By Melissa Anderson
Arkansas Media Relations
Jeff Poppell is in his fourth year as the head coach of the Arkansas Swimming & Diving program. He joined the Razorbacks from the Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla., where he was one of the most respected prep school coaches in the nation. His athletes at the Bolles School went on to fabulous careers at some of the best swimming programs in the country with several competing at the Olympic games for various nations.
Poppell’s success at the Bolles School has carried over to the Razorback Swimming & Diving program. Last season the Hogs had their highest finish at the SEC Championship in program history and with four All-Americans, finished 27th at the NCAA Championships, Arkansas’ best finish in 19 years.
MR: What was the biggest draw to Arkansas for you?
JP: The opportunity to coach in the Southeastern Conference, which is the top swimming and diving conference in the country and a conference that I competed in at the University of Georgia.
MR: What do you most enjoy about Razorback fans?
JP: Their strong passion for athletics here at the University of Arkansas is unlike other states where universities are located. In our state there are no professional sports teams and there are no other major universities, so throughout the entire state people are passionate about our athletic programs. In other states such as Florida, where I came from, between Florida, Florida State and Miami and other major universities as well as the other professional sports teams; there’s a split of one’s allegiance to those various entities. Here in Arkansas; it is all about the University of Arkansas so to me its that passion for this university that stands out.
MR: What is the most exciting this about your team this year?
JP: The most exciting thing about our team is the thing that scares me the most: we’re young; a lot of freshmen and sophomores. Along with that, I think we have a lot of potential but at the same time there is potential for good and the potential for bad. That is what’s kind of scary, so that’s probably the biggest thing that stands out. I think we could have a successful year but we did lose a lot last year, three All-Americans, so we’re really counting on people that either have not made large contributions up to this point or kids we have coming in that are new to step up and make a big impact this year. We need that to happen for us to be able to continue the success we’ve had.
MR: What’s your favorite element of swimming and why?
JP: The one element that stands out to me is just that in our sport it comes down to hard work. The clock doesn’t lie so to speak in our sport. Your performance and how you place is based on your time and it all comes back to the work you put in. Not just in terms of effort but focus on doing things correctly. Having good technique is going to have a large influence on you being successful and I like that about our sport. To me I have always felt like our program and everywhere I’ve coached has been based on the principle of a hard worker and being committed and nothing has changed since we’ve been here. I feel like the success we’ve had has been based off of that and again, that’s our sport and that’s one of the things I love about it.
MR: What team accomplishment outside of the pool have you been most proud of during your time here?
JP: That would definitely have to be our academic performance, for two reasons. Number one, we’ve demonstrated to be one of the best academic swimming programs in the country. Each of the last two years we’ve had the fourth highest and eighth highest GPAs in the entire country, to go along with strong success in the pool. So to look at the whole package and say hey not only do we get the job done in the classroom but we are getting it done in the pool as well jointly stands out for me. And then the other thing relative to academics is where we started from. When I came here three years ago not only was our swimming program at the bottom of the SEC and nowhere even close to being recognized nationally, our swimming and driving program had the lowest GPA on our campus. So for us to come full circle academically and not only have the highest GPA in our athletic department but one of the highest in the country is what I’m most proud of.