Cavaliers swim czar Bernardino retires after 35 seasons


He may not be Thomas Jefferson, but Virginia head swim coach Mark Bernardino has been an institution in Charlottesville for more than three decades. Come this fall, however, a new coach will patrol the poolside on behalf of the vaunted Cavalier swim program.

After a 35-year tenure in which he transformed the Virginia men’s and women’s swim and dive program into perennial juggernauts, Bernardino announced his retirement in a statement released by Virginia Monday afternoon.

“Today, after 35 years as the head coach of the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams at the University of Virginia – in total 41 years, including my time as a student, athlete and assistant coach – I am announcing my retirement,” Bernardino said in the statement. “It is a difficult day filled with mixed emotions and I have not come to this decision lightly. This job and this University, along with my family, have been my life and my passion for nearly as long as I can remember. But I come to this decision with confidence in the future.”

With a record unparalleled by any coach in ACC history, Bernardino will step down as Virginia’s finest ever swim coach and the school’s most consistently successful program leader of the last several decades.Under Bernardino, the Cavaliers ran roughshod over their conference rivals in both the men’s and women’s competition. Bernardino racked up 27 combined conference championships as a coach, an ACC record, and his teams have not failed to win a conference crown since 2007. He also claimed ACC Coach of the Year honors a record 31 times, 18 as a men’s coach and 13 on the women’s side.

Though national preeminence just eluded Bernardino’s squads—the men’s team’s highest NCAA Championships finish was ninth in 2009, while the women peaked at 7th in 1988—he helped produce a slew of elite national level. Highlighting the 98 individual All-Americans who swam under Bernardino are Olympic gold medalists Melanie Valero, Ed Moses, Lauren Perdue and Matt McLean. McLean and Moses also join Cara Lane and Shamek Pietucha as the school’s only NCAA individual championship winners.

In addition to their staggering success in the pool, Bernardino’s athletes flourished in the classroom. The Virginia women have garnered All-Academic recognition from the Collegiate Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) 19 times, with the men barely lagging behind with 13 in that span.

“Mark’s career is one that will be difficult to be equaled and is notable for the competitive success of his teams and student-athletes, and also the academic achievements of his student-athletes,” Virginia athletics director Craig Littlepage said in a statement. “…He and his teams have set a standard of success that is exemplary.”

Though his announcement is startling in light of his recent success, Bernardino said he was happy to leave with the program at its peak and primed for prolonged domination.

“Our team and staff have been enormously successful, and our program is near its prime, so perhaps, in a very real sense, this is the best time for me to step down, with the team poised for continued success,” Bernardino said.

A national search for Bernardino’s replacement will begin immediately, the school announced.

Compiled by Fritz Metzinger

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