Monday Press Conference: Chris Clark

Men's rowing coach discussed his team's lofty preseason ranking, youth and the construction of the new crew house

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Opening Statement

"Thanks for inviting me down here again. Sometimes I manufacture my own questions for you. We'll get to that because a lot of you don't know a lot about us. As Brian said, we are ranked fifth. That is definitely an over-ranking. I'm just thinking about polls and how many sports are driven by that and just in general how seductive a ranking can be and how it appeals to flattery and vanity as well. Fifth looks good, but often the reality doesn't match the prognosticator. We are over-ranked. I'm not exactly sure how far, but it is still a little scary. The second you read that, you think ‘I guess that's where we are supposed to be.' I really do feel bad – football and basketball in particular, they can't help but see it – they are front page stories. Ours is a lot less prominent, but nonetheless. That'll be the last time we ever mention that ever again. Go ahead, Brian, anything else? Anyway, we do start against Michigan. Another difficult thing for us is the conditions. We've already looked ahead to Saturday, which says north winds which means we might not be able to row where we normally row, finishing at the Union. So having a moving target for your venue doesn't make it that easy. I am laughing about it in Athens – it is a huge to do. The swimming pool, oh my goodness, may not have a roof on it. Yea, tell me about it in our conditions. In Athens in particular, that course there is a certain wind that comes up that blows about 50 miles per hour in August and that's when the Olympics are so… the Olympic pretest was completely washed out. I didn't feel too badly for the swimmers, especially when we are here and I can't really tell you where we are going to race on Saturday. But stand by – I'll give you my cell phone, if you want, you can call. But it should be an interesting year. We lost a lot of great seniors. The team reminds me of a bunch of cattle to some extent and there is no lead steer to drive them anywhere. And I am the cowboy running around vainly trying to get them to go in one direction as they're all bumping into each other. That's sort of what happens when you don't have really many sort of outstanding top level performers leading the way. Right now I counted; we have five guys going for the Olympic team. Two of whom graduated last year and one the year before. Just missing that - they are all good enough… All five won't make it, but a couple will at least. We are missing them. In the long run that is good I suppose because there are a lot of people who are being forced to step up, but in the short term it is... who knows what will happen. Rowing, actually, you think of it as a team sport. It is a team sport, but our season started almost eight months ago. And what you do for those eight months is you don't really focus on the team, you focus on your individual performance. It is an endurance sport and you are constantly testing yourself against standards individually. Right about now obviously it is time to coalesce. As a coach, you really don't know how it is going to play out because the chemistry involved is so important. Last year I felt that we underperformed as far as what we had whereas the year before I felt we over performed. So I'm hoping this year… we're right on track to over perform again."

Is it tradition? Is that why Wisconsin is ranked fifth right now?

"Part of it I think is a delayed reaction. It is not high profile enough. You've got legions of people following other sports, so they really do a pretty good guess of about maybe where UConn was ranked early in the year, but in rowing so many programs are relatively isolated, so you kind of go off the year before, which I am sure is very typical in some sports. It is kind of like the preseason NIT kind of thing, even though Georgia Tech won it, it usually doesn't work that way. So next year, depending on how we do this year, we'll probably be some extreme ranking. It probably doesn't really relate to exactly what we are."

You graduated six from your varsity eight. Are there auditions right now for the rest of your roster, for those spots? How does that work? Is there a lot of competition or do you already have guys who you are grooming for those spots?

"It's funny that you say auditions because auditioning implies acting, and you have to act like you should be a varsity oarsman. So far we've had a few guys act that way and then we have a bunch of character actors running around. They want to be starts, but they've got to step up and give an Academy Award winning performance. I do have a number of guys, like five probably, that I'm certain will be in there, but after that I couldn't tell you. There could be seven or eight people. The way the line ups work is you very seldom go through the whole year without making switches because you try to hone in on… you're a coach anyway, so you always think you have a better idea. Sometimes it backfires. There are probably five. You are always trying to get a few sophomores if you can into the boat. That has been a bit of a problem because they really haven't stepped up like they should. As opposed to our women's team, by the way. I just want to say how well they are doing. They have five sophomores in their first eight, which is really a great thing to do as well as they are doing, which we won't have. I wish we did."

With your varsity eight last season, did you switch that much throughout the year?

