DeSorbo Hits Ground Running at UVA
Aug. 16, 2017
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On his first day at the University of Virginia, Todd DeSorbo stopped by a local institution, Wayside Takeout & Catering, and sampled its famed fried chicken.
“Well worth it!” DeSorbo (@ToddDeSorbo) tweeted after his lunch Monday.
He’s still learning his way around town after taking over as head coach for the UVA men’s and women’s swimming & diving teams. DeSorbo replaced Augie Busch, who after four seasons at Virginia left early last month to direct the programs at Arizona, his alma mater.
DeSorbo came to UVA from ACC rival NC State, where in six season as associate head coach he helped build the Wolfpack into a national power.
His colleagues at Virginia include Gina Suarez-Malaguti, an assistant women’s tennis coach who worked with him at NC State. Otherwise, though, DeSorbo knew no one in UVA’s athletics department before interviewing for the job. With the fall semester starting next week, he’s eager to familiarize himself with his new surroundings.
And so he’s been reaching out to the various support units in UVA’s athletics department, including “psychology, nutrition, sports medicine, strength, compliance, admissions, academics,” DeSorbo said. “I’m just hour to hour going and getting in front of everybody and building relationships.”
DeSorbo and his wife, Lauren Suggs, have two children: son Jack, 8, and daughter Cate, 5. DeSorbo, who’s from Salisbury, North Carolina, swam for three years at Kentucky before transferring to UNCW, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1999.
He spent five seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater before moving to NC State, which swept the ACC men’s and women’s titles in 2016-17. In March, the Wolfpack men placed fourth and the women seventh at their respective NCAA meets.
The opportunity to work at UVA appealed to him, DeSorbo said, in part because of the school’s academic reputation.
“That was a big draw for me, and I think it’s the same for prospective student-athletes as well,” said DeSorbo, who also has a master’s degree from UNCW.
He’s thankful his first head college job comes at a school that also has a rich tradition in his sport. The UVA women won nine straight ACC titles before finishing second to NC State in 2016-17. The UVA men, under Busch’s predecessor, Mark Bernardino, captured 13 ACC championships in a 14-year stretch that started in 1998-99.
“When I was thinking about being a head coach, I didn’t want to be a head coach bad enough just to be a head coach anywhere,” DeSorbo said. “I wanted to be at a place where I know they can be successful and competing at the highest level and challenging for NCAA titles, Olympic berths. I have no doubt that Virginia has the potential and capability to do that. We’ve done that before. I think there’s no reason why we can’t surpass anything that’s ever been done in this program. We’ve just got to work hard.”
The Virginia men have struggled in recent years, but underclassmen dominated the program in 2016-17, and DeSorbo sees better days ahead. There are only two seniors on the men’s roster for 2017-18.
“They’re young and hungry,” DeSorbo said of the men. “I definitely think they’re on the upward trajectory.”
The women’s program graduated several exceptional swimmers, most notably Leah Smith, an Olympic gold medalist who won multiple NCAA titles.
Even so, DeSorbo said, he believes the women’s program is “in really good shape. We have a really good senior class this coming year, so this recruiting cycle is going to be important to help fill the shoes of the current seniors. But the returners are in a really good place, and we’ve got a very talented group of incoming [recruits] that are going to make an impact immediately. So I feel pretty confident with the women.
“At NC State, they’re getting to the point where every year they’re graduating really high-caliber, high-impactful athletes. The goal is that you’re always losing those type of athletes, because then you’ve been developing them and recruiting the right people. So that’s a goal that I work towards.”
He has a better read on the swimmers and divers in his new program than if he’d come from a school outside the ACC, “just by watching and being on the pool deck the last six years, being across the pool from them.”
Also, DeSorbo said, NC State and UVA “crossed paths quite a bit in recruiting. Even the incoming freshman class, I tried to recruit some of them. And they know me. I think it will be a little easier transition.”
DeSorbo, who said he knows Bernardino well, spoke to Busch before taking the job at UVA.
“I just wanted to get some insight, get his thoughts on things, and he had all positive things to say,” DeSorbo said. “He didn’t necessarily bring anything to my attention that I hadn’t already assumed or didn’t already know. He just confirmed a lot of things that I’d thought. It was good.”
Most of Busch’s staff followed him to Arizona, but Jason Glorius will continue as the Cavaliers’ diving coach and Lizzy Lagasse as operations assistant. DeSorbo is in the process of hiring three assistant coaches.
“I wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t think, 1, I could be really successful and, 2, that I could get a great coaching staff to go with me,” DeSorbo said.
During the interview process, DeSorbo recalled, UVA officials asked him what he would need to be successful, “and I said, `Swimming’s pretty simple. There’s a lot of small things that you can use that would help, and different tools, but my biggest thing is having a great staff and having the support to be able to go get a great staff.’
“I learned that at NC State. We had a great dynamic. We got along really well. We all enjoyed going to work every day, and that is reflected in the team, and the team sees it and builds off it and feeds off it.”
As the Wolfpack’s associate head coach, DeSorbo oversaw recruiting, training and day-to-day operations of the program. He worked primarily with NC State’s sprinters, and he will emphasize those events at UVA.
“I think you’ve got to have good relays to get into the top five [nationally] and sustain a top-five program, so the relays are crucial,” DeSorbo said. “And you have to have enough sprinters to cover those relays, so I’m definitely a sprint advocate. That’s what I’ve coached for the last 10 years, and it’s my biggest strength and what I’m most well-known for.”
However, he added, “I’m no fool. I know that Virginia is and has been historically known for [its excellence in distance events]. That’s a strength, and I fully intend to keep the integrity of that side of the program at the level it’s at, and build on it, and then try to develop the sprint side of things and bring the sprint side up to the level of the rest of the program.”
From a recruiting standpoint, the timing of the coaching change at UVA was less than ideal. The Wahoos were without a coach for much of the summer, a crucial period for recruiting.
“In one sense, we’re really far behind,” DeSorbo said, “but I’m not really that concerned or stressed about it. Because, again, I go back to this: It’s the University of Virginia.
“No current student-athletes are wanting to transfer. No incoming freshmen are asking for releases to leave. The initial reason [for recruits] to come here is the University and its academic excellence. That’s helpful. I’ve had a lot of potential prospects reach out to me as soon as I was named to say, `Hey, I’ve been waiting. I’m really interested in the University, and now that you’re the head coach I’m even more interested.’
“We’re behind, but I believe we can catch up pretty quickly.”