Bill Pullis, Head Coach of the Piranhas in the 1980s. photo from The Desert Sun
The first time I met Bill Pullis was in 1985 and I was working in PR for a real estate developer. There was a young executive in our office who was married to Bill. She told us, “Bill coaches the Piranhas and we always have a ton of kids over.”
I was dumbfounded. A swim coach? That was a career?
We would watch through the office windows as he buzzed off to work in his red Porsche, late in the afternoons. What kind of a job is a swim coach? I wondered again. No, I wasn’t a swimmer or a swim mom at the time. I didn’t get it.
Pullis accomplished through “being the hardest working coach ever” to grow the Piranha Swim Team from 14 swimmers in the Palm Springs pool to more than 200 swimmers and expanding the program to Indio High School, College of the Desert, Desert Hot Springs and the Boys and Girls Club in Sunrise Park, adjacent to the Palm Springs Aquatic Center.
“We had a swim parent, Mr. Jewell, who repaired and replastered the COD pool for us. That’s how we got use of it,” Pullis recalled.
His top swimmers included Silver Medalist from the 1988 Seoul Olympics breaststroker Tracey McFarlane and Ricky Gill, who was a potential qualifier for the 1980 Olympics, which the US boycotted. Other standouts included Bill Summers, Bill Corrigan and Daniel Spires, who with Gill had the number one medley relay in the country. That relay team still holds Piranha records. Among his top women athletes were an exchange student from Finland Tuija Kyrulainen, plus Laura Ambrosius, Lisa Dean, Kathleen Burns, Tina Case, Kali Christensen as well as official Jack Argue’s daughter, who commuted from Hemet.
Piranha Junior Nationals Team in Austin.
National JO team.
“Harvey Wheeler was my high school coach in Maine,” Pullis explained. “He had an amazing way of motivating kids. We wanted to work so hard for him.” Wheeler was his inspiration to coach and he often incorporated his ideas into his workouts.
A native of Maine, Pullis said he was “a good, not great swimmer.” He swam in high school and at Bowdoin College. He coached the Sea Coast Swim Club for four years in Maine and realized that if he wanted to make a living as a coach, he had to come to the epicenter of swimming—Southern California. As a level 5 ASCA Coach, he said he interviewed with the Garden Grove Gators and Palm Springs Piranhas in October. Standing on the deck of the Palm Springs Aquatic Center with the 50-meter pool and the breathtaking view of Mt. San Jacinto made it an easy choice. At that time, he had no idea about the summer heat.
Other accomplishments Pullis mentioned included a contract with Arena for team gear and having Arena use the Palm Springs pool for their catalogs. Famous models and swimmers such as Matt Biondi would give the Piranha kids clinics while on location. He introduced the “splash points” method of awarding swim meets to the Eastern Section. “The process was arbitrary before that,” he said. He also got the city to cancel the annual fishing tournament in the pool! While he was head coach, the blocks and lane lines were expanded into the deep end of the pool.
Parade and celebration for Tracey McFarlane on her return home from the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
He said his favorite thing about coaching was the kids. He has many great memories of travel trips, with the tradition of the swimmers camping out in his house the night before big meets. He said he was very dedicated and although they did pretty big yardage, his goal was to not burn them out. With all their hard work, they also had lots of fun.
Pullis recalled one of his coach friends who was in Des Moines came out to swim in Palm Springs for Christmas break. The Piranha families hosted Des Moines Swim Federation kids. Then, in the summer, the Piranhas went to Des Moines for a week.
His success with his swimmers was evident with placing 10th at National JOs. Also, at Junior Nationals he had relay teams and nine swimmers. Many of his swimmers went onto the next level of swimming at major universities including University of California, Berkeley and swimming for Richard Quick at Texas and Jim Montrella at Ohio State.
Several coaches he mentioned from those ’80s days included Mark Schubert, Mission Viejo, Pat Tope, formerly with Riverside Aquatics Association and now Heartland, and Ed Spencer, Industry Hills, Reno Aquatics, Dynamo and a USA Swimming Master Coach Consultant.
He was offered the position of head coach for the Reno Aquatic Club and coached there for several years before returning to Maine to spend time with his father who was ill. He now lives in Palm Springs full-time and works at his property management company, Community Management Associates.
Flyer from the City of Palm Springs to welcome home Tracey McFarlane.
Mark Schubert, a former high school swimmer from Akron, OH, had a goal to become a high school coach. Schubert’s dream came true. He became a high school coach in Cuyahoga Falls High in Ohio.
In 1972, during his second year coaching, he looked at swimming in Southern California and was impressed by the caliber of coaches. “I looked at the great coaches in So Cal including Don Gambril, Dick Jochums, Ron Ballatore, Jim Montrella and Peter Daland. I realized that I could be successful there.”
