Two heads are better than one
UC San Diego ‘co-head coaches’ share teams’ successes
MANSFIELD, Texas -- Scott McGihon was the head coach of UC San Diego swimming and diving program for 13 years. He helped guide the Tritons from a Division III program to a Division II program. The men’s program finished in the top 15 and the women’s program ended the season no lower than a top five national ranking every year under his tutelage.
McGilhon’s teams produced 14 Pacific Coast Swimming and Diving Conference Championships, 162 All-Americans, 34 individual national titles and 18 top-5 NCAA finishes. He was hands down the most successful swim coach in UC San Diego history.
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When he retired last season, the school conducted a national search to find his replacement. It turns out his replacements were there all along.
Matt Macedo and Corrie Falcon both entered this season as ‘co-head coaches’ of the Tritons men’s and women’s swimming and diving program. Falcon joined the program in 2007 as an assistant coach, while Macedo joined a year later. Technically if you looked at their business cards, Macedo’s would say ‘Head Men’s Coach’ and Falcon’s would read ‘Head Women’s Coach.’
But it’s not like that at all.
“A lot of people see the title and think Corrie only coaches the women or I only coach the men’s team. It’s far from that,” Macedo said before Thursday preliminaries at the Division II Swimming and Diving Championship.
“Our team runs through different groups, meaning they swim for both Corrie and I. We are more split up. I coach a lot of the sprint group and sprint stroke, while Corrie coaches more of the stroke and IM. Our assistant coaches coach the distance program. We just continue a lot of what we did in the past. Now we just kind of have the reigns of the program now.”
Macedo is quick to credit McGihon for putting him in a position to succeed.
“Scott gave us a lot of responsibility which was great, especially early on. We were able to make our mistakes. He let us learn. He let us pat ourselves on the back when things were going great. We learned a ton from him,” he said.
McGilhon is still active in the program. He volunteers with the Tritons and traveled with the team to Mansfield, Texas for the championship. UC San Diego brought 31 swimmers and divers to the championships, 17 men and 14 women. When you see the team bouncing around the natatorium’s pool deck, they are wearing a tribute to their former coach on their backs. The team is wearing t-shirts commemorating the 2012 championship and on the back of the shirts it says “Burn the boats.”
McGilhon is a bit of history buff and ‘burn the boats’ is one of his trademark calls. He likes to tell the story of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés to the team.
In 1519, Hernán Cortés, with some 600 Spaniards landed in Mexico. No one had been able to conquer this New World. Legend has it that Cortés ordered his men to burn to the boats. They had to fight or die. Fight they did and Spain became the first country to colonize the Yucatan Peninsula.
“We look at the boats as a way out and so at this meet – a swimmer could say ‘my shoulder hurts and that’s my excuse. That’s my way out. I’m not going to swim well,’” Falcon said when describing the team’s outerwear. “Burning the boats is our way of saying ‘No Excuses.’ No matter what we are going to stay and fight. We are going to swim well. It’s also a tribute to Scott.
Macedo and Falcon have known each other since they both competed in the 2001 World University Games in Beijing, China. But their family history goes deeper; both fathers competed against each one other while in swimming in college in the early 1960s. Macedo says the Macedo/Falcon coaching combo has helped their fathers rekindle their relationship all these years later.
Macedo won two NCAA championships when he was a swimmer at Cal, while Falcon competed at Southern Cal. She was named Most Valuable Swimmer in 1999-2000 and was runner-up in the 400 IM at the 2000 NCAA Division I Championships.
Both believe their Division I swimming experience is invaluable as they coach.
“When I first came to UCSD I really looked at the program and I saw things that I thought could be enhanced, based on my experience at USC,” Falcon said. “But I think slowly every year we would try and pull in different things. Things like training, team presence, to just raising expectations.”
Both coaches say they are bringing a Division I mentality to the program.
“Our expectations are we are a DI program and a top DI program,” Falcon said.” I think that is why we are competing against programs that are fully funded.”
Despite its pristine location -- Falcon readily admits to holding ‘beach’ practices sometimes during the season to help relieve some players’ stress – an influx of homegrown swimming talent, UC San Diego does face challenges on the recruiting trail.
The school does not offer full scholarships, the maximum amount a student-athlete can receive is $500 and that barely covers the cost of books. Tuition can be well north of $50,000 for a four-year education and the university is one of the most prestigious public university’s in North America.
“The academic standard at UCSD is very challenging,” Macedo said. “We get a ton of interest from prospective students from across the nation and internationally. But it’s very tough to get in from the financial side as well as the academic side.”
Mecedo believes it takes a special kind of student-athlete to be called a Triton.
“You have to be incredibly bright,” he said. “You have to be committed to the sport and to academics or you won’t be successful at UCSD.
“Not having scholarships and not having these athletics spaces that these other schools do it makes it a real challenge. But it is just a real credit to the athlete. We have very motivated, very bright athletes.”
Falcon agrees with her coaching peer.
“Our student-athletes are generally very intense, focused people. To be at UCSD you have to be academically inclined. We have a lot of them studying to be are engineers, studying science or math. They put a lot of pressure on themselves, including swimming.”
UC San Diego is searching for their first team national championship and both coaches admit a top-five finish for the men’s and women’s teams is part of the overall goal. They know it can take one great event to spark the team.
“We try and live by the expression: ‘Don’t ride the highs to high or the lows to low.’ So when we have great swims we let the team feed off that,” Mecedo said. “If there are a couple of swims that we could have done differently, we look at the swim individually, assess it and figure out how we can be better. Then move on to the next race. No one on the team is swimming is in just one event. We need to have a great team presence.”