This article first appeared in the Cal Kickoff GameDay Magazine, Nov. 12, 2011
By Dean Caparaz '90
Teri McKeever wanted to become a teacher.
Instead, she became an award-winning coach, who will reach the pinnacle of her profession when she leads the U.S. Olympic women's swimming team into London next year.
Now in her 20th season as the head coach of the California women's swimming and diving program, McKeever is at the top of the collegiate coaching ranks as well. Last season, she led the Golden Bears to their second NCAA team championship in three years and earned national and conference coach of the year laurels.
How did she enter coaching? Through volleyball, oddly enough. After graduating from USC, the former All-American swimmer expected to teach high school or fifth-grade math or science, but on the advice of one of her brothers, McKeever became an assistant coach for her old high school's junior varsity volleyball team.
She didn't play volleyball.
"I'm the only one in my family who only did one sport," she said, "but I had gone to all the volleyball matches at SC when I was there. I met the head coach and she gave me this rule book. When I had to cut people from the team, I got sick because I got so worked up - `Oh my gosh, I have to cut people?'
"When I got the assistant job coaching swimming at SC, I thought I'd do this five, 10 years. I'd be 35, I'd be married by then and I wouldn't want to do this anymore."
It didn't turn out that way.
In 1987, McKeever got the head job at Fresno State, at first coaching women and later coaching men and women. She had hoped to return to the Pac-10 Conference, and that happened in 1992 at Cal.
Focused on Cal Season
As a young coach, McKeever never thought about becoming an Olympic coach. One of her former Cal assistants had a goal to join an Olympic staff. McKeever "never really thought about that."
But she achieved undeniable success at Cal in the early 2000s, with athletes ranging from Natalie Coughlin to Haley Cope. Subsequently, McKeever became the first woman to serve on a U.S. Olympic swimming staff in 2004, when she was an assistant coach. After more success at Cal, coaching the likes of future NCAA Swimmer of the Year Dana Vollmer and others, she earned another Olympic assistant coaching gig in 2008.
McKeever became the first woman head coach for a U.S. team at a major international meet when she led the Americans in the 2006 Pan Pacific Championships.
While she enjoyed working as an Olympic assistant coach, McKeever says the responsibilities of the head coach provide "fun" challenges that she wants to tackle - at least once.
"One of the reasons why I'm excited for the opportunity to be the head Olympic coach is that your job, when you get with the team, is more about setting the tone in a team meeting or in a training camp situation and bringing a lot of people together, some you know much better than others," McKeever said. "What's taken 20 years for me to do at Cal you need to do in four weeks at an Olympics. It's a different thing. But that team aspect or creating an environment where people can be their best under stressful situations - that's what I see as my primary role."
McKeever is still focused on her Cal squad, which is in season and hoping to win another championship. While she has been right by the team's side in the lead-up to the Olympics, she leans on a Cal staff that includes assistant coach Kristen Cunnane, diving coach Todd Mulzet and strength and conditioning coach Nick Folker.
"It's great," McKeever said. "I could never do this if I didn't have strong people around me - from Kristen to Todd to Nick to (Deputy Athletic Director) Teresa Gould and (Athletic Director) Sandy Barbour. (Director of Olympic Sports Operations) Jenny Simon O'Neill has been a huge addition to our team and, along with the others I named, helps a lot when I have these opportunities nationally and internationally.
"Ultimately my number one priority is the Cal team, that the Cal team is in a place where it can continue to develop and grow, and that those women are getting the best of me and Cal in their time here. The support staff has been huge. It's also great to have (Cal men's coach) Dave Durden here and have him on a couple of these U.S. staffs the last couple of years, and to have Nathan Adrian on those men's national teams. It's nice in stressful circumstances to have people around you who you know and trust, and that's what Cal has provided."
She may not have become the kind of teacher she expected, but...
"I am teaching," McKeever said. "My classroom just happens to be a pool."