While the majority of athletic programs kept their coaching staffs intact, a couple of programs, football and swimming and diving in particular, brought in fresh faces during the off-season. Justin Fuente, Keegan Walkley and Stephen Jensen have come from programs big and small with stories as different as the two sports they represent to contribute to their respective programs this year and beyond.
Perhaps one of the most notable cogs to step away from last year’s 11-2 Horned Frogs’ football team this past off-season was quarterbacks coach Dick Winder, who retired last spring after spending 41 years in coaching, five of which as a Frog. Looking to fill the position quickly, offensive coordinator Mike Schulz shifted from running backs coach to Winder’s old post, and the team soon hired Fuente in February to be the new running backs coach.
Fuente, a disciple of Winder when he was a quarterback at Oklahoma from 1996-97, comes to Fort Worth after spending six seasons as the offensive coordinator at Illinois State – coaching an offensive unit that ranked as one of the best in Division I-AA.
After an afternoon practice had concluded on a sweltering August day, the Tulsa, Okla. native said he appreciated the kind words put in on his behalf from Winder and Schulz to help him land the position, and said he was “fired up” to learn he was returning to the Southwest region.
“I’m not a native Texan, but I am from Oklahoma and know a bunch of people down in this area and am familiar with Dallas/Fort Worth, and even more familiar with TCU football,” Fuente said. “When Coach Patterson offered me the job, I jumped at it. I was really excited.”
Patterson lauded Fuente’s coaching experience at a young age as an important tool to use during the recruiting process with potential recruits. He also said that Fuente has fit into the program nicely since his arrival.
“(Fuente) doesn’t have a different philosophy from what we do, so nothing has changed,” Patterson said. “Everything since he’s been here has run smoothly.”
From the gridiron to the pool, swimming and diving head coach Richard Sybesma added two staff members in Walkley and Jensen, who have enjoyed individual successes, while facing out-of-the-pool adversity during their time at their former institutions.
Walkley was hired as an assistant coach after spending two seasons as an assistant coach at the University of New Orleans. She brings a national championship pedigree to the squad, having been a part of a University of Georgia program that won three national championships during her four years. During this time, she also earned an individual national championship in the 200-backstroke during the 1999 campaign.
Of course, being in New Orleans during the past two years means that Walkley witnessed the rebuilding of the city post-Hurricane Katrina – a sight Walkley said is depicted as “a one-sided story” on TV.
“You see what’s going on (on) TV, but you don’t see the actual rebuilding process,” Walkley said. “You see all the bad things … It was a very interesting experience and it makes you realize what’s important in life.”
Having the opportunity to work with both men and women was what drew the Atlanta native to the job. She hopes to use this opportunity to hopefully gain a head coaching position somewhere down the line. Sybesma said her accolades and credibility will only benefit the program.
“She’s going to be able to use that experience to help our kids, whether they be kids who are knocking on the door of the NCAA Championships or the kids who are just entering our program or kids that are just trying to make the team,” Sybesma said. “She’s going to help them with a wealth of knowledge in lots of different areas.”
In addition to Walkley, Jensen will look to make his mark as a graduate assistant starting this season. Jensen beat out, what Sybesma called “a ton of applicants,” after wrapping up a career at Virginia Tech as an individual medley and backstroke specialist.
Like Walkley, Jensen faced rough times during the end of his stay at Virginia Tech with last April’s campus shootings. Although he did not know anyone immediately involved in the tragedy, he said the Blacksburg, Va. campus will move on.
“It was a big blow to my school, but in a lot of ways, it brought the community together, and they’re going to move forward from it,” Jensen said.
Jensen said he hopes he can add his experience as an accomplished collegiate swimmer to the program’s reputation.
“This was a great opportunity for me,” Jensen said. “TCU has a rich history in swimming and for me to be a part of that is something really special for me and my family.