Florida Gulf Coast University athletic director Carl McAloose intends for the Eagles to make waves in Division I women’s swimming and diving.
The first ripples began on Wednesday night, when Florida Atlantic University associate head coach Neal Studd immediately accepted McAloose’s offer to build FGCU’s program, which has been added, along with men’s and women’s soccer, to give FGCU the allotment necessary for its recent decision to dive into the D-I pool.
Studd signed a three-year deal, standard among FGCU coaches. McAloose declined to state the salary.
“(Studd) brings just a wealth of knowledge about the state of Florida more than anything,” McAloose said. “About one-third of his student-athletes are from the Southwest Florida area, which gives him a great tie to this area. I think he’s well-connected through the state and, really, throughout the world.
“He believes in quality academics. He’s just a fantastic fit for the program and will get along real well with the coaching staff and others on campus and in the community.
“We really feel he’ll build a first-rate program here.”
As an athlete and assistant coach, Studd — who was a team captain and champion for England’s national junior team — spent 11 years at FAU, where he also was team captain and he still holds records in several events.
“FAU’s been great to me, I’ve had a great situation over here,” Studd said. “We’re coming off winning the Sun Belt title for the first time.
“I just felt like it was time to go out on my own and become a head coach. I’ve been kind of waiting on some of these programs in the state of Florida that have been talking about starting swim teams. I think it’s something special to hit the ground and sink or swim all by myself and make something special with my hard work.
“I loved the area. I’ve been over there a couple of times looking around — actually took my wife to Sanibel for our one-year anniversary. It’s just a great area.
“And when I came on campus — the halls, the facilities, the architecture — I was very impressed. Then when I met the staff at FGCU, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
According to longtime FAU coach Steve Eckelkamp, neither could FGCU.
“Neal’s going to be a great head coach,” Eckelkamp said. “When somebody asked me, ‘Does he have any weaknesses?’ I said, ‘The only one I can think of is he wants to leave my program!’
“He’s going to do a great job. I don’t think you could get a better start-up coach, somebody who can build something quickly from the ground up.”
Said McAloose: “One thing that really impressed us, FAU’s got an outstanding program, they won the Sun Belt Conference, but they aren’t one of the huge ones like Auburn or Florida. So they have to develop people. Looks like what they’ve done is they’re recruited very good student-athletes and developed them to become outstanding swimmers.”
This is Studd’s first head coach position, but he has been preparing for this for years.
“I think he’s really developed over the last few years,” Eckelkamp said. “He went from strictly focusing on the aquatics and practice ends to adding the administrative end and becoming the recruiting coordinator for the program. So he’s done it all now and he’s definitely got his bases covered, skillwise, to do a great job.”
The program will begin competing in 2007, and the new coach will not be physically in place until sometime next month.
But Studd said Friday morning he already is working ahead in his mind.
“There are kids I’ve had lined up in my head that are juniors right now that have been to my swim camps or I’ve seen around that maybe FAU was too close to home, and a two-hour drive is a great situation for these kids,” Studd said. “Hey, you can still go home, drop your laundry off on the weekends, Mom and Dad can come to the meets and make it a great atmosphere.”
Others are closer to home. Studd has recruited lots of his athletes from Swim Florida, which is led by Mac Kennedy and trains and competes in a handful of local pools, including FGCU’s.
“Having coach Mac there is a big pull for me,” Studd said. “He’s legendary, not just in Florida, but throughout the U.S. He’s produced some incredible athletes.
“We’re lucky enough to have some of his athletes over here. He does a great job of preparing them for college and they get over here and make me look good. I’m really excited to be working alongside him.
“I’m still hoping that some of (the Swim Florida athletes) come to FGCU.
“Right now, the whole area is a hotbed for recruiting, so I’m excited about that.
“Hopefully some of my contacts on the East Coast — some of the kids that thought FAU was a little close to home — will think the other side of Florida will be a great place to go to school now.”