Spring sports awards: Best coach

Michael Pimentel/GoldenBearSports.com/Courtesy
David Durdens has won two national championships in his five years as the Cal mens swimming head coach.

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Best Coach: David Durden

There are two ways for a coach to run an elite college swim program. The first is to find a couple Olympic-caliber swimmers, ride them to regular season wins and hope for the best at NCAAs.

The other is David Durden’s way.

In crafting the Cal men’s swim team’s third and fourth national championships, Durden pioneered a unique championship-first philosophy that ensured peak performances at NCAAs. With the squad all but assured of a postseason berth, Durden turned regular season meets into glorified training sessions.

The results weren’t always pretty: The Bears turned in lackluster performances in losses to Arizona and Stanford. But the best coaches draw the best out of their players on the brightest stage. In winning the national title, Cal came through when it mattered most.

Few can construct a champion better than Durden. Rather than relying on two or three stars to carry the bulk of the scoring, Durden distributed the weight evenly among his deep squad. Of the 18 Cal swimmers to qualify for the meet, almost all of them scored points, and most of them turned in season-best performances.

The fifth-year coach won three titles as an assistant coach with Auburn from 2003-05. Since Durden’s arrival in Berkeley, his teams have improved every year. After fourth-place finishes in 2008 and 2009, Durden’s 2010 squad finished second, and last year’s squad was Cal’s first title in 30 years.

Durden’s first championship gave him a name for himself. His second cements his legacy as one of the greatest coaches in the sport.

— Chris Yoder

Honorable Mention: Lindsay Gottlieb

Lindsay Gottlieb coached the Cal womens basketball team to a 25-10 record in her first year as head coach. (Marcus Gedai/File)

When Lindsay Gottlieb joined the Cal women’s basketball team, things were not looking too good. After a 18-16 season and an early exit from the WNIT, leading scorer DeNesha Stallworth was threatening to transfer from Berkeley.

In one year, without the talented forward, Gottlieb exceeded all preseason expectations. The Bears finished 25-10 with a second-place finish in the Pac-12 before advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

But Gottlieb’s biggest impact did not come from the wins on the basketball floor. The 34-year-old coach revamped the locker room culture, instilling her passion and enthusiasm for the game in the team.

For the Bears, the talent was already there; it was Gottlieb’s zeal that produced one of the most memorable years for the program in recent memory.

— Seung Y. Lee