Pacific water polo: Change, adapt and move forward
James Graham thinks taking one calculated step backward in his coaching duties will eventually lead to many more leaps forward for Water Polo U.
The well-used nickname for the sport at University of the Pacific was earned by, among other traits, the willingness to adapt and change. After 11 seasons as head coach of both the men’s and women’s teams, Graham will take on a changed role.
He will be director of women’s water polo and will remain as head coach of the men’s team. Pacific has begun a national search for a new women’s water polo coach.
"I feel grateful to have been the head coach for the women's water polo team for the last 11 years and to have had the opportunity to help take the program to new heights," Graham said. "It's been an amazing experience, and I feel fortunate to have worked with all these great athletes."
Graham discussed the changes and goals moving forward.
What are the main reasons for the changes?
Graham: It will give both programs the best chance to move to the next level. Any time circumstances change then you want to re-evaluate what is in the best interest of both programs. This will move us from having three people working for men’s and women’s water polo to now where we are going to have four people. That will make a huge difference.
What will your new role as director entail?
Graham: I am in charge of the general direction of the program, while the new women’s coach will have the autonomy to coach their team the way they see fit. I will make sure the program moves forward and that we make good, smart business decisions. We want to reach our ultimate goals which are conference championships, NCAA appearances and then, ultimately, NCAA championships.
What will the immediate impact be?
Graham: We will have a focused women’s head coach who is going to be able to go out and recruit. That was sometimes a challenge for us because we were in season virtually all year. We need to have more boots on the ground in certain locations to find more of the players we need.
What traits are you looking for in a new women’s water polo coach?
Graham: We want someone who will fit into the identity and culture that we have already established. We want someone who is adaptable and believes in team cohesion. And we need someone who competes every day. We want a leader who can help us be the most innovative water polo program in the world, the greatest place to experience college water polo in the United States and have the best game-day atmosphere in all of the NCAA.
Did the fact that you had very successful men’s and women’s seasons lead to these changes, or were they already in the works?
Graham: This was in the works before the women’s NCAA Tournament. We have been doing an assessment the last couple of years. It was a very deliberate process that we did not take lightly. My approach was always to make the decision that’s in the best interests of both programs. We worked on this with [Assistant Director of Athletics] Wes Yourth, [Director of Athletics] Janet Lucas and President [Christopher] Callahan. We found a way to make this opportunity happen and ran with it.
The women’s NCAA Tournament held at Pacific was a great “watch” in person and on national television. In what ways did that event build onto the reputation of Water Polo U?
Graham: It was a showcase. Our goal is to always set the standard. We are not looking to do what everyone else has done before. We want to constantly find a new way to move the sport and our programs forward. We did that in how we utilized our scoreboard, the food trucks and tailgate area, being able to stream the game live and with the fireworks that we shot off after the game. I am so grateful for everyone who put in the work and the effort to make that happen.