May 6, 2013
• Watch Press Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin men's rowing head coach Chris Clark spoke about the team’s performance over the weekend in Boston and looked forward to Eastern Sprints, among other things.
Archived video of the media session is available through the link above, and a complete transcript of Clark’s remarks can be found below.
Clark: It was an interesting weekend. We went out, and we usually have six races on a weekend like this. We lost 5 of 6, which is unprecedented since I've been here. And ironically, though, we fielded worst teams by a long shot and still done better than that. Part of that is what's happened in the sport lately plus just the nature of our team.
We really the first races we had against BU were incredibly flat. I have no idea why. And the next day against Northeastern was a lot better. Guys react. Part of it is you only have two returning varsity oarsmen out of eight makes a big it's similar to any other team, not having guys that have been there before. Often I find, when that happens, they conceive of what it's like to be a starter. They don't really know because they haven't been a starter before. They conceive it, and it's far more esoteric than it actually is.
I have to explain to them, the difference between the first eight and the second eight is simple. The first eight pulls harder, pulls longer, is more determined. Doesn't mean they row any better, feel any better, but they don't always get that. I know that happens in other sports too. They think there's something magical about being a starter. Not really. They're a little stronger, a little tougher, and that's it.
Anyway, we're moving in the right direction, but nonetheless, it's very competitive out there. I've still got more to say, but you've got to ask the questions.
Question 1: Looking at some of the universities Berkeley, Stanford, MIT is this the smartest sport there is in college sports?
Clark: You know, I ask myself how smart I am sometimes when I'm trudging out of the Boathouse and it's cold. I would say it's associated with highly academic institutions. Whether I'm smart to be involved or anybody else, that's up to debate, but there's no question I don't know what it is about that. Engineering in particular seems to engineers are very attracted to it.
Not being an engineer, I wasn't that smart. I have no idea why. I think engineers are figure it out people, and it's very mechanical and a little like a Chinese finger puzzle thing. The deeper you go, the more caught up you get. So I don't know. I know that there's a better answer than that. I don't know. A bunch of smart guys like that. Good students, no question.
You always have to be on your toes to be smarter than your athletes, which isn't easy. I just talk the entire time and never give them a chance to talk. So we never do find out how smart they are.
Question 2: Chris, has there been a crazy moment for your team in the spring that kind of encapsulated what this whole spring has been like for you guys?
Clark: If it hadn't happened remember a couple of weeks ago when it poured, if that hadn't happened, the ice wouldn't have broken until last week. If we could have ever used a little earlier ice break, it would have been this year. Thinking I follow a lot of other sports.
I raise my hand, not to make a pledge, but I'm a loyal Packers shareholder as well, and I follow that team carefully, and I follow Bob McGinn as well, who has a little e mail, who's the best pro football writer I've read, except for maybe Peter King, and I e mail him this summer he's doing a great job. He e mailed me back, thanks, Chris, I'll keep up the good work. You probably know him, I don't, just through e mail.
And one observation he made about the Packers, which I thought was interesting, in pro football, the Packers have to get tougher certainly on the offensive and defensive lines. Same thing in rowing. You've got to be more physical. There are only two people that anyone's afraid of in the NFL, and that's Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews. We don't have any of those people ourselves. We are weak essentially in terms of the offensive and defensive line. We don't have the physicality required.
The team we just raced yesterday averaged 6'7", 6'8". The tallest guy was 6'11". If you want length in front, front line giants, that falls on the coaches. We're the ones that gather the athletes and develop what we have, but it really has shown up this year. We just don't have it.
We're not Triple Crown type baseball players. We're hit for Rod Carew stuff, hit for average at best. And it's tough because every guy in our boat, all of them, the top 16 would be complementary players. It's very difficult to step in you see them on every team. When it comes your time to lead, you go in the fast lane and you're used to drafting on somebody, and these guys are having a difficult time being in the fast lane and having people draft.
Hopefully, yesterday, rowing against Northeastern, which was ranked a lot higher and definitely good, our guys rode a very high cadence, which is mean strokes per minute, at a much higher than they have. I wanted them to crawl out of the boat because it hurts, and they hadn't done that all year, and they did, which is something they hadn't done all year.
