By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
When it comes to his coaching career, Whitney Hite is an amalgamation.
Having worked with some of the greatest coaches in the sport over the course of his career, both as a swimmer and coach, Hite has absorbed a little bit of each of their styles and philosophies to create his own.
He said he feels fortunate to have learned something from each one of them – Texas’ Eddie Reese, California’s Teri McKeever, Georgia’s Jack Bauerle and Frank Busch, among others – to become the coach he is today.
Along the way, he’s infused some of his own insight and philosophies to earn his current role as the head coach of the University of Wisconsin men’s and women’s swim programs, an opportunity where he knows he can make an impact and change lives.
“I’ve had some great coaching mentors, people I can still depend on when I need them for advice or information,” said Hite, who took over the Wisconsin program in 2011 after a couple of years as an assistant at Arizona.
“I still have lots of talks with Eddie (Reese), and he is a great resource, and Teri is such an innovator and teacher that I’ve modeled a lot of how I coach after them. But there have been others. I’ve learned something about coaching and working with athletes from pretty much every coach I’ve worked with. I owe each of them a lot.”
Hite became involved with swimming as a youngster while living in Denver, and thanks to Reese, earned a scholarship to swim for the University of Texas.
While he wasn’t one of the “studs” on the Texas teams he was a member of, he took advantage of the experience and knowledge around him to form early perceptions of what his coaching persona would become.
“I was a very hyperactive kid, and swimming was the only thing that really made me tired, so my mom got me involved,” Hite said. “At Texas, I was the slowest guy on the fastest team, so I had time to learn a lot about coaching just from watching Eddie. He took a chance on recruiting me, and I made the most of the opportunity.”
After graduating, Hite returned to his hometown and worked in the ticket office for the Denver Broncos – his dream job, or so he thought. Within six months, he knew he wasn’t doing anything to change or impact the lives of others and decided to apply for some coaching jobs. When nothing materialized, he contacted Reese for advice.
“I had applied for many coaching positions but didn’t get any responses, so Eddie suggested I come out to Nationals, and he would introduce me around,” Hite said. “I drove my mom’s car to California and didn’t really talk to anyone until the last night. I spent some time with Jack (Bauerle), and he said he had a volunteer coaching opportunity at the University of Georgia available if I wanted it.
“So I went home, packed things up, rented a U-Haul and drove out to Athens. It was a true leap of faith, but I knew it was what I had to do if I wanted to get into coaching.”
Because it was an unpaid coaching position, Hite worked at a bagel shop and taught lessons at a local swim club to make ends meet. A few months later, one of the assistants on the team left, and Bauerle offered the position to Hite.
The rest, as they say, is history in the making.
After five years at Georgia, Hite served as an assistant coach at the University of California-Berkeley under McKeever before taking over as the head coach of the men’s and women’s teams at the University of Washington in 2006. At Cal, Hite helped the Golden Bears to three top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships while coaching the mid-distance and distance program that included three U.S. National Team members.
During his four seasons at Washington, he led the Huskie women to their best-ever NCAA finish, 12th in 2008, and on the men's side, they earned a top-16 finish in 2009, the best finish for the team in 30 years.
When the Washington swimming programs were discontinued in 2009, Hite relocated to the University of Arizona under Busch before he left to take over as National Team Director with USA Swimming.
In his two seasons in Tucson, Hite was responsible for training the middle-distance and distance swimmers and helped lead the men's and women's teams each to top-five finishes at the NCAA Championships both years.
When the Wisconsin head coaching opportunity became available after Eric Hansen accepted the head coaching position at Arizona in early 2011, Hite jumped at the chance to lead a well-established and supported program into even an even more successful future.
“I took this job because I know we can win here,” Hite said. “The athletic department is sound financially, there are great facilities and there is great support for all sports programs – not just football and basketball.
“Wisconsin is an elite school with elite athletics, and in this profession, you have to believe in what you’re selling to prospective student-athletes, and I can do that easily at Wisconsin.”
In his first two seasons at the helm, Hite has directed the Badger program to 22 new school records. Eight men and 17 women have qualified for the NCAA Championships, including six men in the 2012-13 season. The men's team improved its team finish at the Big Ten Championships from eighth place last season to sixth in 2013.
The men broke 11 school records, claimed two Big Ten individual titles and took home just the third NCAA individual championship ever in school history. Three men won four All-American honors, with four more honorable-mentions as well, including Michael Weiss and sophomore Drew TeDuits, who earned a pair Big Ten Championships. TeDuits won the program's first individual NCAA title since 1959 with a time of 1:38.27 in the 200-yard backstroke – the third-fastest in NCAA history.
Last season, Hite led the women to a 7-7 dual record, including a 4-3 mark Big Ten competition. The women finished seventh in the Big Ten Championships and 15th at the NCAA Championships. Ivy Martin earned All-American honors for her sixth-place finish in the 50-yard freestyle at the NCAA Championships. Under Hite, Martin claimed a new Big Ten record in the 50 freestyle, at 21.84
Equally important to Hite is that during his two years at Wisconsin, he has helped send four athletes to the 2012 Olympic Trials and place four swimmers on the 2013-14 U.S. National team – TeDuits (200 backstroke), Nick Caldwell (400 freestyle), Weiss (400 individual medley) and Martin (50 free), who also won a U.S. Open title (50 free) this summer.
It’s all part of his coaching mission – to put his own ego aside and focus on developing the athlete, helping them increase their strengths and improve their weaknesses.
“I’m here for my athletes – to help them become the best swimmers and people that I can,” Hite said. “I have a saying that I refer to often in my life and pass it on to my athletes: Entitled to nothing, grateful for everything. I believe if we incorporate those words into our lives, we find success no matter what we do.”
Hite’s Five Pillars of Coaching:
1. More consistency = more success.
2. Be passionate in whatever you do and do whatever you do passionately.
3. Education is key – always be a teacher at heart.
4. Pursue a culture of excellence.
5. Be the best that you can be – maximize your own abilities.