"The problem was I didn't have anyone to go to. Like any team, you all understand how it works with the teams you follow, like football. If you don't have those classes pushing up and let's say you have seniors that are far better than everybody else. Its human nature on their part…Fear is what makes you good. Fear that you are going to lose your position or not do well. Fear is what makes you train hard, fear of losing, fear of not being successful. If you lose that fear, in other words, that someone's out after either your seat or to take what you think is yours, it slows you down. That's true in every sport. I'm not saying that's the No. 1 motivator, but it is a lot in rowing. You have that position… and you don't want to give it up. Last year they had nobody pushing them. This year, you'd think, it's good, but nobody has decided it's me. We have one returning guy from the boat that won our conference championship two years ago. He's a senior. He's so far out better than everyone else I think they kind of see him a little like a dinosaur from a long lost age. Back when supermen ruled the boat. I think the young guys are like, "we don't really count him. He's like superman."

You talked about getting the team to gel together. So what do you do? Do you take team for a night out on the town? What's the key? Is there a timetable to get them to gel?

"I can tell you right away I do not do that. For a million reasons, not the least of which is I have two children under the age of four. A night on the town for me is being in bed by 7 at home and praying my children are asleep. Part of it is you watch how they act during the year and body language and just how they are. I'm Catholic and I resort to this (sign of the cross) all the time. Dear God I hope it works. You have enough time how the season plays out you can often, you have a chance to have some errors. It's stressful though."

Your sport relies a lot on the weather. Can you tell us what you do every morning when you wake up? Do you check the temperature and the wind gauge?

"The weather channel, actually, if you go to the details under local, it gives you hour by hour, which we really rely upon. We have a few sites that we row at. It's ironic, you know we are having this new boat house built and the superintendent has said to me more than once, well you know it's very difficult when the wind blows. All you had to do is ask me. I've been at that place thousands of times. It's a very difficult place to predict and I do check the weather constantly. It's ironic when the seasons over I just sit back and never look and the weather, I don't even care. But every day, every couple of hours we check it. It's far more sophisticated as far as what we have equipment wise and what the department fleet wise to row in different spots. Most places their boat houses are not that close to their campus. So therefore even when we do drive a little bit its still better than most. It's a great advertising tool for when the recruits are here, 'look the boat house is right…' Little do they know (we're) at it maybe one out of every three rows. That's a little bit of an exaggeration for effect, but it is windy here."

Could you individually mention who you are relying on to lead your eight?

"The coxswain is a junior Mike Lucey. He was the varsity coxswain last year. For those of you who aren't familiar with you've got to have somebody that steers the boat, eight people and a steersman in this case. The minimum weight they can be is 125, it used to be 110 but you're still talking jockey-sized people. He should be the first eight coxswain. The top guys, Micah Boyd. He's been in the boat the last two years and he's from the Minneapolis area. He's got a twin brother who also should be in the boat as well, Anders Boyd. Then there's Alex Cockerill from Buffalo (N.Y.), he's a senior. Kyle Schiable who I think he's from (Wauwatosa, Wis.). Jason Devlin is another senior. After that I couldn't tell you. Considering we race on Saturday at some undetermined time I better figure it out quick."

Can you talk about the excitement of the new crew house?

"I actually got to go in it for the first time and its really big. We need it because of the numbers of people we're dealing with. It's going to be fantastic. It's great that we're kind of tenting right now, we're camping basically. We've got a barbeque out on the beach, it really is like camping. Right now they're wading it in because we haven't got the docks in so water temperature is 35 that alone will really start your day at six in the morning wading into the lake. The boat house will be…I can't even imagine how nice it's going to be. I've never known anything but what we've had. This one's about 50,000 square feet. Before we had to schedule every single thing we did. Only the rowing tank, that's the one thing we'll schedule. Everything else we'll use whenever we want. Hopefully it will change the profile of the sport. I expect the athletic department and I know the university has already told me this - they're planning on using that facility for other things. People will come there for reasons other than rowing. They'll get to see it; they'll get to see our history. You would never have invited your worst enemy to the old place except during nuclear war. Seriously it was just a dirty dingy bunker. This is going to be so nice, I can't tell you. As a matter of fact all the press conferences from here on out will be held down there."

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