Monday Press Conference: Chris Clark

Men's rowing coach speaks at new Porter Boathouse

Justin Doherty: "I'll ask men's coach Chris Clark to come up and kind of recap his spring a little bit and kind of do the same as Coach Bryans did and talk a little bit about the boathouse and a little bit about the Midwest Rowing Championships."

"Thanks, Justin. Thanks for coming down here today. Last year jokingly I suggested that all the press conferences should be here, and no one disagrees, I hope."

Justin Doherty: "We don't disagree."

"Very good, except maybe for the poor guys that have to set this thing up like roadies at a Rolling Stones concert. So it's a lot of work, but thank you for doing it. It's tough. I've never followed Bebe (Bryans) before, but she, I don't think it'd be appropriate, but I probably could just say, okay, that was it, everything she said I agree with.

"But we're exactly where they are as far as our season, and very similar teams, I would say. For those of you unfamiliar with rowing, it's just like any other sport, and that's one thing that we try to stress all the time, because people think it's, well, it's kind of odd or something you're not used to. But we should be used to it since it's been around as a collegiate sport since 1852, longer than any other collegiate sport, but, oh, well.

"We're always looking for the best athletes and putting them in the right combination and then they win a lot. That sounds like everybody's game plan in every single sport, and that's exactly the same. Right now we have, just like the women's team, we have a lot of depth. And it's, as a coach, you're constantly, constantly trying to decide, okay, if this particular combination, is this one going to consistently rise up.

"What usually happens is, and I know this has happened to the women, I've talked a little bit to Bebe about it, it happens to us, is you'll do it in practice, you'll have a particular lineup, that sure looks good. Then you go to a race and it doesn't do it, which drives a coach crazy. I'm not going to pull my hair out right here, but I would do it if the cameras weren't on me and just, and that's essentially where we are right now.

"I have probably 16 guys who could be in essentially a first eight, and, but no one in particular really stepping up and just taking over the whole game, which is really what you want. And often it's very cyclical. You know, we think of cycles of a season. You have the summertime when guys hopefully go row for the national team or row on their own and train and try to get better, the fall, which is sort of the development time, the winter, which is brutal, cold, miserable, training on land, spring, where it all comes together.

"It's really more of a, can be a two- or three-year cycle, a little bit like a stock chart. It doesn't naturally work if it starts low in the fall and then every spring, voila, you're winning every single race. It doesn't work that way. You'll see it over a couple of years, and we only have, what, six weeks left in the season or so.

"And I'm trying to accelerate the development that I see is coming. I just hope it comes fast enough, because otherwise what we have is two very fairly even groups but no one standing up for the top, which is required to win. So hopefully I gave you enough runaround to say that maybe we're not going as fast as we really want to go.

"But we have some nice depth. That's good. That's the good news. The bad news is you want depth but you also want a peak as well, a big wide base with a big peak, and I don't know that we have that yet. But I'm waiting. A coach loves to be convinced. I just sit back, cross my arms, sit on the launch, and say ‘show me.' That's what I like.

"And we have the Midwest. No sense in asking the question. I'll answer it for you. As Bebe said, Midwest has changed a lot. I think when Coach Jablonic started it there was hardly any rowing there, and it was really a way to bring crews in and not have to travel and put on somewhat of an extravaganza. Because of the vagaries of schedule, many of the teams don't, especially since the women have their Big Ten the week after, a lot of them don't show up anymore, but it's still important to us for the reasons she listed, which is parents and also for getting our teams together, plus it's a racing opportunity at home, which there aren't many of them.

"And plus, coming with the boathouse opening, and also Bebe failed to mention we have banquet on Saturday too, so we just pile it all into one day. And let me tell you, we are totally prepared for all the stuff. That's not true at all. So afterwards, you're all going to help me get ready. No? But we do need help and it's going to be exciting. I'm sure it'll be pulled off. We're putting in the rowing course right now, as a matter of fact, somebody is at least, I hope. But it'll be a good weekend.

Coach, you're always looking for best athletes. How does a boathouse like this help attract great athletes in the future?

"It's got to help a lot, especially since the kind of, the walk-ons we're looking for almost invariably seem to come from, part of it is because it reflects the study body, they come from Wisconsin or they come from Minnesota. Both of those places have some rowing, but nothing like you would on the East Coast, for example. So it's vital to have a home base that immediately you walk in here, ‘wow, this is the real thing,' not some odd fringe deal that they're trying to get me involved with.

"I remember, I actually remember a few things from college, not much, but a few things, and one was why were the cathedrals so big in Europe. It was to show the awesome power and legitimacy of the church. And it's exactly the same way here, that this is, and it serves the same purpose. It's like this is a real and a very legitimate thing, and, wow, coming to the hallowed halls of rowing, you too can be involved in this great sport. So to answer your question, it should help and it will help. I would be surprised if it doesn't, especially with the walk-ons.

"Many of the recruits are a little more jaded simply because in the era of Title IX and the growth of women's rowing, a lot of programs have run into the same problems we have, their boathouse was too small. Cal has a boathouse that was finished a few months ago. Washington's is being finished right now. So this is first among equals as far as I'm concerned boathouse-wise. But nonetheless, so those experienced, the current high school rower may be a little more jaded, but if they're not impressed I don't know what will impress them.

You care to compare the two boathouses, the one you had to this one?

"Let me think. That's hard. I grew up in southern California. We'd drive down to San Diego all the time. And I was always fascinated. In the Camp Pendleton Marine Base, there was these dug in the hillside, bunkers, you know, and even then it was, this was the ‘60s and ‘70s, World War II really wasn't that far away, I was just fascinated by them. They had like the gun ports sticking out. And we didn't have any gun ports or anything, but it reminded me of one of those things, without any of the charm that I just talked about. It really thrilled me as a kid, wow, look at those things, that was our first line of defense in World War II. We had none of that charm. And thank God, I'm so happy it's gone. So that's what it was.

"Now it's still, it's bizarre, it's so nice it's bizarre. It really is very, very odd. And it's such a, the building is so integrated already into the Athletic Department, which is great, because as I, as you saw, there were a couple articles this week in the paper, and the one, talking about orphans, we really did feel like orphans to some extent, like some sort of old Dickens-type story, you know, like the little orphan over there at the orphanage and may I have more porridge, you know, is sort of what you felt like when you were at that. But not now.

"Everybody's here all the time. We have people over here right now supporting us, not just you, people from the press, and I'm happy. I want people to see what we do. It demystifies it and demarginalizes it when you, I mean, everybody has been to a football game in their whole life, every single person probably that ever lived in this country has been to one, but probably one-tenth of one percent of every person in the United States has ever seen it, even let alone seen a race, but even seen a rowing facility close up. So hopefully we can do our part to spread the gospel to the masses. So this is the place for it.

Anything else for Chris?

"I'm willing to talk. You know that. Once a year, I'm ready to go."


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