After being on administrative leave since mid-August, Yale men’s swimming and diving head coach Tim Wise returned to the deck last Thursday.
Neither Wise himself, assistant coach Kevin Norman nor diving coach Chris Bergère commented on the reason for the leave. Director of Athletics Tom Beckett also declined to provide a reason for Wise’s leave in a Monday statement to the News. But all four expressed excitement at the head coach’s return and the future of the program moving forward.
Students and alumni interviewed, however, were less positive. Though Yale already has five swimmers committed to the class of 2020, according to recruiting database CollegeSwimming, alumni said that an unclear leave of absence can impact both the recruiting class of Yale swimmers and the alumni community.
“The unclear nature of [Wise’s] leave is definitely affecting recruiting,” said a Yale swimming alumnus who is still involved with the program and wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the topic. “Everybody knows about it in the world of athletics and swimming. Every potential recruit knows that something is going on — they [were] making visits and there [was] no head coach at Yale.”
Students considering offers from several Ivy League schools could feel apprehensive about choosing Yale due to the “mystery” surrounding the Yale head coach, the alumnus said.
He added Monday that nothing regarding the reason for Wise’s leave had been released to the general public or to the alumni who consistently support the program.
Wise did not comment on the leave, but expressed his excitement for the season ahead in an email to the News.
“The swimmers, divers and staff have all been putting in a great deal of work,” Wise said. “We open our season with a much-improved Brown team in less than two weeks and then follow that with Columbia, a team we have had incredibly close meets with the last few years. To a man our program is focused and excited about the challenges that lie ahead.”
On “Swimming Lore,” a public Yale mailing list where Yale, Harvard and Princeton swimming alumni share stories and news from the Ivy League swimming community, members also discussed the secrecy of Wise’s leave.
Conversation on the topic began on Sept. 13, when Sanford Thatcher — a Princeton alumnus from Texas — sent a message about his conversation with a parent of a top high-school swimmer in the state who was informed of Wise’s leave. He asked if members had any additional information on the subject.
Steve Clark ’65, a Yale swimming alumnus and member of the Yale Swimming and Diving Association Board who has won three Olympic gold medals, replied that he was trying to find out more about Wise’s leave. Regardless of the reason, Clark said, the situation was “not very positive to say the least.”
“No one knows the reason for his ‘leave of absence,’” YSDA board member David Hershey ’62 wrote to the mailing list on a Sept. 15 reply to the list. “Nevertheless, like [Clark], I don’t find this to be very heartening news.”
Yale’s own coaches also lack information. Neither Norman, Bergère or women’s swimming and diving head coach Jim Henry has any information on the reasoning behind Wise’s leave, they told the News.
Norman, however, did note that Wise’s leave had not largely affected ongoing recruitment for the team.
“The guys that we have committed make me really incredibly excited,” Norman said. “We have someone who qualified for the Olympic trials. We’re excited about the class that’s coming in.”
Student-athletes from other sports interviewed reported that unclear circumstances regarding the coaching staff might have caused them to reconsider their decisions.
One student-athlete, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the situations, said that the head coach who recruited him was not a major factor in his decision. He added, however, that if he found out a coach was on leave, it would make him question the culture of the team and would suggest that the team was in “building years” rather than seeking championships.
“Coaches in Division I certainly exercise a lot of influence over the quality of your overall experience,” John Barton ’18, a former member of the Yale football team, said. “To me, attending a school with a coach that I trusted was very important. If the coach was to go on leave, I would have a hard time committing because of the uncertainty.”
Norman and Bergère were notified early last week that Wise would be returning on Thursday and that Norman, who was acting as interim head coach while Wise was away, would return to his position as assistant coach.
On Wednesday, Norman and Bergère held a meeting with all team members to notify them of their coach’s return.
Yale begins its season on Nov. 7 at home against Brown.