We've got to play to our strengths, which is we're light and we're strong. That doesn't mean get pretty. Just go out there and remember the Oakland A's way back in the olden days with Billy Martin, Billyball, steal, bunt, that's what we're good at.
That was a really long, drawn out answer. Sorry, Tom. I hope you got I can't even remember what the original question was. I had fun talking about it. Okay, good.
Question 3: You mentioned football players. Have you ever thought about borrowing a page out of the track and field players and putting football players in the boat if you need physicality?
Clark: That would be good. You want strength to weight. I remember once down in the training room this was a long time ago. A good rower. It was Owen Daniels. And this was about ten years ago he was here or something. He's a tight end now, he's a big dude. Isn't he tall? 6'5" or something? Lean. Man, he looked good.
It's still to be born to row, you have to have a lot of the characteristics of it strength, length, lungs, willingness to punish yourself, which is essentially what it's all about. It's not really what you can do to the other person. It's not an offensive sport, it's a defensive sport, how much you can take.
But there's no question, walking around on these other teams, there's plenty of guys who would like to run to the rowing machine. We'd either find out they liked it or find out they'd have a new appreciation of how diabolical that stupid little thing can be. Anyway.
Question 4: You talked about the only bringing back 2 of 8 varsities, and you talked about guys that think they want to be starters, but then when they get there, they struggle. For this year, was that just a product of being young?
Clark: The last three years, we've had at least one guy. We need on our team, our competitors at least half of whom are international guys and have won medals at world championships, at least half, maybe more, which means inherently they're coming with a lot of tools. We don't have that.
But we do need that guy I can look at and say this guy is Senior National Team potential. If we have a few of those, all we need in 2011, we had three, and we were a length out of winning. 2008, we had about six, and we won. These aren't even guys who necessarily made it.
We on this varsity team on this sophomores, juniors, seniors, we have probably one at most. However, on the freshmen, it looks like we have some.
There was one guy in the last few years, Tim Aghai is his name, and he was a guy that looked like he'd rather die than lose. There's nobody on the team like that right now. You have to have that kind of physicality even though Tim wasn't that big. He was just that kind of guy.
You've seen it all. We have a team full of defensive backs. They're just not very tall, like a Ronnie Lott style that stimulates the rest of the team. My captain is incredibly pound for pound, physiologically, I'm sure he's off the charts. These guys, the rowers that are tested have the biggest hearts of any healthy human. I think it's probably cardiac hypertrophy, just giant parts, and this guy is unbelievable. His VO2 max is probably approaching 8 liters, which is like beyond Lance Armstrong.
However, he's never led before, and he's trying to do that. We have actually a freshman now. Rules have changed. Rowing is very traditional. It's just now that you can bring freshmen up, and I resisted that because, ideally I talked to the kid going down to the race on Sunday. Here's the good news. You're a freshman, and you're in the first eight. Here's the bad news. We had to use a freshman in the first eight.
This kid could be exceptionally good. He's from Loyola Academy in Chicago. He's 6'8" and blessed. His name is Patrick Mudo, and he's good. Ideally, I'd rather not use freshmen. There's a guy who has an interesting extension, but anyway, not everybody can lead like that, and we'll see.
Bebe is always more upbeat. I appreciate listening to her because I get slightly more upbeat after I listen to her. I'm not downbeat. I'm just realistic. These guys, combining all this I've said, just the fact we haven't rowed a lot, it was interesting that yesterday was the first race I saw where that's what people are supposed to do.
If you don't have much offense, then sack the quarterback, and they tried.
Question 5: Is it harder to find these big guys? Is this just a blip on the radar?
Clark: No, it's bizarre how it goes in waves. We'll go out to eat, and invariably if you're at a place where you wait in line, seniors go first. It's the hierarchy, up to the freshmen, who are big. It just goes in waves.
The seniors are pound for pound one of the toughest groups I've ever had, but you have to have length. It's all about leverage. If you clean your gutters, would you take a 6 foot ladder or a 10 foot ladder? That really doesn't explain anything, but it makes sense. I'll take the 10 foot ladder. I can reach further. Same as in rowing