‘Dedicated Effort’ Ends With Naming of Cyndi Gallagher : UCLA Goes Against Tide With New Swimming Coach

Times Staff Writer

Dr. Judith Holland makes no qualms about it.

When the position as women’s swimming coach at UCLA opened up this year, Holland, the women’s athletic director, decided that she was going to hire a woman for the job.

“I was completely dedicated to finding a woman for the job,” Holland said. “I think enough jobs go to men that there has to be a dedicated effort to seek out and find women.”

And with that attitude, and the hiring of Cyndi Gallagher as women’s swimming coach, Holland is intentionally going against the tide.


Just 25.3% of women’s swimming coaches at four-year universities in 1988 were women, down from 53.6% in 1972, according to an 11-year study of women’s athletics by Linda Carpenter and Vivian Acosta, professors of physical education at Brooklyn College. Over that same period, there has been an overall decrease in the percentage of women coaches. Just 48.3% of coaches of women’s teams in 1988 were females, compared to 58.2% in 1978 and 78.9% in 1972, according to the same study. The percentage of women coaches at the Division I level is approximately 5% lower, Carpenter said.

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome, Holland said, is the lack of a large pool of women coaches to choose from. When Holland decided not to renew the contract of Tom Jahn after last season, about 25 coaches applied for the opening.

Holland interviewed only three candidates, however, because Gallagher was the lone female applicant. Ironically, Jahn’s wife Barbara is the head coach at UC Davis and would have been one of the few other females qualified for the UCLA job.

Carpenter disagrees with Holland about the small number of candidates.

“It’s not a lack of qualified women. It’s the result of years of having few female role models and years of having to do with prejudice, although most of it I don’t feel has been intentional,” Carpenter said.

Jill Sterkel, an assistant at Texas who applied for the USC position, which was also open this year, was surprised that UCLA hired Gallagher because of her lack of head coaching experience. Sterkel, however, does not think that it is necessary to make an extra effort to hire women coaches.

“I feel I could go out and get a head coaching job somewhere, just not at a major Division I school right off the bat,” Sterkel said. “The person they hired here (Mark Shubert) was a million times more qualified than I was.”

The hiring of Gallagher was a particularly bold step by Holland because the former UCLA All-American and assistant to Jahn did not have Division I experience as a head coach--unlike many of the other applicants--and had spent the previous year as a travel agent.

“But neither did Tom Jahn,” said Holland, about Gallagher’s lack of experience as a head coach. “People raise that question about Cyndi, but they didn’t about Tom. I don’t see the difference. . . . Cyndi had every possible qualification except one, that she hadn’t been a head coach.

“That bias is everywhere, with the media, with my fellow athletic directors. I’m planning to use our visibility here to change that.”

Holland points out that during the same period that the UCLA position was open, three other high-profile universities--USC, Stanford and Texas--had openings for women’s swimming coaches and those jobs went to men.

“All I did was cut the odds a little bit in favor of women,” Holland said. “And I tell you, if I didn’t set my mind to hiring a woman, we’d have a man here too.”

One program Holland has instituted at UCLA to help increase the pool of women qualified for head coaching and administrative positions is to have at least one female assistant coach for every team.

“I don’t want to cut my biases against men. That’s not fair either,” Holland said. “But a man can get a job in both men’s and women’s departments. Women can’t. They’re limited to women’s athletics. If that’s cut off too, she’s in a real tough spot.”

The only opposition Holland received to hiring Gallagher came from the team’s members. During a meeting with them, Holland heard various members voice concerns about whether a woman would be strict enough, a complaint the team had against Jahn. According to Holland, one swimmer--whom Holland refused to identify--transferred because of the hiring of Gallagher.

Another concern Holland received from team members was that Gallagher would bring her 3-year-old daughter Tori to workouts, taking time away from the team.

“I couldn’t figure out why it was O.K. for Tom to bring his daughter to practice but not all right for Cyndi. I’ve learned over the years not to let my anger show, but I was getting pretty upset,” Holland said. “In their defense, they have only had men coaches all through their careers.

“So I put the question to them of how many of them wanted to coach eventually. Several said that they did. So I asked them, ‘Well, who are you going to coach?’ ”

Said Jenny Susser, a senior from Irvine: “I guess it was because there aren’t that many women coaches at the national level. It was just something totally different to us.”

Whatever went into the hiring of Gallagher, however, this season she has surpassed the expectations of nearly everyone, including Holland. The Bruins went through their regular season schedule with a 9-1 record, losing only to second-ranked Stanford, and placed third at the Pacific 10 Conference meet this last weekend, behind Stanford and Cal. The Bruins have had five swimmers, three relay teams and two divers qualify for the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. championships, to be held March 16-18 in Indianapolis.

In Jahn’s six-year term as head coach, the Bruins finished between sixth and 25th nationally and finished second in the Pac-10 twice, in 1984-85 and 1985-86.

Gallagher came to UCLA in 1980 after swimming her freshman year at the University of Houston and then attending Washington for one year, where she did not swim. Swimming at UCLA for three years, Gallagher--then Cyndi McCullam--set school records in the 1,000 and 1,650 freestyle, both of which have recently been broken by current swimmers Missy Herndon (1,000) and Sheri Smith (1,650).

After graduating with a degree in political science, Gallagher spent five years (1982-87) as an assistant to Jahn.

Gallagher finished 10th in the 800 freestyle at the Olympic trials in 1976 and spent the next four years training to make the 1980 team.

Gallagher remembers where she was when she heard that then President Carter decided to boycott the Moscow games in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

“It’s weird that the Soviets are just now pulling out of Afghanistan,” she said. “I was really heartbroken. I shouldn’t have taken it as hard as I did. . . . I guess it will make me hungrier as a coach to get a swimmer of mine on the team.

“I think if Amy (Carter’s daughter) had been into athletics, he’d have thought twice about doing it. But I’m just a political science major at UCLA, so who am I to say what’s wrong or right?”

For Gallagher, the only negative reaction she has gotten has come from other coaches. After she was hired in April, she was on the phone with a recruit when another coach called the recruit on another line and told her that “the woman UCLA hired doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

Parents of recruits showed surprise when she introduced herself. The father of one asked Gallagher how old she was and whether she was married.

“Like that has any bearing on anything,” remarked Gallagher, who has been married for seven years and lives in Venice.

Despite the team’s concerns about Gallagher’s ability to discipline, no problem has arisen this season, according to Holland and Gallagher. The problem was a factor in not renewing Jahn’s contract, Holland said. Jahn refused to comment on why he left UCLA.

Concerns about her family situation have also proved to be naught. Gallagher has missed a handful of practices when her daughter was ill and has brought her to practice just once, when a baby-sitter canceled.

“At the first meeting, I explained to them why I got the job. That it wasn’t a gift,” Gallagher said. “They didn’t hand me the job and say go ahead and have fun. Obviously, they believe I can handle the job. UCLA isn’t the kind of university that would give the job to just anybody.”