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The popular coach brought home 27 ACC titles, the most in school history, before retiring suddenly over a rumored disagreement with administrators.
Courtesy of UVa
Former Virginia swimming coach Mark Bernardino led the Cavaliers to 27 ACC titles.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
One-time Roanoker Phil Perdue has a perspective on University of Virginia swimming that would seem to be unmatched.
Perdue swam for UVa during the 1970s and both of his daughters swam for the Cavaliers, one of them winning a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. His son is a promising swimmer who received five calls from Division I coaches on July 1, the first day on which rising seniors could be contacted.
Phil Perdue swam for Mark Bernardino, the coach whose sudden retirement after 35 years has raised many questions, and he had contemplated the possibility of his son becoming the fourth family member to swim for Bernardino.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Perdue said he was a supporter of a movement to have Bernardino recalled, possibly at the behest of school President Teresa Sullivan.
Hardly 12 hours later, Virginia sent out a release that heralded the selection of two-year University of Houston women’s coach Augie Busch as the new head coach of UVa’s men’s and women’s teams.
Busch is best known as the son of USA Swimming’s national team director Frank Busch, previously the head coach for 22 years at Arizona, where he was a six-time national coach of the year.
“At some point you just have to face reality,” said Perdue, an orthopedist in Greenville, N.C., and a resident of Roanoke from 1994-95, when he interned at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. “Decisions have been made, and I just hope at some point, that we can have a proper send-off for Mark.
“This is not what we envisioned. That’s fact. This is not the way we or him wanted him to go out, but what’s done is done. Now, we’ve got a new coach coming in and I don’t think it’s going to do him or the swimmers any service to have disgruntled alumni continuing to complain.”
A group called Friends of Virginia Swimming expressed similar thoughts in a posting Wednesday afternoon on its Facebook site. That group had hand-delivered a letter to Sullivan on Tuesday in which it requested a review of the process that led to Bernardino’s departure.
“There were multiple letters sent,” Perdue said. “In her case, she didn’t feel like there was any reason to meddle or get involved.”
This season Virginia won sixth straight ACC titles in both men’s and women’s swimming, and Bernardino’s 27 ACC titles are the most for any Virginia coach.
Those titles came two at a time, but still, the UVa coach ranking second in conference championships is rowing’s Kevin Sauer with 13.
The women’s team at Houston, where there is no men’s team, finished fourth and second in Conference USA in Busch’s two seasons. In his eight seasons as an assistant for his father at Arizona, the Wildcat teams had 15 top-five NCAA finishes, including matching men’s and women’s titles in 2008.
“I don’t know him,” said Perdue, who is the team physician for athletics at East Carolina. “I think [the hire] looks pretty good. They went outside the box. He’s untested but he’s got the pedigree.
“You don’t have to know a thing about swimming — I’m not saying he doesn’t — but if you’re on deck with Olympians and national qualifiers for seven or eight years and you’re standing next to the head of U.S. swimming, you’re going to learn a lot.”
When Perdue was applying to medical schools, Bernardino was the first person he asked for a letter of recommendation. They have remained close over the years, but have not spoken since the day of Bernardino’s announcement.
Perdue said that his younger daughter, Lauren, was “upset” by the developments and would prefer not to comment at this time. A two-time ACC swimmer of the year, she earned a gold medal as a member of the U.S. women’s 200 freestyle relay.
Various sources have indicated that Bernardino’s retirement followed a disagreement with UVa administrators over a staffing matter,
“I’ve heard some things like that,” Phil Perdue said. “It must have been an ‘either-or’ situation. I just don’t know what the ‘or’ was.”
Bernardino’s announcement was preceded by the departure of associate head coach and eight-year assistant Chip Kline, now on the staff at Kentucky.
If it seems that the search for Bernardino’s successor went quickly, that’s because Virginia had little option. No one knows that better than Perdue as he tries to advise his son.
“He didn’t get a call from UVa, obviously, because there was no one to make the call,” Perdue said. “I think they felt compelled, for more than one reason, to get some finality to this. I’m ready to move on. Maybe there are others who aren’t so ready, but this new coach has a lot in front of him.”
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