In 1987, a novice diving coach with his first athlete competing at the NCAA Championships perched next to former Michigan coach Dick Kimball, a revered presence in the world of diving. The green coach was grateful to be in the company of such a legend. Seventeen years later, the once inexperienced coach got the chance to walk in the shoes of an icon.
In the spring of 2002, Dick Kimball, Michigan’s diving coach for the past 43 years, retired from the pool deck. Chris Bergere was chosen to continue leadership of a program drenched with tradition. The widely-respected coach spent the previous 17 years coaching at, his alma mater, and his club team, L’Air Bergere’s Diving Club in Philadelphia.
Just a few short months earlier, then-sophomore Jason Coben won the Big Ten Championships in Bloomington, under the watchful eye of the legendary Kimball.
This year, with the season in full swing, the duo of Bergere and Coben has come together for the second time in their diving careers. Bergere coached the All-American diver for four years in Pennsylvania before he encouraged Coben to consider Michigan. Little did he know that three years later he would resume his role as Coben’s coach – this time, at the collegiate level.
Bergere is ecstatic about his opportunity to lead the Wolverines, and continue on the path that Kimball laid out.
“I wanted this job because it’s the best job in the U.S. Michigan is one of the top Division I programs – it has a great reputation, prestige and tradition,” Bergere said. “Dick Kimball made it nationally renowned.”
Coben, who was apprehensive about coming to Michigan because of rumor’s of Kimball’s impending retirement, is pleased about working with Bergere again, and calls him “a great coach.”
Bergere’s interest in Michigan’s program was piqued by his brush with Kimball 17 years earlier.
“I was in awe,” Bergere recalled. “And now, 17 years later, I’m in his shoes, living the high life.”
Despite the fact that he is officially retired, Kimball continues to make himself available as a resource to the new coach.
“I’ve tried to incorporate some of his practice methods into my practices to make the transition for the divers easier,” Bergere said. “I will eventually develop my own plan, but it’s hard to argue with Kimball’s success.”
The transition from the “bottom of the pyramid to the top” has, according to Bergere, been a reasonably smooth one for Bergere and his athletes.
“Michigan provided me with anything I could’ve ever wanted,” Bergere explained. “And (Jon) Urbanchek, (Jim) Richardson, and Kimball have been great.”
Coben agrees that changing coaches has been easy.
“Any transition has been pretty basic,” he said. “I tried to help everyone to get to know him, and it’s really been a pretty easy change.”
The team has had plenty of time to become acquainted with its new coach. The divers practice twice a day, once before dawn, and again in the evening. During a practice, an athlete might do about 50 dives, as well as plyometrics and weights. Bergere’s practice agenda is somewhat different from Kimball’s.
“With Kimball, we did the same workouts over and over,” Coben said. “Now there’s a lot more variation. Sometimes we just run around the deck, or play volleyball.”
Thus far, Bergere has found success in his methods.
“He’s gotten a lot more people to do the tower, which is pretty amazing because it is so much harder,” Coben said of the 10-meter platform event.
The most challenging part of the workout, according to Bergere, is getting up at 5:30, five days a week for morning practice.
“I’m really not a morning person,” he admitted. “But if you can’t get up for a job like mine, there’s probably something wrong with you.”
Both Bergere and Coben are hoping that their long hours and hard work continue to pay off. One of the primary goals of the season is to get Coben back to the top of the Big Ten ladder.
Coben is ready to face this challenge by perfecting dives that very few have been able to manage.
“I’m working on a reverse three-and-a-half, and a four on the 10-meter,” Coben said. “I’m bringing them out at Big Ten’s. Kimball only had about five divers who could do it on the tower.”
The duo is anticipating a promising season for the Wolverines. So far, the divers have contributed to Michigan’s victories against top ranked teams such as Texas and Florida. Although the success remainder of the season remains up in the air, Bergere is certain about one thing.
“I am so happy I came here,” he said. “It took a lot of hard work to get here, and I will continue to work hard. I won’t be complacent.”