September 26, 2018 | ° F

Spiniello molds Rutgers as paternal figure, in pool

Photo by Edwin Gano |

Head coach Phil Spiniello was named AAC Coach of the Year in his lone season in the conference last year.

In the first year of its existence, the American Athletic Conference gave the prestigious Coach of the Year award to Rutgers swimming and diving head coach Phil Spiniello.

Spiniello led the Scarlet Knights to a third-place finish last season.

“I think that the amount that the program improved over the past couple of years was a big factor,” Spiniello said of being named the AAC Coach of the Year. “Putting swimmers at the NCAA tournament and breaking nine records definitely made a difference.”

Spiniello spent four seasons at Princeton as an assistant swimming coach before coming to Rutgers, where he helped the program achieve a 30-meet win streak. He also spent time at Arizona State as an assistant for both the men’s and women’s swimming teams. 

As a former swimmer, it was easy for him to make the transition to that of a coach. Spiniello said he understood what the swimmers and divers went through and what their day-to-day regiment entailed. 

Throughout his experience as a swimmer and an assistant coach, Spiniello’s passion for the sport never died — it only grew stronger.

“I enjoy coaching because I like setting goals and seeing the athletes achieve those goals, and anything I can do along the way to help them is really rewarding,” Spiniello said. 

When he decided to make the jump to become the Rutgers head coach, it was a no-brainer.

“It’s always been a career goal of mine to be a head coach, so when the opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t say no because Rutgers has great athletics and academics,” Spiniello said. “To say I’m a part of it is very exciting.”

One of the challenges that come with being a head coach is recruiting and convincing athletes that Rutgers is the right place for them to flourish. 

“It’s definitely a big part of the puzzle: recruiting the athletes,” Spiniello said. “It’s a year-round project and it is never ending, always keeping an eye on the best recruits and making sure you communicate with them and get [them] interested in Rutgers.”

For juniors Morgan Pfaff and Joanna Wu, Spiniello’s guidance has molded them into better athletes and people during their time at Rutgers.

“Phil is kind of like a second father to me since I don’t have any family here, so I come to him with any issues I have,” Wu said. “He had a huge impact on my decision to come here, especially because his practices are similar to the club team I was from, so it was an easier transition.”

Through his enthusiasm for the sport, Spiniello hopes his passion sparks a desire for members of the team to maximize their potential as athletes and, more importantly, as people.

“When I first met Phil, he was full of enthusiasm, passion, and love for the sport and the girls that are here,” Pfaff said. “When I saw that he embraced everything about this program and every single person, there was no doubt in my mind. It was exactly where I wanted to be.”

Spiniello’s constant communication with his team members is one of the key aspects to his successful coaching style. Through such communication, he has achieved his goal of creating a comfortable and open family environment.

“What you give to him is what he will give back to you,” Pfaff said. “If you ever need anything, his office is always wide open.”

Despite the shift in conferences, Spiniello’s goals haven’t changed. When considering the all-around development of his team, he hopes to ensure the Knights leave Rutgers after making their mark.

“My goals for the program haven’t changed, although we have changed leagues,” Spiniello said. “It’s always been to focus on the conference meet in February and to score as many points as we can at that meet, and send as many woman as we can to the NCAA meet, and breaking school records along the way.”

For updates on the Rutgers swimming and diving team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

Ryan Moran

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