Rick Walker begins his 18th year as a Southern Illinois University swimming coach with a new challenge, becoming just the second person to coach the men's and women's combined programs in August, after 12 years as the men's head coach and five years as a men's and women's assistant.
Walker served as an assistant under SIU Hall of Fame coach Doug Ingram from 1987-92, the only previous time the teams were under the leadership of one coach, so Walker has seen the program and worked under one leader, and is looking forward to the challenge.
During his 12 years as the men's head coach, Walker's leadership has continued the success of the storied SIU swimming and diving program, as well as adding new accomplishments to its history.
Last season alone, Walker led the Salukis to the first-ever MVC Invitational title and coached Marcelo Possato to an NCAA provisional qualifying mark in the 200 back (1:47.04) at the MVC Invitational and new school records in the 100 (49.57) and 200 back (1:46.33) at the Indiana Open. Possato broke his own 200 back record and a five-year old 100 back record by Matt Munz.
In addition, two athletes he coached won MVC Invitational individual titles in three events, seven athletes earned all-MVC Invitational honors in 13 individual events, 11 total athletes earned at least All-MVC Invitational Honorable Mention honors in 25 individual events, and the 800 free relay team set an MVC Invitational record (6:40.20) in its victory.
Current sophomore diver Brandon Birchak won the 1 and 3-Meter dives as a freshman and joined Adam Peper at the NCAA Zone D Meet. Earlier in the season, Derek Helvey swam a 3:55.65 400 IM, which tied him for fourth all-time in the SIU record book.
Since taking over as men's head coach in 1992, Walker's first team broke three school records and finished 25th at the NCAA Championship Meet (1993), won Eastern Independent (1993 & 95) and National Independent Championships (1996 & 97), a Collegiate 25K Open Water National Championship (1998), six Missouri Valley Championship Meet titles, and an MVC Invitational title in 2004.
Walker has a 58-54 dual meet record and has guided SIU to six of the nine MVC titles since the revival of the MVC Championships from 1994-2003, including winning the first five MVC championships from 1994-99 and the 2002 crown. In the three years SIU didn't win, Walker's team finished runner-up each time, by a combined total of 95.5 points, including a five-point loss in 2001.
In 2003 under Walker, all four Saluki divers qualified for the 2003 NCAA Zone D Meet at the MVC Championships, a first in school history.
He was named MVC Coach-of-the-Year in 1995, 1996, 1998 and 2002 as well as Illinois Swimming Association Coach-of-the-Year following the 1998 season. Walker was named Eastern Independent Championship Coach-of-the-Year in 1993 & 1995 and the National Independent Championship Coach-of-the-Year in 1996 & 97.
Since the 1994-95 season, Walker's athletes have captured 79 of the 150 individual titles (53%) including nine of the ten 50 free titles. SIU has also won 37 of the 50 relay titles (74%) including nine of ten 400 Medley Relay titles.
The Kankakee, Ill. native has coached 121 top three finishers (114 were MVC medalists), four Olympians including recent two-time Olympian Chrysanthos Papachrysanthou (Cyprus 2000 & 2004), four World Championship swimmers, two Olympic Trials competitors and one Olympic Sports Festival contestant.
Papachrysanthou and former Saluki Herman Louw, the MVC Swimmer-of-the-Year in 1999 and 2000, chose to be trained for their countries 2004 Olympic Trails by Walker during the 2003-04 season, while attending graduate school at SIU.
Interested in his athlete's academic successes and not just their exploits in the pool, Walker's 2004 team was ranked 30th nationally in team GPA (2.81) last spring as a College Swim Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) Academic All-American Team, and has earned (CSCAA) Academic All-American Team honors in each of his 12 years and 20 of the last 24 semesters, which included a 3.0 team GPA or better 17 times.
Walker's 2004-05 team returns seven of 12 athletes with a 2004 spring semester grade point average of 3.0 or better, including five athletes with a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better.
