By Scott Eddy, Director of Athletics Communications
For more than six decades, the name McNamee has been synonymous with St. Bonaventure men's swimming and diving.
Over the past 25-plus years, Bonnies head coach Sean McNamee has carried on the family tradition in maintaining St. Bonaventure as an Atlantic 10 power.
Now, the McNamee influence is helping to shape programs around the country as Sean's "coaching tree" continues to grow.
Just this month, two of McNamee's former student-athletes have been named head coach of their own collegiate programs. Matt Rochna '15 was tabbed head men's and women's swimming and diving coach at Washington and Jefferson (Pa.) College after assistant stints at Ohio and Indiana (Pa.). Days later, Mike Burud '14 accepted the men's and women's head coach position at SUNY Delhi after four years assisting the staff at Marist.
"It's exciting to have a growing group of our SBU men's swimming brothers move into the coaching ranks," said McNamee, a Class of '86 grad who led the Bonnies for 26 seasons before moving into a new role as Assistant Athletic Director for Advancement in July. "I am sure that they will pull from the blue collar work ethic that contributed to their success, in the classroom and the pool, while here representing the Bonnies."
Make no mistake, the number of former Bonnies joining the coaching ranks around the country is no coincidence.
"Working with the program at St. Bonaventure was life-changing," Rochna emphasized. "The team was so close under Coach Mac. He and the team were a great influence on me and I learned I wanted to go the coaching route."
Rochna, like many of McNamee's swimmers who would later take to the pool deck as a coach, had not considered going the coaching route prior to joining the Bonnies swim program. Yet, the time spent under his tutelage led him to select the career path. More than influencing his career choice, McNamee's coaching style left a deeper mark on how he goes about his work.
"One thing Coach Mac taught me was his philosophy of accountability," Rochna said. "He stressed it every day for four years and wanted to instill that into all aspects of our lives. That was something I've incorporated into my coaching philosophy as a young coach – being responsible for your actions and being a good person. That's always resonated."
Matt Gianiodis '92 recently wrapped his 14th season leading the Michigan State swimming and diving teams and 21st year overall on the Spartans staff, but lessons learned under McNamee continue to shape his leadership of a Big Ten program.
"The one thing I learned was to take a step back and make sure what you're doing is about the kids. Lose the ego and do everything you can to make sure the kids reach their full potential," said Gianiodis, who swam on Sean's brother Kevin McNamee's final Bonnies team before starting his coaching career as a graduate assistant under the younger McNamee from 1995-97.
McNamee took over the program from his brother, Kevin '76, who followed in the footsteps of their father, John, who elevated the program from intramural to intercollegiate status following his arrival at St. Bonaventure in 1948. The simple building blocks for the program that were implemented by his family before him remain key to his coaching philosophy today.
"Sean is old school. He always taught to be the coach who sits in the back of the picture, but be the one at the front when it's time to lead. Have standards, stick to those standards and don't deviate. Respect tradition and the people who were there before you," Gianiodis said. "He provided mentorship for me. I owe everything to him."
"Coach pushed us every day to better ourselves, but not just in the water," Burud remembers. "He helped me discover a sense of accountability, effort and fairness. Those are the three things I will hold my own swimmers to. He helped show that a lot of times, hard work and persistence cannot be matched. No matter how tough things get, we still have the choice to succeed or fail."
Trevor Maida '18 is the most recent addition to McNamee's coaching tree, beginning his career as a volunteer assistant at Indiana after serving as a student assistant with the Bonnies for the past two and a half years. An injury during his freshman year effectively ended his swimming career and left him with plans to transfer before McNamee invited him to help the coaching staff.
"If it weren't for that experience, I would have never gotten into coaching," Maida says. "It's crazy how many people Sean is connected to in the swimming community. In the Big Ten alone there's three of us now in this powerful conference. He's been a huge tool in getting my name out there."
Like those who have gone from swimming in the Reilly Center and into the coaching world before him, Maida leaves St. Bonaventure with more than just his own personal goals as he begins working with Hoosier swimmers, moving to Indiana this summer to help prep for summer nationals.
"Coach always emphasized that there's more to every single person than a time. There's a lot more behind the times than just swimming fast," he said. "There's a young adult you're helping mentor. We want everyone to succeed in the pool, but we put the individuals above the times. There are a lot of coaches who don't necessarily look at it that way."
Nate Destree '13 was another member of an Atlantic 10 championship squad at St. Bonaventure before opening his coaching career as a graduate assistant at West Virginia. He now is Gianiodis' assistant at Michigan State and about to begin his third year with the Spartans. When he left the Bonnies, he already felt well-prepared for becoming a coach at a power conference program because of the experience McNamee's guidance provided.
"With the way he structures the program, upperclassmen need to take a leadership role and become pseudo coaches. I did a lot of things as a senior captain at St. Bonaventure that I did as a GA at West Virginia," Destree recalls. "Mentorship of freshmen, holding people accountable. It went a long way. Through his help I was able to get my foot in the door and he's helped ever since. He created a pathway that would lead me to coaching and I'm still using that roadmap."
The success of the Bonnies under McNamee is undeniable – he's been selected as the Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year six times while leading St. Bonaventure to the A-10 championship on five occasions. In 23 of his 26 seasons at the helm, McNamee's Bonnies finished third or better at the conference championship meet.
It's success that extends well beyond the pool and into the classroom where dozens of his swimmers have been named to the A-10 All-Academic Team and his program continually earns recognition for academic success by the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America as Scholar All-America Team selections.
"Being a part of St. Bonaventure swimming and diving is to be part of an elite group," Destree noted. "The tradition is one of the first things that stands out. There's an accountability that he instills in everyone who walks in the door of the program. In all my travels in the NCAA, there is no other program in the country where things have stayed the same and all in the family like at Bonaventure."
The coaching ties for the current Coach McNamee go far and wide, including beyond the college ranks. Jimmy Martin '14, who represented the Bonnies at the 2012 Olympic Trials, is the assistant swimming coach at Lynn (Fla.) University. George Eversmann '00, who still holds the program records in the 1000 and 1650 free events, now leads a department of athletes as the Director of Athletics at Raritan Valley (N.J.) Community College.
Outside of college coaching, Jim Wood '08 is the co-founder of SwimRevolution, a learn to swim program outside Atlanta where he welcomed Matt Goettler '17 and Kevin Grant '17 to the staff working with young swimmers. Matt Schutt '16 is the varsity coach at North Tonawanda High School. Jason Paige '98 is the head coach of the Western Connecticut YMCA's Mako Swim Team, a position he has held for the past six years. Jeff Anthony '96 is the head coach at Marcus Whitman (N.Y.) High School.
Though they have moved on from the Enchanted Mountains, the lessons learned under McNamee and with the Bonnies have left an indelible mark on those who have chosen to follow in his footsteps.
Bonnies alums who have taken to the coaching ranks will continue to shape a new generation of those in the pool, even if they're not necessarily wearing the Brown and White.
"Above all, Coach McNamee gave me a second family," Burud emphasized. "Being a part of that team is about representing the school, the community and the most amazing alumni in the most professional and best light possible."
"For such a small program in Western New York," Destree stated, "There's been some spectacular things that have come out of the program. That goes straight to Sean."
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