Greg Hansen: New coach expects nary a ripple

Arizona swimming
2011-04-13T00:00:00Z 2011-04-13T10:04:53Z Greg Hansen: New coach expects nary a rippleGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 13, 2011 12:00 am  • 

If you are the swimming coach at Arizona, you are a unique part of America's work force. You beat sunrise and you race sunset. Twice a day, 300 days a year, you do the early-to-work, late-at-work double.

Everybody works on the Olympics clock, which tick, tick, ticks forever. The off-season? It's a few days in May.

Frank Busch punched in 20 years ago, and it's not much of an exaggeration to say he never punched out. When he leaves his post in two weeks, taking charge of America's Olympic swimming program, Busch will deliver his office keys to 44-year-old Eric Hansen with one final thought:

This isn't the place for sissies.

They expect you to win the NCAA championship, produce Olympians, spend part of the off-season coaching for Uncle Sam and simultaneously operate the Ford Aquatics program, a developmental and elite club organization that has twice won the national title.

To do all this, Arizona hired 44-year-old Eric Hansen, a former 7-foot high jumper and national championship freestyle swimmer who still looks like he could play tight end for the Oakland Raiders, which, by the way, his father, Roger Hansen, once did.

"No one expects more from me than I expect from myself; I don't feel any pressure," Hansen said Tuesday upon arriving at the Hillenbrand Aquatic Center to take command. "I live my job and I love my job."

His approach, he said, "will be offense, not defense."

Hansen has Wildcat blood. He got his master's degree at the UA and coached at his alma mater for three seasons so he knows how swimming works here. Swimming at the UA is what track and field is to the Oregon Ducks.

He has the pedigree and the toughness.

Every autumn, from 2001 through 2010, Hansen brought his Wisconsin Badgers to Tucson, swimming against a powerhouse program that the cold-weather Badgers couldn't hope to beat. No challenge was too great.

"When he coached here, Eric would run the (8-mile) Phoneline Trail up Sabino Canyon, and every time he finished he would throw up," says Tucsonan Sandy Baker, a former UA swimmer. "He would just kill himself, running or cycling all of those switchbacks, to get the most out of it. That's the way he goes about his business."

Every summer, Hansen and ex-UA swimmer Geoff Hanson, who became his assistant coach at Wisconsin, fly to Arizona and gather a team of rim-runners. They drive to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and run to the North Rim, and then run back to the South Rim.

That's 48 miles round trip, in the heat. It takes about 15 hours.

"That's how we keep our ties to one another," Hansen says with a smile. "We do something really hard each year. We suffer, but we love it."

UA director of athletics Greg Byrne had his pick of the field in searching to replace Busch. Who wouldn't want to coach the Wildcat swimming program? It's outdoors and it's sunny. Elite recruits are receptive.

The list of Olympic gold medalists is staggering: from Amanda Beard and Roland Schoeman to Ashley Tappin and Ryk Neethling.

During Hansen's welcome-back press conference Tuesday, Olympic gold medalist Matt Grever and NCAA champions Adam Ritter and Annie Chandler sat in the audience. This doesn't intimidate Hansen; 15 years ago he coached and recruited to Arizona Gary Hall Jr., who is one of the most prominent names in world swimming history.

"Eric comes off the bus like you want him to come off the bus," said Byrne. "I talked extensively to Ryk and to Amanda, and both spoke highly of him. That reinforced my instinct. We wanted someone at the highest level."

Hansen grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, which is hardly a compound for great swimmers. But he had an edge because his mother, Cleo Hansen, ran swimming programs for the municipal pools there; she coached the boys and girls teams at Sioux City's East High School, where Eric and his older brother, Nick, became local swimming legends.

Incredibly, Nick Hansen, who was also a former assistant coach on Busch's staff, was the head coach at Wisconsin in the late '90s. When Nick left coaching to open a real estate business in Colorado, the Badgers hired Eric to replace him.

If replacing your older brother isn't pressure, what is?

Hansen will inherit UA men's and women's teams that are stocked and ready to contend for the 2012 NCAA championships. On Tuesday, someone asked him what he thinks is possible in his new job.

"Winning," he said.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Arizona State 0 0 0 0.000 3 0 0 1.000
Oregon State 0 0 0 0.000 3 0 0 1.000
Stanford 0 0 0 0.000 3 0 0 1.000
Arizona 0 0 0 0.000 3 0 0 1.000
Oregon 0 0 0 0.000 3 0 0 1.000
UCLA 0 0 0 0.000 3 0 0 1.000
Washington 0 0 0 0.000 2 0 0 1.000
California 0 0 0 0.000 3 1 0 0.750
Colorado 0 0 0 0.000 2 1 0 0.667
Utah 0 0 0 0.000 2 1 0 0.667
USC 0 0 0 0.000 2 2 0 0.500
Washington State 0 0 0 0.000 1 2 0 0.333

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ASU at
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11/29 12:00 am
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