By Kevin Heitz
(Johns Hopkins Athletics)
Aside from men's lacrosse coach Dave Pietramala, most of the Blue Jays coaches teach their sport in relative anonymity. Dig a little deeper, and you find a group of dedicated leaders who have been doing so at Hopkins for years, even decades.
Pietramala has been roaming the lacrosse sideline for 10 seasons, leading the Blue Jays to nine NCAA tournaments, six appearances in the Final Four, and the 2005 and 2007 national championships. But among his fellow coaches on Charles Street, he's just a pup.
If you think a Division III school is just a steppingstone for young coaches on their way to D-I, a quick glance at the Blue Jays' coaching roster instead makes Hopkins look like a destination job.
Men's basketball coach Bill Nelson and his women's counterpart, Nancy Funk, have each spent 25 years coaching the Blue Jays -- with both surpassing 500 wins. George Kennedy, a six-time Division III Coach of the Year, is in his 26th season leading the men's and women's swimming teams, while Leo Wiel has coached the women's soccer team for 19 years.
The list goes on and on. Football coach Jim Margraff played for the Blue Jays during the early '80s, and has spent the last 21 years resurrecting the football program at Homewood.
"I've been here for 21 years, and I think I'm fifth on the list," he joked.
Megan Fraser has led the field hockey team for 14 seasons since graduating from the University of Maryland in 1996, while Ted Bresnahan has led the water polo team for 20 of the program's 23 seasons.
Then there's Bob Babb. He has called Homewood his home since the mid-'70s, playing baseball for Hopkins from 1974-77. While pursuing a Masters at Morgan, Babb taught at Lansdowne High, while also serving as an assistant baseball and football coach at his alma mater (he coached Margraff, in fact). In 1980, he became the head baseball coach, and he hasn't left the dugout yet, racking up 900 wins and 11 conference championships.
During a time when coaches change teams as often as some people change their socks, the continuity in the Hopkins coaching ranks is rare. As Funk said, when a recruit asks whether she will be around all four years, Funk simply answers: "I am a Hopkins lifer."
"The number one reason for staying at Hopkins is that I'm surrounded by some great colleagues, some great coaches," she said. "We get along great. We're all friends. It's inspirational to be around other coaches who are as committed to being successful as I am. Also to be surrounded by these student-athletes here at Hopkins."
"We really have true scholar-athletes," Margraff said. "They are terrific young men and women. I think I've coached more doctors than anyone in the country; it's not even close."
|George Kennedy (Johns Hopkins Athletics)|
Kennedy has been leading the Blue Jays' swimmers for more than two decades, and the student-athletes are a big reason he, like most of his colleagues, has stayed put.
"I think there's tremendous value to coaching these student-athletes," he said. "They're in the classroom first, but their hearts are just as big as the Division I athletes. They're very motivated student athletes here. They're pretty high achievers. They are no slackers here.
"As a young coach, you're ambitious. You think you're going to work here for a few years and move onto Division I, because you think it's always greener on that side. But I've got to say this has been the best, just a fantastic experience. I've never wanted to move to another job."
Nelson spent 15 years at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a handful of seasons at Nazareth College, but when he got to the campus on Charles Street, he knew he was home.
"For me, I died and went heaven when I got this job," said Nelson, who coached his 500th career victory Jan. 4. "For what I am about, Hopkins is the greatest place in the world to coach.
"Like most people, you get to 60 and start thinking about hanging it up. I passed that a long time ago, and the fact is, right now I'm in the car looking forward to going to work today. And that's how I feel every day."
It truly is a family among the coaches at Johns Hopkins. Perhaps the best illustration of that is the fact that Nelson's daughter, Katie, is an assistant coach to Funk, whom she has known since age 3.
Maybe in two decades, Craig Appleby's name can be added to the list of coaches who have stayed perched at Homewood. Appleby is a new kid on the block, taking over as coach of the men's soccer team in 2008. But during his short time at Homewood, he already sees why so many of his counterparts have been around since Ronald Reagan was in the Oval Office.
"It's like a Division I school, but we're playing Division III," he said. "There are very few Division III jobs that have what we have. I am very happy here. There have been jobs that have opened, but I haven't even thought about it. I'm more than content."
Talking to Hopkins coaches is a practice in repetition for what they have to say about their university -- praise for the athletic directors and administration, admiration of the student-athletes and strong relationships with the other coaches. It all seems to add up to one thing -- these coaches aren't going anywhere.
"It's a place where 20 years goes by in a snap," Margraff said.
More Front Row:
• Coaching Byword At Hopkins: Take A Seat And Stay Awhile
• 'Countdown' Fights Kidney Diseases
• Umpires Want To Honor Ernie Tyler
• Mud Chasers Slate April Run-Wallow
• Two New Books For Baseball Fans
• From The Cheap Seats
Issue 159: March 2011