NEW CASTLE —
Rob Klamut’s been winning championships and receiving accolades for 28 years.
His resume as head coach of the Westminster College swimming and diving team includes 15 conference championships, an overall record of 393-164-2 and 10 Coach of the Year awards in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference.
That’s only just the beginning.
There are the 83 NAIA All-Americans in 242 events he’s coached, the five NCAA Division II All-Americans, the 12 Division III All-Americans, the NAIA Male Swimmer of the Year in 1994 and a plethora of CSCAA All-Academic teams and swimmers.
Now, Klamut, 57, gets to add another honor to his seemingly endless list of accomplishments. He will be inducted into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame on April 28 at the New Englander.
Westminster took a chance on a 25-year-old Klamut to leads its swimming program in 1985. After graduating with his masters degree in education, health and physical education from the University of Pittsburgh, Klamut was eager to work his way up the coaching ranks. A swimmer from a young age until his time at Clarion University, he knew coaching the sport in college was his ultimate calling.
“I was just really excited to get my foot in the door and get a head college position right away,” Klamut said. “No, I never really thought I’d be here this long, but I love it here. Westminster has been good to me and I’ve been very successful. It’s a great place to live and my wife, Kelly, and daughter, Stephannie, love living here.”
As part of his hire, Klamut was tasked with starting a women’s program from the ground up. It was a daunting task, but one he excelled at.
“When I was hired here at Westminster, there was a club team and a synchronized swimming team. I was hired here under the auspices of starting a women’s varsity program,” he said. “The first year I was here, we were club status. There were a few women who were interested and swam and trained with the men. The process came about to initiate the women’s varsity program, so I obviously was the first coach of that and have been the only coach of that program.”
The women’s team earned its first conference championship in 1992, just seven years after Klamut was hired, and has gone on to win six under his watch.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Klamut’s 15 conference championships is that they are spread throughout his entire 25-year career with different swimmers and different squads. His first came in 1992 with the women and his last was this year, his ninth with the men’s team.
“It was a big relief,” Klamut said of the 2013 championship. “I owe a lot to the guys and the women. Even though the men won this year, our team is co-ed. There are 41 swimmers and four divers and we’re just one big team. The women had as much to do with that championship as the men did. The men really stepped up. It was a good year.”
Some coaches live off early success to a lengthy career, or they win big near retirement. A tireless work ethic and desire to remain ahead of the curve has given Klamut continued success the duration of his career.
“It’s important to me to keep up with the latest trends, I guess you could say, or technology and techniques,” he said. “Swimming might look to the casual observer, who is watching it on TV every four years for the Olympics, as just down and back as fast as you can go. There are a lot of technical things that go on to making the stroke work most efficiently. Then, as a swimmer trains, there’s something we do call ‘tapering’ at the end of the season where you work real hard all year, then cut back on the workload. It’s physiological and psychological, too. They need to do that the right way to hit their peak at the right time, at the right meet so they perform at their best. We put a lot of emphasis on our conference championships at the end of the year.”
Pat Smith, a former All-American swimmer at Westminster, met Klamut in ninth grade during a swim camp. Klamut has coached thousands of the swimmers, including Smith, at his Titan Swim Camp since 1985, a competitive swimming camp separated into three one-week sessions offered to ages 8 through 18.
Now working as Klamut’s assistant, Smith has grown to appreciate just how much effort and dedication his former coach has for his profession.
“He’s done a really good job adapting through the years. I know it’s not the same whenever I swam. I know he tries to keep updated on technique things and how he relates to people,” Smith said. “Technology has really taken off in the last 10 years, and I’ve watched him with that. Things like recruiting, even when I was in school 10 years ago, nobody really texted each other. Now, we text recruits, we Facebook, Twitter and stuff like that. I’ve been watching him try to stay on top of it and try to keep us at the highest level we can, because we know that’s what all the really good teams are doing.”
Recruiting almost is a full-time job in itself for Klamut and has been the lifeblood of his success at Westminster.
“There’s a lot of things to go into that, but it is difficult,” he said. “It is a job that I do every day. I don’t think a day goes by without sending a letter, making a phone call, checking in with how the recruits are doing and if they’re accepted. It’s a never ending process. Westminster really sells itself once we get the kids here.”
Sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day for all the duties and responsibilities of Klamut’s position. Along with his job as the swimming coach, Klamut is a professor for the department of physical education at the college, director of aquatics and also is concluding a four-year term as the chairman with the NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Committee.
“I think I still struggle with the time commitment. It wasn’t so bad when I was single and younger, but the time commitment was still pretty tough,” he said. “Swimming is a sport where, if you want to be good at it, you have to put a lot of time in. We practice in the morning before school, four mornings a week. I get up at five and I’m here at a quarter to six for practice. That’s a big time commitment. You put in the whole day, then because of swim team class schedules and the number of swimmers we have on our team, we have to have two practices in the afternoon. That puts me here some nights to seven or eight. Then, when I go home, it’s time to call recruits. I like calling recruits between eight and nine and usually I’m on the phone three or four nights a week.
“One of the most rewarding things is seeing the alumni come back and letting me know how much swimming has meant to them and how much it’s helped them in their careers and in their jobs and going onto grad school or med school.”
In the end, that makes the long days worth it.
TOMORROW: The late Anthony Aven.
NEW CASTLE —
Rob Klamut’s been winning championships and receiving accolades for 28 years.
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