Rowing overhauls men's and women's coaching staff

by Ben Zimmerman | 6/30/05 5:00am

Against the easygoing backdrop of sophomore summer, Big Green crew has quietly made some major changes.

On June 20, women's rowing head coach Molly McHugh resigned after four years at the helm, and less than two days later, crew legend Walter "Buzz" Congram joined the Dartmouth community as heavyweight crew coach Scott Armstrong's interim replacement.

Some controversy surrounds McHugh's decision to leave the Hanover area. Though athletic director Josie Harper has insisted that "Molly McHugh came to us [the athletic department] and said she wanted to resign," the issue was far from clear cut.

Often criticized for an apathetic coaching style, McHugh's tenure as head coach has been marked by disappointing performances on the water and dwindling support from her own rowers.

"I think people liked Molly as a person. On the other hand, much of the team didn't like her coaching style," Sarah Myers '07 said. "She didn't give much feedback on the water, and I think people felt they had to motivate themselves, rather than Molly serving as a motivating force."

McHugh arrived at Dartmouth in 1998 as the Big Green's novice rowing coach after stints with Trinity College and Rutgers and started winning immediately.

The coach's inaugural second novice eight took a bronze medal at the EAWRC sprints, while the 2000 first novice eight rolled unscathed through the Ivy League regular season.

In 2001, McHugh's hard work and strong track record culminated with her promotion to women's rowing head coach. However, since that time, the program has struggled.

"Dartmouth women were seventh overall at [EAWRC] sprints in 2003 and 2004, but I don't think that we were nearly as successful as we could be," Kate Davison '07 said. "This year should have been great, but it wasn't, and we were injury free and had a great winter training season. We don't like to just blame our lack of success on the coach, but I think that the coaching was a factor."

To her credit, McHugh did try to make adjustments. Yet, as her resignation can attest, such endeavors were not met with success.

"She tried hard as a coach, especially this year," Davison said. "I saw her making a lot of extra effort " working out with the rowers, arranging practices around everybody's schedules, having one-on-one conferences and trying to get to know us a little better. She was a decent coach technically, but I think she lacked that inspirational aspect that is the key to a good coach."

Other members of the crew team, however, offer a different take on the situation.

"This team will not be able to be successful regardless of coaching if we are not able to address the size of the team, which I consider to be a bigger problem for us," Myers said. "Both in terms of physical size of the women and the number of rowers on the team, we fall way behind the best crews we're competing against.

"I think no matter whom our new coach is, achieving success will be very difficult if we barely have enough people for two eights."

Whatever the reason behind the crew squad's struggles, McHugh has made her choice and is already looking towards the future.

"I am going to miss many aspects of coaching here, yet I am also eager to begin a new chapter in my life," McHugh said. "I'm sure that the program will move forward in a positive direction."

On a more positive note, Walter "Buzz" Congram has been hired as the interim men's heavyweight rowing coach. Congram will be filling the shoes of Scott Armstrong, who is taking a one-year leave of absence.

"Great coach and great guy," Armstrong said. "He's one of the best and most respected coaches in the country."

Returning to the EARC after two years heading the MIT women's varsity lightweight crew team, Congram secured his legacy during a 23-year run at Northeastern University from 1978-2001, consistently reaching finals of the Eastern sprints and IRA Regatta.

In tribute of his distinguished career, the Northeastern-Rutgers race is now contested for the Congram Cup.

Change marks the order of the day for Big Green rowing, and the only guarantee is that things will be different.

"It's going to be an interesting year because the lightweight coach [Dick Grossman] retired after many, many years of coaching, and the heavyweight coach [Armstrong] is taking some time off," Kate Mulley '05 said.

"There will be a whole new feel to the [Friends of Dartmouth Rowing] Boathouse, and hopefully, it can bring about some more wins for Dartmouth crew."

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