Kevin Sweeney was at the helm the last time that the University of Utah won an NCAA skiing championship, in 2003. So it’s only logical that the Utes would turn to Sweeney to help them win their next one.
Sweeney’s appointment as Utah’s new director of skiing was announced yesterday by Associate Athletic Director Mary Bowman. Sweeney makes his return to the University after five years as the nordic race director for Swix Sport USA.
“There’s a part of coaching that’s in my blood,” Sweeney said, adding that leaving Swix was “one of the hardest decisions I’ve been faced with.”
In an interview, Sweeney said that the stimulating nature of coaching, combined with location of the Utah job and the resources available to the ski program, helped persuade him to pursue the position. His wife recently completed nursing school, and she will soon begin working at the University’s hospital.
“You put it all together, and it’s a very nice package,” he said.
Sweeney replaces Eli Brown, who left Utah in August because of changes in the direction of the program and a desire to spend more time with his family.
At the time, Brown told FasterSkier that with Utah’s admission into the Pacific-10 conference, the atmosphere at the University was “getting more and more serious.” While Brown said he focused on development during his tenure and added skiers to his squad, he said that the Utah was “going to move away from my strategy of having a big team, and get elite again.”
Sweeney acknowledged that Utah Athletic Director Chris Hill expects the ski team to contend for an NCAA title, which will likely entail some changes to the program—though he wouldn’t say exactly what they might be.
“There’s no question I’m going to come in with my own philosophy and style of coaching,” Sweeney said. “We may have to make some adjustments…just like every other business or enterprise, etc., we have budgets to work with.”
Sweeney said that he was already comfortable working with Alpine Head Coach Jaka Korencan, who has been working at the University since Sweeney’s first stint at the school. It was not clear whether Head Nordic Coach Abi Holt would remain with the program, and she could not be reached for comment. But both Bowman and Sweeney said that they hoped Holt would stay on.
“Abi Holt’s done a fantastic job,” Sweeney said. “It’s my intention for that to continue.”
Sweeney’s departure from Swix has not yet been finalized, but he said that the transition should take approximately two weeks.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.