On the eve of his first big race with Harvard last week, Penn's new crew coach, Ted Nash, 36, could not sleep. This was entirely natural and due only to what might be called Parker's complaint, a form of insomnia brought on by brooding over the record of Harry Parker, the Harvard coach. Since 1963 Parker's heavyweight eights had been defeated only once. (That upset was concocted last year by Nash's predecessor at Penn, Joe Burk.) Nash walked from his Cambridge motel down to the banks of the Charles, where the 2,000-meter Adams Cup would be contested by Penn, Harvard and Navy, and gazed for a long time at the river's murky waters. No doubt Burk had done the same more than once.
It is possible that Nash was chosen to succeed Burk at Penn on the theory that no one man could follow him—and Nash, in his time, had been five: a budding anthropologist, a soldier, a flying instructor, a scuba diver and an Olympic gold medal oarsman. Most recently he was the Penn freshman coach.
It was in last year's Adams Cup that Penn slipped past the Crimson, which up to that point had scored 34 straight collegiate victories. Burk was a giant of rowing before Parker grew to his present size. He established the foundation that put Penn within grasping distance of Harvard's trophy case. Burk was also a gentleman. Last year he retired to Tucson and is busy building a summer house in Montana, which is about as far away from crew as one can get. Now he bands birds and swims in streams that will never hear a coxswain's bark.
Nash has a gung-ho haircut, marksman's eyes and a rangy build that does not vary by more than an ounce or so from week to week; work and worry have long since fined him down to an irreducible minimum. He is a man who takes such aids as tape recorders to practice so as to lose no smallest clue to improvement. One rival coach has said, not unkindly, "I think Ted takes the whole thing too seriously."
May 10, 1970
Nash has had the temerity to break with Bulk's pattern of training. Burk had used a point system under which individual oarsmen were graded in practice and the highest scorers were assigned to the races. Nash, in contrast, does a lot of work with pairs during practice to find people who pull well together, and it is with pairs, not individuals, that he composes his varsity shell. For example, one of the two new men in the Penn shell, Luther Jones III of Black-foot, Idaho, and Canadian Rick Crooker rowed together as freshmen and they combined so well they were put in the varsity boat.
Nash made his selections early; the crew rowed practically without change for much of this spring and became a unit of considerable strength, beating, among others, a good Princeton boat. Another of Nash's innovations was to take movies of a Harvard-Princeton race on the Charles. Obviously rowing is a long way behind football in the visual-aid game.
Nash also has altered Perm's racing style. Under Burk, Penn rowed what is called a paced race. In other words, the start, the middle and the end of the race were rowed at carefully measured rates, and this was considered an unconventional system. Nash has the Quakers rowing in a more traditional way, with a quick start, a powerful middle and a conventional finishing sprint. In addition, he has changed the method of rowing by having his men stroke with a one-piece drive through the water followed by a hard catch. "Sort of like Harvard," as Nash puts it.
Nash is something of a martinet. His practice "paddles" are like military drills. Most coaches shout instructions through megaphones; Nash's natural bullhorn voice needs no amplification. And there is no "if you please" or "mind your bladework" cordiality about his manner. Put him on Parris Island and he would be an instant D.I. A Penn man who has watched crews practice for years was asked if Nash's methods worked. "Oh my God, yes," he said in admiration.
Nash, by the way, was once coached by Parker. That was while he was training as one of the oarsmen in a four without cox for the 1964 Olympics. "I came here [to Cambridge] and lived in Harry's boathouse and trained under him for a while," Nash recalled.
In 1957 Nash married Aldina Rodrigs. Aldina rows, too. Not only rows but coaches the wives of the four married Penn crewmen and the girl friends of the rest. For relaxation the Penn people get together by rowing mixed races—husband and wife vs. husband and wife.
If Nash is hard-nosed and predictable, Harry Parker is an enigma. In his quiet way he motors up and down the Charles behind his crews, never shouting, doing everything slowly, deliberately. He shows emotion only under extreme provocation, as in 1968 when Harvard narrowly defeated Penn to win an Olympic berth, and Parker could not keep back a look of jubilation. There had been some concern over the fact that Parker had to find replacements this year for four graduating crewmen, but only a little. Harvard's replacements are like anyone else's superstars. At an ounce or two over 200 pounds the average weight of Harvard's boat was the heaviest in its history. At stroke, for example, was 200-pound Steve Brooks, new in the position but a man of Olympic experience at Mexico City.
Was Parker nervous about the closing sprint Nash had developed? Apparently not. "As far as that goes," he said, "I hope we'll be far enough ahead so we won't have to sprint ourselves."
Nash was cautiously optimistic. "There's no way for either coach to say yes, we're going to win, but today we're almost as experienced as Harvard."
Neither Parker nor Nash was happy about an eleventh-hour postponement of the race from Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning due to rough water. The Penn crew was up at 6 for a breakfast of toast and honey, and Harvard equally early, to greet a cool, overcast dawn with little wind. Paddling from the boathouse to the starting line a few miles downriver, the crimson jerseys of Harvard were a tableau of confidence. Navy was not likely to pose a threat unless something extraordinary happened to Harvard and Penn.
In the Penn shell the oarsmen mentally reviewed what they had seen in the scouting films; they knew they had better jump off to a very quick start. The Quakers truly believed in their sprinting abilities; they were convinced that the final section of the race would take care of itself. It was the middle that would turn the tide.
"We felt we could do the job," Coxswain Bob Tansik said afterward.
Penn slid off to a picture of a start, hitting a high beat of between 46 and 47. It was sufficient for an opening lead of a seat or two. Along the bank Harvard supporters jogged or rode bicycles, yelling encouragement to the Crimson as they went. Farther up the river it was still too early for the bongo players, kite flyers and pot puffers who had covered the banks like a squirming blanket the previous day.
Penn kept the pressure on. The click, click, click of the cox's beat was echoed by the slap, slap, slap of blades skimming the light chop. Going under the Harvard Bridge, Penn still led, and now was deep into the crucial midsection of the race. Harvard began to press. Penn persisted. Then came the decisive sprint. Up soared the beat. Stroke for stroke Harvard and Penn matched each other, with a surprisingly strong Navy refusing to concede an inch despite lying third. As the three shells shot toward the finish the Quakers poured it on, pulling a length ahead of the Crimson and a little more. On the shore Harvard spectators looked stunned and followers of Penn equally so at the margin of victory. Someone said, "This one was for Burk."
Be that as it may, Ted Nash was the architect of victory. "I've never been so proud of a crew in my life," he said.
Ahead this week lay the Eastern Sprints on the slash of water at Worcester, Mass. called Lake Quinsigamond. That is where the Crimson evened the score in 1969. "We're going to have to go two lengths faster next time to beat Harvard," Nash said. Don't bet the Quakers won't.