Book to Replace Steen as Lords Head Coach
Published: Friday, May 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
After spending 37 years leading the Lords and Ladies swimming teams to more championships than any coach in the history of collegiate athletics, Jim Steen announced on Tuesday he will be stepping down as Head Coach of the Kenyon Men’s Swimming and Diving Team.
Jessen Book ’01, who took over as head coach of the Ladies two years ago, will replace him. Book will continue to coach the women’s team as well.
Steen said he made the decision to step down because he believes that now is the right time for a new coach to take over and begin steering the team toward another national title.
The change will also make it possible for Steen to work on other projects for the College, he said.
The first of these projects, a summer camp that will cater to high school swimmers who are interested in science, will utilize both Kenyon’s science and swimming facilities. Steen’s company, Total Performance Sports Camps, will run the camp.
“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat to have a camp that’s really a science camp but it’s for swimmers, so they [have] the opportunity to train with our other camps,’” he said. “It brings people to campus to see our facilities, meet our professors and generally leave [with] a good impression.”
Steen also said he plans to remain involved with recruiting for the Lords.
Despite the departure of the man who has led the Lords for almost 40 years, Book says he expects an easy transition.
“I think it’s going to feel fairly seamless to the team because most of the things we did this year were co-ed,” Book said. “It will obviously be an adjustment still, because now they have a different person making decisions, but I don’t think it’s going to feel that different.”
Book said much of his coaching philosophy was formed by working with Steen as a swimmer during his time at Kenyon. “A lot of the things that I believe as a person and as a coach have been shaped by [Coach Steen],” he said, “So my core philosophy, my core beliefs, are similar to his.”
Ian Stewart-Bates ’13, a sprinter, said he does not expect any significant changes to the way the team operates once Book is at the helm. The biggest difference, he said, will likely be one of style. Overall, “there’s no difference in coaching ability,” he said, “but I think that both of them bring their own strengths. Coach [Steen] is a more [loud], vocal person, not that Jess isn’t going to be in your face.” Overall, “I’m excited for the Kenyon team, and I fully expect them to take advantage of what Jess has to offer,” Stewart-Bates said.
“I know that he’s still going to be around and I’m still going to see him a lot,” Stewart-Bates said. “If I know Coach at all, he’s going to have a hard time stepping away.”
Steen leaves Division III swimming a very different field than he found it. His championship squads on both the men’s and women’s sides set the standard for more than two decades, said George Kennedy, the head coach of the men’s swimming and diving team at Johns Hopkins University.
“Clearly he just set the bar so high that everybody had to recruit harder, everybody had to work with their athletes in a more effective way,” Kennedy said in a phone interview. “It’s going to be a void on the pool deck for sure.”
“I think we’re losing an icon,” said Gregg Parini ‘82, whose Denison University teams snapped the Ladies’ 17-year championship streak in 2001 (they would go on to win in later years) and the Lords’ in 2011.
Parini said one of the reasons he decided to take the Denison job was that it meant spending more time on deck with Steen.
“I figured the closer I was to him, the better chance I would have to watch him work,” Parini said. “I think that Denison would not be in their place in college swimming if they didn’t have a Kenyon nearby.”
The journey to Steen’s announcement began about two-and-a-half years ago, said Director of Athletics Peter Smith. That was when Smith met with Steen to discuss his future with Kenyon swimming, and they decided to hire a new coach for the Ladies who would eventually take the reins of the Lords.
While the job listing for the position only stated that the new Ladies’ coach would assist in coaching the men’s team, serious candidates were told they would likely replace Steen when he chose to retire.
The search committee eventually decided on Book, a double major in biology and English who was part of four Kenyon national championship teams and who received an NCAA postgraduate scholarship.
Steen met with President S. Georgia Nugent on Monday and assembled the team on Tuesday afternoon to inform them officially of his decision. Book was absent from the meeting, and the moment belonged to Steen alone.
Against the backdrop of the pool dedicated to him, he spoke of maintaining integrity and the hunger to win another national championship.
“You all need to know that I am always available to support you and talk to you,” he said.
Next, Smith spoke, and as the athletic director trailed off — bringing the meeting to a close — Steen looked at his assembled swimmers in the bleachers and offered a piece of surprisingly simple advice coming from a man known for changing his training practices year after year.
“Swim fast, man. Swim fast.”