiero says continues to motivate him as a coach and mentor.
It’s also an integral factor in his ever-evolving coaching philosophy.
“I’m not someone who yells during practice; I do my best coaching when the relationship and commitment are 100-100; 50-50 isn’t enough,” said Albiero, the head coach at the 2016 Short Course Worlds for Team USA, and also a member of US coaching staff for Pan American Games. “To be successful, it takes 100 percent commitment and effort from both sides, and I always strive to have that in my coach-swimmer relationships.
“When you have that level of commitment, you have understanding, and it’s easy to have fun in the pool. It should always be fun at its core. It’s the nature of our sport.”
Albiero - -who swam competitively for Oakland University and was a strong competitor for Brazil’s National team in the 90s – started his coaching path while he was still swimming.
He joined the Kenyon College staff after graduation from Oakland in 1996 as an 18-time All-American swimmer.
For a salary of $4,000, he coached with legend Jim Steen while still training. He put his plan to pursue a Master’s degree on hold to have the opportunity to coach under Steen. He moved to Ohio with wife, Amy, who was also an Oakland swimmer and alum.
From there, he and Amy moved to Alabama, where he was an assistant under Don Wagner for several years, while also working often with another coaching legend in Don Gambril before landing at Louisville. Albiero is credited for having a hand in leading Alabama swimming back to national prominence as a top 15 program.
Along the way, he said he adopted many of the best coaching traits he saw from his mentors – along with the importance of instilling a culture and belief in winning.
“I feel like I took a chance on Louisville, but Athletic Director Tom Jurich also took a chance on me as a 29-year-old first-time head coach,” he said. “The programs were out balance, and swimming had been neglected for years, but Tom had a vision that included moving to the Big East Conference (and eventually to the Atlantic Coast Conference), which meant more opportunity and support for all the programs.
“He convinced me the future was very bright for Louisville swimming. I believed him, and he hasn’t disappointed. That’s why I’m still here.”
And neither has Albiero. Since his arrival and the program becoming fully funded in 2009, he’s led the Cardinals to the NCAA Championships for over a decade including NCAA Individual Champions over the last 6 consecutive seasons – making a steady climb each season.
At this year’s NCAA Championships, the Louisville women tied a program-high 6thplace after finishing 8th and 6th the previous two seasons. In the process, Comerford shocked everyone by tying with Olympic gold medalist and world record-holder Katie Ledecky to win the 200 freestyle.
Likewise, the men’s program has also represented Louisville strongly at NCAAs, finishing 11th the past two seasons (best finish was 9th in 2012).
Like a prophet with a plan, Albiero said he’s not surprised by the collegiate and international success of the program and its swimmers because of the culture and desire to always want to improve.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be coaching and teaching right now,” he said. “I came to Louisville at the right time and with the support of the Athletic Director and the Athletic Department, my great assistants (who have all been coached by Albiero), our first-class support structure, and visionary athletes, we have created something really special here.“But there’s always more work to do to improve every day, and that’s always our first goal. Time’s and titles will come from that.”