UNLV swimming coach Jim Reitz hasn’t taken attendance at practice in 20 years. He trusts that the young men and women under his tutelage are self-driven enough to want to get faster in the pool, but hopes they’re also self-disciplined enough to know when they need to back off.
“Kids stay up till 2 studying, come to a 6 a.m. practice, which we have three days a week, and then five days later they’re sick, so they should have taken it off,” he says. “The problem isn’t getting in shape; the problem is keeping from getting hurt.”
After 33 years coaching UNLV’s swimmers, perhaps Reitz will start following his own advice. After returning to Las Vegas from the NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships in late March, Reitz, 62, checked into the hospital the next day with double pneumonia and a partially collapsed lung. It was the first Sunday he had taken off since September.
“I just got beat up and run down,” he says. “I’ve gotta know when to walk out the door.”
Reitz’s commitment to his work has been reflected by his swimmers’ success. This season, he was named Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Men’s Coach of the Year (the 14th time he has been named his conference’s top coach) after leading that Rebel squad to its eighth conference title in nine years, a top-25 ranking and a top-30 finish at the NCAA meet, adding to an impressive list of accomplishments.
Reitz has developed numerous swimmers at UNLV who have become All-Americans or Olympians. He has never traveled outside North America, but his roster this year featured athletes from Brazil, France, Hungary, Italy, Russia and Sweden. Reitz spends much of his time scouring recruiting websites and checking results from swim meets around the world, looking for swimmers with a long stroke and a good kick, although the Internet has made it tougher for him to find untapped talent. “Social media has opened the entire world up to recruiting that I had an edge on 10 years ago,” he says.
When Reitz took over at UNLV in the fall of 1980, there was no men’s team (he restarted it in 1981), and the women’s squad had just seven swimmers. This past season, there were 22 men and 23 women on UNLV’s roster. NCAA rules allow men’s swimming programs 9.9 full scholarships and women’s teams 14 full scholarships, and Reitz’s operating budget was about $15,000 per program last year—the smallest per-capita budget of any UNLV athletic program—so he has had to be especially prudent in evaluating talent. “When I got here, we didn’t have enough money, literally, to buy suits,” he says.
Despite the financial constraints he faces, Reitz has never sent out a résumé for another job during his decades at UNLV.
“It’s a very real problem for coaches of nonrevenue sports to end up bitter, especially in my sport, if you look around the country,” he says. “It’s easy to get bitter worrying about what we don’t have, so you just try to guard against that and be thankful for what we have.”