Photo courtesy Michael Pimentel/GoldenBearSports.com
By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Even though Dave Durden got his feet wet in coaching while still in high school, it wasn’t until he worked alongside his mentor Dave Salo that he was truly hooked.
And while he admits he still has much to learn and accomplish, Durden said the daily educational process – learning what works best for each individual rather than the group as a whole – keeps things fresh and motivates him to want to accomplish more.
“I wasn’t a very good swimmer in college, so I spent a good bit of my time watching Dave (Salo) and learning about the ins and outs of coaching (as an assistant at Irvine Novaquatics Club),” said Durden, head coach of the University of California Berkeley men’s team for the past six years.
“I was curious about how he worked with fast swimmers to help them swim even faster and better, about nutrition, weight training, etc. – everything and anything I could learn. It set the foundation for who I am as a coach today. Over time, I’ve learned you can’t coach collectively – you have to focus on what works for each athlete. Takes a little more time and planning, but the rewards are that much greater.
”While Salo had a profound impact upon Durden becoming the coach he is today, it was during high school when he coached summer league swimmers that he began thinking about it as a future endeavor.
A 1998 graduate of the University of California Irvine, Durden joined Salo’s Novaquatics as an assistant coach in 1999 and spent a few years there before accepting an assistant position with David Marsh at Auburn University.
At Auburn, Durden was the primary coach for a number of world class/postgraduate swimmers who were preparing for the World Championships and the World University Games. He mentored multiple world and NCAA record holders, and in 2004, coached multiple athletes who competed at the Olympic Games in Athens. Durden also served as the head coach for the Panama team at the 2004 Olympic Games and the 2003 Pan American Games.
For five years, he was involved with the swim camps at Auburn, serving as the camp director in 2004 and 2005. During his time in Auburn, Durden helped lead the Tiger men's and women's teams to six NCAA team championships - the men winning in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and the women winning in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
“In addition to Dave (Salo), I learned a lot about how I coach today from working with Dave Marsh,” Durden said. “The entire coaching staff at Auburn, from assistants to the strength coach, taught me how important our impact is on the athletes we coach and mentor.”
Durden moved on to guiding the University of Maryland's men's and women's swimming and diving teams for a couple of seasons, and then his coaching break happened: he became the men’s swimming and diving head coach at Cal-Berkeley in August 2007.
In five short years, he transformed the Bears program into the strongest collegiate team in the country, winning the program’s first NCAA title since 1980 in 2011 – a year after the team finished as the national runner-up.
He then proceeded to guide the men’s program to another title the following March in 2012. For his work, he was named the NCAA Coach of the Meet and Pac-12 Coach of the Year three seasons in a row (2010, 2011 and 2012).
“It’s really been a dream come true for me, especially to get the opportunity to work with some of the greatest athletes and people in the sport,” Durden said. “We’re always looking for new ways to improve. That’s what motivates me – seeing our athletes continue to get faster as well as continue to be great people.”
Beyond the collegiate ranks, Durden has helped develop some of the best swimmers on the world stage. Under his tutelage, Nathan Adrian has won three Olympic gold medals and Anthony Ervin has made a spectacular comeback, retiring from swimming in 2003 and then qualifying for the London Games in 2012.
Adrian has earned Olympic Games, World Championship and Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championships gold medals, as well as five NCAA individual and seven NCAA relay titles under Durden’s guidance. He has been on the USA National Team coaching staffs for the 2009 Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool, the 2010 Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championships and the 2011 FINA World Championships.
In addition to Adrian and Ervin, Durden has helped several other athletes earn spots on the U.S. National Team, including Jacob Pebley, Tom Shields and Josh Prenot – and also works with Olympic and World Champion Natalie Coughlin.
Durden, who says he tries not to be too reflective or look too far ahead, said he owes a lot to the sport – including his wife, Cathy. The couple has a son and daughter.
Lessons he’s learned from being a father have definitely translated to his coaching approach, but he said he always knows at the end of the day where his priorities lie.
And that, in turn, helps him be an even better coach and person.
“It definitely starts at home for me,” Durden said. “I believe it’s hard to be a good mentor to young men if I don’t make being a good father my top priority.
“I still have a lot I want to accomplish in coaching – and I have a ton to do. But that’s what makes each day so unique and special. Coaching athletes at this level is a privilege, and making it work for me and my family – and my team – requires balance and flexibility. I am where I’m supposed to be.”