About a year ago, as the Harvard aquawomen finished up a disastrous 1-8 season, the rumor mongers were busy at Blodgett Pool. "Stephanie Walsh is through," they rasped, "She won't be back to coach another year."
But Stephanie Walsh did return.
Two weeks ago, Walsh's 1979-80 squad completed an apparently satisfying 8-4 season with an improved third-place finish in the Ivy Championship. The season included the team's first Greater Boston Championship, and a surprising victory in a dual meet with Brown.
But next year Stephanie Walsh will not be back. On the last day of Ivies, she told the team that she had resigned. The question is, why?
On Tuesday night, commenting from Buffalo, N.Y.. where she was on a promotional trip for the AIAW, Walsh listed a number of reasons for her decision. It took her a while to get to the crux of the problem as she sees it.
"The pay stinks," she said Tuesday. "It's the worst in the Ivy League." Then she noted that five years ago she was the highest paid coach in the Ivies. But she conceded that was not the real reason for her decision--an unexpected and apparently rash one, especially after a winning season.
Walsh cited "the need to do something different to challenge my abilities." She plans to apply to business schools and get out of coaching, but she added that the challenge was not the only reason.
Finally she started to get a little closer to her perception of the truth. "Under the conditions which I'm working," she said, "I don't feel personally satisfied." She continued, "I don't feel that I had the support I needed to enjoy my job."
In passing, she questioned whether the Athletic Department might not be "a little more willing to let a female coach or a coach of females go by the wayside." But only in passing.
The real support she considered as lacking is much closer to home. "I don't feel that I've gotten emotional support from the men's side." Mostly, this support is not coming from Joe Bernal, the coach of the highly successful men's team, Walsh said.
"The person that you should be getting along with best, you're getting along with worst," she said, adding that "He makes it very difficult."
"Yes," she concludes, the conflict with Joe Bernal "is a biggie."
Senior Captain Sharon Beckman said yesterday she could see what she called "incredible animosity between Bernal and Steph." For her part, Walsh was not about to disagree.
The animosity between the men's and women's teams, sort of understandable when they are forced to share limited IAB facilities, is one of the great legends of Harvard swimming. Many swimmers feel, often rather strongly, that this animosity is fueled by intense dislike between the two coaches, both of whom are highly competitive.
Bernal is about the only person involved who does not agree with this analysis. "There isn't any animosity on my part (towards Walsh), he said yesterday when confronted with Walsh's comments.
Bernal said he has lent Walsh "all the support that I possibly can," adding, "I helped Stephanie quite a bit in bailing herself out of various situations."
The dissatisfaction among several of the women swimmers with Walsh's coaching is well-known, as she herself recognizes. Bernal points to his efforts to keep members of Walsh's team from complaining to the Athletic Department as proof of his support of his colleague.
Several observers, including Beckman, see this dissatisfaction with Walsh's coaching methods as directly fueled, albeit subtly, by the actions of Bernal himself. The men's coach disagrees emphatically.
To Beckman's charge of "meddling" in the coaching of the women's squad, and of being "manipulative," Bernal replied, "I didn't want to coach any of the young ladies," and insisted that he never made any move in that direction. He said that his immediate reaction to Walsh's decision was one of surprise, attributing most of her comments to "sour grapes."
The arguments are academic by now. Stephanie Walsh still won't be back.