At the young age of 23, Schubert applied to head the team in Mission Viejo, which at the time was a summer-league team. He got the job and through the years, grew the team to more than 500 swimmers. He also coached at Mission Viejo High School, and they became CIF Champions in 1975.
How did Schubert, a young, new coach have such early successes?
“Once a month, I’d travel to other teams, and learn from them. It helped me out and it was a great way to learn. Coach Peter Daland was from Swarthmore, east coast guy, wore ties, very formal. He was impressive and his team had enthusiastic chemistry. I modeled Mission Viejo after Santa Clara and George Haines. We developed a culture of hard work and our swimmers swam fast. Shirley Babashoff got the ball rolling,” Schubert said. “Visiting other coaches on a monthly basis was better than any course I could attend. It worked for me.”
Some of the stand-out swimmers he coached at Mission Viejo:
Brian Goodell was 8 years old when Mark Schubert became head coach of the team. He first coached him when he was 13 years old. He earned 2 gold medals, 400m and 1500m free at Montreal 1976 Olympics.
Mary Meagher, earned 3 golds, 100 fly, 200 fly and 400 Medley Relay, 1984 Los Angeles Olympics training with Mission.
Dara Torres, earned 1 gold medal in the 1984 Olympics. She trained with Mission Viejo to prepare for the Olympics while in high school, from ’83-’84.
Michael O’Brien, won 1 gold medal in the 1500 at the 1984 Olympics. His club team was Mission Viejo.
Innovations in swimming:
“It was fun when everyone started to wear goggles. One of the main reasons for drops was practice went from 3 to 4,000 yards to 8,000. People improved a lot more. Before goggles, their eyes would get red and they couldn’t stay in the water for longer,” Schubert said.
“Also, suits became popular in the world in 1977. The East Germans wore speedo suits. Times continued to drop until the full body suits in 2008 when it peaked.”
During his years at USC, Schubert said he worked with many amazing swimmers including Olympians Janet Evans and Lenny Krazylburg, Kristin Quance, who was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, and RoseBowl and USC coach Jeff Julian. “Mark Warkentin, Jeff Julian, Kristine Quance and Tyler Storie are coaches that I coached. Nice to have coaches that have done well. It’s very satisfying.”
Schubert’s Career Comes Full Circle As He Returns to Mission Viejo
Associate Head Coach
Coach Mark Schubert is the Associate Head Coach of the Mission Viejo Nadadores.
He returned to the World Renowned program that developed from 1972-1985.
He formerly was the Head Coach and CEO of the Golden West Swim Club in Huntington Beach, California; where he rebuilt one of Southern California’s best programs from the bottom up by instilling the values of hard work, commitment, dedication, fun, and a love of swimming. Coach Schubert was also the Head Coach of Gold West College. After nine years of the Rustlers not making it to the championship podium, Schubert leads both the Women’s and the Men’s teams to the California State Community College Championships Title in 2013 – in his second year! The Men’s team also won the State title in 2014 and 2015.
Schubert was named the USA Swimming National Team Head Coach and General Manager on March 21, 2006. Prior to joining USA Swimming, he was the head coach at the University of Southern California for 14 years.
Schubert has demonstrated coaching success at all levels – club, college, and international – matched by few coaches in the history of the sport. At the club level, Schubert found success on the national swimming scene as the head coach of the Mission Viejo Nadadores from 1972-85, where his teams won a record 44 U.S. National team titles during his tenure. Schubert also served as the head coach of Texas Aquatics for four years, leading the club, along with head coach Eddie Reese, to 10 national team titles.
At the collegiate level, Schubert coached at the University of Texas from 1989-92, leading the Longhorns to two NCAA team titles (1990 and 1991). At the University of Southern California, the Trojan women took home one NCAA team title under Schubert in 1997. His USC swimmers won 49 NCAA individual titles.
At the international level, Schubert has been a familiar face on the Olympic coaching scene, serving on every Olympic coaching staff since 1980 and placing 38 swimmers on U.S. Olympic teams. Schubert was Head Women’s Coach in 1992 and 2004. He was the Head Men’s Coach in 2000. He was a Women’s Assistant Coach in 1996, and an assistant for the combined Men’s and Women’s teams for 1980, 1984, and 1988.
In his first World Championships appearance as National Team head coach and general manager, Schubert led Team USA to its most dominant performance in history. The Americans ran away with the medal count, winning an incredible
36 medals, 20 of them gold, and setting 12 world records. Schubert is an eight-time World Championships coach, serving as the head men’s and women’s coach in 1982.
