By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, November 9, 2017
In case you didn’t know, Indiana Head Coach Ray Looze is really smart.
There’s no denying that considering he was a Rhodes Scholar finalist and Magna Cum Laude graduate from the University of Southern California where he was also an All-American swimmer.
He considered attending law school or starting his doctoral program after his competitive swim career was over, but he ultimately followed a different path.
And Indiana University swimming couldn’t be happier that he did.
“I considered getting my PhD. After finishing my master’s degree at Texas, but while I was in school, I was also coaching with Eddie Reese and slowly realized coaching made a lot of sense to me,” said Looze, who finished third in the 400 individual medley and fifth in the 200 IM at 1992 Olympic Trials, just missing making the team.
“I love it, but I quickly realized it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Hard or not, Looze has accomplished great things in his coaching career, first at the University of Pacific and currently Indiana for the past 15 years.
In five seasons at Pacific, he was named the Big West Conference Coach of the Year four times and led both the men’s and women’s teams to conference titles in 2002.
Shortly after that, he took over an Indiana men’s program that had been stuck at or near the bottom of the Big Ten for many years.
Looze said he knew it would take time and hard work to elevate Hoosier swimming, and with a little patience, great recruiting and tremendous tenacity, he lifted the program to a Big Ten title by his fourth season at the helm.
“It wasn’t an overnight thing, and I knew it wouldn’t be when I accepted the position,” said Looze, who directed the men’s team to the Big Ten team title this past spring, the program’s first since 2006. “But I loved Bloomington and the history of the program and knew I could build the right team to help lift the program back to where it was in the 1970s under Doc Councilman. I just knew it would take time.”
A season after he started direction the men’s team, he also took over the women’s team, and over time, he turned both programs into two of the most dominant in the conference and NCAAs.
And that’s also translated to international success with Cody Miller, Blake Pieroni and Lilly King representing Hoosier swimming at the Olympics and World Championships – and bringing home medals and world records in the process.
“When I was swimming, I had a lot of innate perseverance to be the best I could be, and I do the same thing in coaching,” he said. “But I haven’t done this without surrounding myself with great coaches and athletes. It’s truly been a team effort. You can’t get complacent, either. I’m always looking for new, innovative ways to do things.”
While he’s made a commitment to keeping up with the latest trends in swimming – analytics, underwater video recording and analysis, resistance training, etc. – Looze said he’s also relied upon the many influences and lessons he learned as a swimmer and coach.
Along with Reese, who taught him about identifying and developing talent – 4-star and otherwise – he also learned from his college coach, Peter Daland, who taught him about mentoring and relating to his athletes on professional as well as personal levels.
And then there’s his greatest coaching influence and mentor – Jon Urbancek – whose training system and cycle is something Looze administers regularly with his own athletes.
“There have been many coaches and other people in my life who have added something to my coaching style and philosophy over the years,” said Looze, who said he had “the honor” of being a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Coaching Staff, something he never thought he could accomplish. “I’m constantly learning and changing. I believe you have to in order to remain on top of your game.
“My approach has also changed. I’ve become more technical and analytical in how I see swimming and how we work with our athletes. A big part of this evolution is due to the amazing coaches I surround myself with. It’s important.”
Looze – who won his first Big Ten Coach of the Year honor in 20016 and became the first coach in Big Ten history to repeat as both men's and women's Big Ten Swimming Coach of the Year last season – has also adapted his connection and relationship with his athletes over time.
Because each swimmer learns and responds differently, he has learned to work with each one independently – helping them find their best selves.
When Olympic and World Champion Lilly King joined the program two years ago, he noticed she was taking lots of strokes but was very explosive. He helped her refine her race strategy and she developed into the world record-holder she is today.
He said he’s also learned over the past few years to have more fun on deck during practice and at meets – realizing when he enjoyed things, he coached better and his athletes responded better.
“Over 16 years, people have asked me why I haven’t left and moved on to a warmer climate or bigger program, but I’ve always seen myself as a builder,” said Looze, who is from California but wife, Kandis, is from Indiana. “As a swimmer, I was someone who never gave up, and I’m the same way as a coach.
“I saw something really special about Indiana when I came here, and over time, we’ve built the program into something really great. There’s still more for me to accomplish – more that I want to do. I’m not done here yet.”