By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Monday, June 26, 2017
The Phillips 66 National Championships and World Championship Trials will be held June 27-July 1 at the IU Natatorium in Indianapolis. Buy tickets online now.
When Frank Busch was asked to take over the coaching reins of his summer swim league as a 16-year-old, he never could have imagined the amazing trajectory his career would take over the next 50 years.
“I knew after that summer my life was going to involve coaching,” said Busch, who came from a family that owed a construction business. “I was the oldest person on the team, and I really did it out of respect for the parents who asked me to lead the team.
“But, at the time, I obviously had no idea swimming would take me all over the world at the highest levels. It’s been a true privilege.”
As the USA Swimming National Team Director since 2011 and the head coach at the University of Arizona for more than 20 years before that, Busch said he knows he’s lived a charmed life.
Following World Championships in Budapest and World Junior Championships in Indianapolis this summer, he’ll finish his highly successful stretch with USA Swimming and return with wife, Patty, to Tucson, Ariz.
His last official day is September 1, but he’s remaining flexible in case he’s needed to stay longer while his successor is chosen.
With two sons coaching at the collegiate level (both Augie and Sam coach at the University of Virginia), Busch said he doesn’t imagine he’ll be completely disconnected from the sport.
But he does know that he’s ready for the next phase of his life being able to spend more time with Patty and have time with family for the first time in many, many years.
“After spending so much time with Chuck (Wielgus) the past six years, I told him last fall over lunch that it was a good time to step away,” said Busch, who has five grandchildren he’s excited to spend time with after retirement. “Chuck didn’t say anything at first, but it wasn’t long after that he told me he was ready to go as well. We joked that he would leave Aug. 31, and I’d leave the day after that.
“Being involved with coaching swimming as long as I have, I haven’t always had much time to just spend with my wife and family, and now I am really looking forward to that.”
Busch said his decision to leave comes when he feels that it’s time for someone else to take the sport to the next level.
But as the National Team Director for the past six years, it’s difficult to imagine USA Swimming and U.S. swimmers enjoying much more success than they’ve experienced under his direction.
Over the past two Olympics, U.S. Swimmers won 64 medals – 32 of them gold – and also enjoyed three highly successful World Championship meets that produced 81 medals. The United States has become even more dominant internationally during his time with USA Swimming.
This year’s Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships – which begin tomorrow in Indianapolis – will also be his fourth and final national meet.
And while he said he expects to see many of the same names and faces from last year’s Olympic team on this year’s World roster (chosen at Nationals), Busch said he’s looking forward to watching those veterans who didn’t make last year’s Olympic team along with up-and-coming athletes swim fast in Indianapolis.
It will be the send-off he’s been anticipating since he announced his plans to leave earlier this winter.
“I’ve always made it my priority to put people first in this role – swimmers, staff, volunteers, etc. – and that’s worked well for the organization,” said Busch, who was a coach for the United States at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics while coaching at Arizona. “I’m really proud – I’ve always been proud – of what we’ve accomplished as a team because all of our decisions have been made with the best interests of the athletes in mind.
“Being a parent, you raise your children 24/7, 365 days a year, and that’s the culture we’ve tried to develop at USA Swimming. Helping them reach the top requires a work ethic and mental toughness. The foundation blocks of the sport are service and support for athletes and coaches, and I’ve always made it my priority to figure out ways to do a better job of that.”
While he is naturally nostalgic about this being his last Nationals and Worlds, Busch said he doesn’t see it as a sad time because he believes he has done what he set out to do when he arrived at USA swimming.
Leave the National Team division better off than when he arrived.
“I’m excited for the people in this (National Team) division because they have a true appetite for making things better, and that will continue after I leave,” he said. “I’ve always tried to stay out of their way and let them do the great work that they do. I obviously have some mixed emotions about leaving, but I’ve never been so sure of something before.”
While his move back to Arizona will allow him more family time, Busch is also looking forward to doing some work for a local foundation in Tucson, doing some consulting and of course being on call to help his coach sons however he can.
“I’m not exactly sure what my involvement will be with the foundation, but the gentleman who started it has done so much to be supportive and give back to the community in so many ways that I will feel inspired and grateful no matter what I’m doing,” Busch said.
“I’ve lived a very fortunate life, and now it’s my turn to give back in many ways to many people. I’m looking forward to this next step and adventure in my life – and I’m also looking forward to my final camp with these amazing athletes and a great Nationals and Worlds.”