For the first time in school history, SIU produced its first male academic all-American under Walker in 2003, when Jake Sinclair was named to the 2003 Verizon Academic All-American At-Large First Team with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Sinclair was also named to the 2003 Verizon Academic All-District V At-Large First Team.
Led by the academic success of Sinclair, SIU placed an MVC-high seven men on the 2003 MVC Scholar Athlete Team, more than any other school in the conference, in the last year the MVC awarded men scholar-athlete awards.
Before serving as head coach, Walker served as an SIU assistant from 1987-92 under former head coach and SIU Hall-of-Famer Doug Ingram, coaching former women's head coach Jeff Goelz his current assistants Gustavo Leal and Chris Gally. Goelz and Gally each earned multiple all-american honors under Walker's tutelage. During that five-year span, the Salukis also advanced to the NCAA Championships, finishing 26th, 27th, 20th, 24th and 25th.
Prior to coaching at SIU, Walker coached at the YMCA in Joliet, Illinois for the 1984-85 season, Texas A&M and the Aggie Swim club during the 1985-86 season, and the Dad's Club YMCA of Houston, Texas, during the 1986-87 season.
Walker is more than just a successful coach, he had a remarkable career as a swimmer at two of the nation's top swimming programs before he began his coaching career.
Walker graduated from Texas A&M University in 1984 with a degree in recreation and parks. At Texas A&M, he swam for an Aggies team that finished 26th and 31st at the NCAA Championships during his junior and senior seasons. During his two years in College Station, Texas, he set school records in the 500, 1000 and 1650 free and the 400 IM and qualified for the NCAA Championships. His 1000 free record still stands to this day.
Prior to Texas A&M, Walker swam at National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) power Indian River Community College in Fort Pierce, Fla., where he set NJCAA records in the 500, 1000 and 1650 free and the 4x100 and 4x200 free relays.
He was a seven-time All-American at Indian River and is in the NJCAA Hall of Fame as well as his alma mater of Indian River Community College and Eastridge (Ill.) High School.
His swimming honors do not stop there. Walker competed at the 1980 Olympic Trials and qualified for the 1984 Olympic Trials, but retired just prior to the event. He was a silver medalist at the Olympic Sports Festival in 1979, participated in the 1978 USA Olympic Training Camp and held a top 50 world ranking in the 1500 meter free in 1981.
In addition to his swimming duties, Walker serves as a prominent figure on the international level. In recent years, he has worked as chair of the International Swimming Long-Distance Committee.
In 1996, Walker was appointed as head U.S.A. Open Water National Team coach for two four-year terms and will serve a third term until current restructuring plans go into effect. As U.S.A. National coach, he heads up all National Team functions, as well as makes decisions on selection process, location, and dates for the National Team selection. Walker selects all staff that will attend any U.S. International Team function, gives approval for all athletes to compete internationally, and determines planning decisions for national team trips.
He led the U.S. to a World Aquatics Championship in 1998 in Australia, as well as fourth place finishes in 2001 and 2003, and a top six finish in 2004. He has coached current SIU women's swimmer, Briley Bergen, at four World Championships.
Walker has served on the National Team staff for 11 World Championships and six Pan Pacific Games. His coaching expertise has also been called on at the World Cup in Toronto and at the Olympic Festival.
As U.S.A. National Team head coach and a spokesman for Saluki swimming, Walker has trained numerous national champions, national team members and Olympians in both the pool, as well as long distance swimming.
Walker served a seven-year term on the NCAA Swimming and Diving Committee and has taken the lead in the process to place open water swimming in the Bejing, China Olympic Games in 2008. Currently, he chairs the International Open Water Committee and is a voting member of the USA Swimming Olympic Committee.
One of Walker's favorite responsibilities as head of the U.S. National Team are the Goodwill Clinics done all over the world, which has allowed him to work with the best athletes and coaches around the globe, as well as recruit athletes on an international level.
Walker lives in Carbondale with his wife Eileen, son Kyle, and daughter Kelsie.