Rowan coach shares philosophy with world

Rowan coach shares philosophy with world

By DON BENEVENTO, Courier-Post Staff

What began as a routine holiday trip for the Rowan University swimming team last Christmas season led to an extraordinary opportunity for veteran Profs coach Tony Lisa.

While running his team through a training session in the International Swimming Hall of Fame pool in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Lisa was approached by that organization' s executive director, internationally renown swimming coach Sam Freas.

Freas had a simple question for Lisa - one Lisa never expected to hear.

''I thought he was going to take up an issue about personnel,'' Lisa said. ''I didn't think it was going to be any big deal.''

But it was. Freas wanted to know whether Lisa would be interested in becoming the assistant swimming coach for the World All-Stars at this summer's Goodwill Games.

''I said OK, thinking he was talking about doing it in 2002,'' Lisa said. ''I didn't think much of it because I thought a lot could happen between now and then.''

But Lisa soon realized he had misunderstood. Freas was talking, not about some meet in the distant future, but one that will take place from Aug. 29 through Sept. 3 in Brisbane, Australia.

''It took a little time for it to sink in that he was talking about this year,'' Lisa said. ''After that, I said, 'This is pretty cool.'''

This will be the first major international swimming coaching assignment for Lisa, who this season will begin his 25th year of coaching at Rowan, where he also is the assistant athletic director.

In a recent conversation he seemed somewhat overwhelmed by his selection for such an important post.

''You're talking to me, Tony Lisa - who am I?'' he said. ''This is something that could have gone to any of a number of great coaches. I'm humbled by the experience.''

Despite establishing quite a reputation of his own as a small college swimming coach, Lisa came to the sport without a swimming background.

While growing up in Pennsville, he was better known as a soccer player. In fact, he attended then-Glassboro State College as a soccer goalie.

After his 1975 graduation with a degree in health and physical education, he earned a master's degree in 1987. Lisa then had a brief stint as the athletics director at Schalick High School, before he was asked to return to Glassboro State as a gymnastics coach.

But he never got that opportunity.

''When I got there they told me, 'By the way, we want you to be the swimming coach instead,''' Lisa recalled. '' So I had to work hard at it to learn about swimming.''

Then came the big day.

''The first swimming meet I ever saw was the first meet I ever coached at Glassboro,'' Lisa said. ''And then I thought Glassboro swimming was the biggest thing that ever happened. I thought people in China were holding their breath, waiting for our results.''

If Lisa was a little thin on the mechanics of swimming, he had another factor going in his favor.

''He's the best motivator I ever saw,'' said longtime friend Barry Adamson, the athletics director at Camden County Tech. ''He'll challenge people. He will get people to do what they would not think they are normally capable of doing. He doesn't always get the best swimmers, but he gets them to perform at a high level.

''People buy into his program because of his ability to verbalize from different angles.''

Lisa's success as a coach is reflected in his combined record for coaching the Glassboro State/Rowan men and women to a mark of 323-103-1.

His women's teams captured nine straight New Jersey Athletic Conference championships from 1991 through 1999 and Lisa was named NJAC coach of the year four consecutive times (1994-97).

During his tenure as coach, Lisa guided two swimmers to NCAA Division III national championships - Teri Hatcher in the women's 100-meter breaststroke in 1994 and 1996 and Craig Nelson in the men's 400-meter individual medley in 1992.

He led his women's team to a seventh-place finish in the NCAA Division III championships in 1995 and 1996, while men' s teams were ninth in 1992 and 1996.

Like Adamson, Hatcher praised Lisa's skills as a motivator.

''He really gets behind you in your races,'' said Hatcher, who now coaches swimming at Camden Catholic. ''You can be feeling down about your stroke, and then you talk to Tony and all of a sudden you're ready to go. He knows so much about swimming and about how to get his team ready for a race."

This year, Lisa is completing his three-year term as the president of the American Colleges Swim Coaches Association, which includes coaches from all collegiate levels.

At the Goodwill Games, Lisa will coach the World All- Stars, which includes swimmers from South Africa, Japan, Brazil, Peru, New Zealand, Algeria and Canada.

The competition will be held in a round-robin, dual meet format against Team USA, Team Australia and the European All-Stars. All the teams will consist of 23 swimmers, and there will be three meets per team. The competition will feature a total of 38 events.

It will be Lisa's job to put together the World All-Star lineups for the meets. He thinks his biggest challenge may be to convince his star swimmers to compete on the relay teams, events which are vital to team scoring.

The difficulty lies in the fact that World Games organizers are putting an emphasis on individual events.

''They're giving away bonus money for world records, and best Goodwill Games times,'' Lisa said. ''In some of those countries, $10,000 goes a long way. So it may be hard to find people who want to swim in four events. That's something I'm going to have to deal with.''

The World All-Stars figure to be tested early. They open the competition against the host Australians, so Lisa should get a sense of how his team matches up against the other.

The ultimate goal will be to guide the team to a medal.

But one way on another Lisa feels like he's already won. ''It's real neat to play at this level,'' he said.

Additional Details:

Date Published: Monday, August 27, 2001 - 12:40
Source URL: Courier-Post