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Farrar Named Coach of Water Polo Squads

Brown alum will be Harvard's third coach in as many seasons

By Timothy J. Mcginn, Crimson Staff Writer

For a water polo program in a state of upheaval, the third time had better be the charm.

Erik Farrar was named Harvard men’s and women’s water polo coach by Director of Athletics Robert Scalise on Tuesday, less that one month removed from Scott Russell’s controversial dismissal after just one season at the helm.

Just one year prior, Jim Floerchinger had resigned amid scrutiny from both his players and the athletic department.

“It’s not something I can really talk about,” Farrar said. “And [Harvard] didn’t really tell me a whole lot.”

Scalise was not available for comment.

Farrar is certainly no stranger to either Harvard or water polo in New England.

A member of Brown’s men’s water polo team prior to his graduation in 1985, Farrar assumed the helm of his alma mater’s women’s program in 1993, boasting a 66-30 record in five seasons.

Farrar guided the Bears’ men’s squad to an 87-46 record between 1994 and 1998 as well.

For his efforts, he was awarded Coach of the Year honors on three occasions between 1994 and 1996.

After spending five years away from the sport, Farrar made a move towards a full return in 2003, coaching the women’s club team at UMass Dartmouth. One season later, he was coaxed into accepting an assistant’s position at Brown, working alongside a former protege, Todd Clapper, prompting speculation that Farrar might return to coach the Bears once more.

But Harvard wasted little time seizing on Farrar to replace Russell, who was let go by the University on July 14 after rebuffing calls for his resignation.

“Just after Scott had moved on, they just called me out of the blue,” Farrar said.

In an e-mail addressed to members of both the men’s and women’s squads following Russell’s firing, Associate Athletics Director Steve Staples had said that he aimed to land a replacement by August 15—less than a month prior to the start of the men’s fall season.

But, beyond expressing that expectation, neither Staples nor any other member of the athletics department offered much insight into the selection process, according to several members of both teams. Staples privately announced the decision in an e-mail to both the men’s and women’s squads early Monday afternoon.

“Erik’s extensive knowledge of the sport, the Ivy League and Harvard will hopefully make for a smooth transition as the new head coach of our men’s and women’s teams,” Staples wrote. “I hope that you will extend a warm welcome to Erik as he assumes the head coach position, effective immediately.”

But Staples’ letter, obtained by The Crimson, offered little beyond Farrar’s basic biographical information, much to the chagrin of several effected athletes not familiar with their new coach.

Staples was not available for further comment.

Despite the turmoil earlier this summer which surrounded the programs he inherits, Farrar was anxious when reached last night to tackle the task of completing the women’s renaissance begun one season ago under Russell. More pressing, though, is the need to restore the men’s team to its 2001 level, which Farrar considers “without a doubt the most accomplished in the history of the program.”

“After 23 years at Brown, it was time to challenge myself in a new way,” Farrar said. “It had reached the point where I wanted to return to coaching and this popped up at the right time.”

The match is a particularly attractive one for Harvard as well. According to Staples’ letter, Farrar-affiliated squads have defeated their Harvard opponents on all but two occasions during his career.

To do so, his teams have incorporated elements of Californian and Eastern European styles of play, according to Farrar.

“I would probably think to say that I have cherry picked the best from each,” Farrar said. [My style] is a legitimate hybrid of those two, though obviously we each always bring our own experience to bear.”

Cultivating a gameplan for the women figures to be slightly easier that for the men. In addition to having far more down time prior to the first game—the women’s season is in the spring—Farrar had the opportunity to observe their performance first hand with the rival Bears last season.

“I’m much more familiar with the women,” Farrar said. “I had kept in touch. I know we were plagued by some injuries last year and that can always be a devastating kind of thing.”

But Farrar’s first challenge will be to rehabilitate a men’s squad less than a month from the start of its season that is still smarting from its underwhelming performance last season.

Despite entering the campaign high on both expectations and talent, the team finished just 4-14—a disappointment some directed at Russell and his rigorous in-season training regimen.

“I think we have a lot of options, a lot of weapons,” Farrar said. “Our captain, Rick Offsay, played for the national junior team and Robbie Burmeister is an excellent goalie. In terms of a specific strategy—too soon to say.”

“This is a very strong team,” he added. “And I’ve been incredibly impressed with their off-season preparations. The team is coming into this year with great focus and a very high level of motivation.”

Though he has just weeks to match their summer output, Farrar cautiously predicted that he would not allow himself a grace period in the season’s early goings.

“[Getting ready] might hinder me getting as much sleep as I’d life for the next couple of weeks,” Farrar said, “but it won’t affect our performance.”

—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at mcginn@fas.harvard.edu.

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