Here are the first paragraphs from a story from Sports Illustrated The Vault, July 10, 1978 about the creation of the community of Mission Viejo, the Nadadores and Mark Schubert:
“It is 7:02 a.m. and Mark Schubert is annoyed. “Shut up!” he snaps at two girls, still half-asleep but jabbering on the deck of the 50-meter pool. The girls fall silent. Within seconds they and their 60-odd teammates on the national team of the Mission Viejo swim club are in the water, swimming laps, but Schubert is still frowning. “Move it,” he yells to nobody—and everybody—in particular. Practice was supposed to start at 7 o’clock and two minutes have been lost forever. To socializing.
Schubert’s top swimmers spend five hours every day in the water and another hour lifting weights. They work out twice a day, six days a week, 11 months a year. During the school year the first workout begins at 5:30 a.m. at Mission Viejo High and swimmers can be seen slumped in their cars in the parking lot, catching a few last winks in the lifting darkness. Even now, summertime, when all workouts have shifted to the Mission Viejo International Swim Complex and morning sessions start at the more civilized hour of seven, the regimen guarantees a long day. Swimmers finish the first workout at 9:30, then return to the pool at 4 p.m. to lift weights before going into the water again at five. At 7:30, Schubert signals the end of the session by flipping vitamin tablets to his spent athletes. Still in the water, they lunge at the offerings with open mouths, like seals going after fish.
But these swimmers at the peak of the club’s pyramid are not the only ones expending energy in Mission Viejo, Calif., a planned community of 43,000 occupying a stretch of hilly Orange County 50 miles south of Los Angeles. The club has 550 members all told and the swimmers on the lower rungs walk, bicycle or are car-pooled to workouts at the high school and at the 25-yard pools in the Montanoso and Sierra recreation centers as well as in the main complex. There are novice groups, a bewildering array of age-group sessions—the 9-10s with the 11-12s, for example—and also senior “B” and “C” groups. And there are learn-to-swim classes for children as young as 4. What all these groups have in common is a no-nonsense approach decreed from on high by Schubert. “The stars have to toe the line and set an example for the younger kids,” he says. “The younger kids have to toe the line because they’re the future stars.”
Contrary to what some rivals say, Mission Viejo swimmers aren’t always drilled until they drop and they don’t automatically turn into champions as soon as they don their blue-and-gold sweat suits. It only seems that way.
The Mission Viejo Nadadores dominate most levels of swimming in the U.S., turning out age-group record holders and world-beaters alike. This was the home club of Shirley Babashoff, the now retired queen of American swimming. It remains the summer club of the sport’s reigning glamour boy, UCLA sophomore Brian Goodell, the 1976 Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder in the 400-and 1,500-meter freestyles. And of American record holders Jesse Vassallo (400-yard individual medley) and Alice Browne (800-meter freestyle). And AAU champions Dawn Rodighiero, Valerie Lee and Jennifer Hooker. Then there is Mission Viejo’s foreign contingent, which this summer includes Australian backstroker Mark Tonelli, a fourth-place finisher in Montreal (and an AAU champion), and Olympic bronze medalist Enith Brigitha of the Netherlands. In all, nine Olympians from four countries are training in Mission Viejo. As though that were not enough, the Nadadores also have a new diving team, whose impressive ranks include Jennifer Chandler, the 1976 gold medalist in the three-meter event, and Greg Louganis, the silver medalist in the tower.
Mission Viejo’s swimmers and divers keep the water roiling in six pools around town. The hub of this activity, the International Swim Complex, consists of a 50-meter pool, a 25-yard warmup pool, a diving well and a carpeted weight room. There, beneath a hillside bedecked with marigolds arranged in outsized letters spelling MISSION VIEJO, Goodell & Company can be seen swimming laps while Chandler & Company arch gracefully through the air. The site is also used for major meets, including the annual Mission Viejo Invitational, national Masters and age-group championships and last year’s AAU long-course nationals.
Obviously, there is something special happening below Mission Viejo’s marigolds. The U.S. has long been the world’s leading swimming power, thanks in large part to go-getting community swim clubs that compete strongly with the baseball and football coaches for the good young athletes. These clubs are typically put together by upper-middle-class swim parents, who bicker with the coaches but who also pay dues, sponsor bake sales and wrangle enough dollars from local tire dealers and soft-drink distributors to keep the clubs going. Mission Viejo is different. The Nadadores are formally co-sponsored by a boosters club consisting mainly of parents. But the other sponsor—and the club’s founder—is the Mission Viejo Company, the high-powered land-development firm that built the town. Now a $150-million-a-year subsidiary of Philip Morris Inc., the Mission Viejo Company remains a commanding presence in the unincorporated community. Leaving police and fire protection to Orange County, it builds and runs recreational facilities and parcels out new housing developments. And it gets involved in zoning, landscaping and other civic matters.”