Yasmin Farooq, a former coxswain for the U.S. national team who rowed in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, had been the head coach at Stanford for 10 years and led the Cardinal to a national championship in 2009.
Call her Yaz. “Everybody does,” says Yasmin Farooq, a two-time Olympian who was announced as the new head women’s rowing coach at Washington on Wednesday.
After coaching the Stanford women’s program the past 10 years and winning an NCAA championship in 2009, Farooq on Monday accepted Washington’s offer to become the long-term replacement for Bob Ernst. In late November Ernst was abruptly dismissed after 41 years following complaints by some athletes to UW administrators about his coaching style.
The Huskies were coached this season by interim head coach Conor Bullis, a five-year UW assistant, who interviewed for the position on June 3. Washington finished fifth at the NCAA championships last month, one point behind fourth-place Stanford.
Farooq, 50, spent eight years (1989-96) as coxswain for the U.S. national team and competed in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, serving as captain in ’96.
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She rowed collegiately at Wisconsin, her native state, and has been named national coach of the year (2009) and Pac-12 coach of the year twice, (2008 and 2014). She has been a rowing commentator for NBC at the last four Olympics.
She was not thinking about UW until mid-May, near the Pac-12 Championships, when she got a call from Erin O’Connell, president of rowing’s national governing body, U.S. Rowing. O’Connell was the athletic director at Seattle Pacific and a former UW coxswain (1993-96) and a UW assistant coach under Jan Harville.
“I was flattered,” said Farooq, whose father is a native of Kashmir in northern India. “It sounded like a few people had been talking about who would be good candidates, my name came up and she called me.”
After some internal debate, Farooq came to Seattle for a May 31 interview when she met many administrators, including new athletic director Jennifer Cohen,
“When I met with her, I knew she was dead serious about the importance of the position and the importance of the program,” Farooq said.
She also had a group session with more than a dozen UW rowers.
“What I heard from the kids is that they want to be a great team and they’re willing to work heard, and I felt that they wanted a fresh start,” Farooq said. “They asked me a lot of questions about how I coached. I felt they were passionate about their sport, and they wanted to build a great team. When I left that meeting, I felt they were kids who I would genuinely enjoy coaching.
“What I heard from the athletic department is they want an experienced coach who has been successful, who has a good rapport with student-athletes. They felt that was very important.”
And what is the future for Bullis?
“I would be more than happy to talk with Conor,” Farooq said. “I think he’s a really good coach, and he did a lot given the situation that he had, for sure. … The most important thing is to do whatever needs to happen for this team to move forward.”
Cohen offered words of praise for Bullis through a university spokesman on Wednesday: “I would like to thank Conor Bullis for his service as interim head coach. He worked tirelessly to serve our student-athletes and was the ultimate professional throughout his tenure in the position.”
Bullis did not reply to a request for comment Wednesday.
• Ernst, a former head coach for the U.S. national women’s team, coached Farooq in 1986 and ’87 when she was a member of U.S. rowing’s developmental team. “He gave me really good direction,” she said. “I was 20 years old at the time, trying to make the U.S. team, and I wasn’t good enough. I was this fired-up coxswain. I dropped a lot of f-bombs. I was highly motivated, but I just didn’t have the technical skill set yet.
“I remember he sat me down and said I needed to get a lot better at these aspects of being a good coxswain. He said when you do that, then you’ll have opportunities. But you need to work on this. I took it to heart, I worked on it and made the national team a couple of years later.”
• Farooq says she and her husband will be in the Northwest this weekend to house hunt. “We’ve got to get it going,” she said.
• Why leave Stanford? “To be honest, it was a tough decision, because I felt that my fellow coaches and I had worked really hard to develop what we now have, from getting the right recruits, to team culture, to the way we race,” she said. “The team and the athletic department have been my home and my family. That said, UW is the most unique rowing program in the world, in my opinion.”
• What will be her first steps as coach at UW? “What I need to do is to assess the landscape of where the student-athletes are, mentally, physically, what they want to do, what they’re goals are as individuals. Where do they see themselves on the team? What do they see where they are able to improve?” she said. “How do they see becoming the student-athlete they can be and best teammate they can be? Once we assess that, we’ll put together a plan where they can gauge how they’re doing.
“Once thing my athletes here have appreciated is the transparency of the program. If they a question about anything, if they want an interpretation of the results of seat races, the door is wide open. They know they can come in and we can talk about it. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that they can come in and state their case. ‘Hey, guys, I really think that I should have a seat race and here’s why.’ You don’t always get one, but to be honest, kids have come in and stated some pretty compelling cases.”