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A deeper dive into Michael Phelps the coach

Sometimes great athletes don't make great coaches. Here's why Michael Phelps might just become a decent one.

Michael Phelps is enjoying life as an Arizonan so much that he plans to remain at Arizona State as an assistant coach after next summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, according to a recent story in the Arizona Republic.

The news isn’t surprising considering Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, is committed to running the university’s swim program long-term. It would be hard to find a closer coach-athlete relationship in all of sports than Phelps-Bowman. But Phelps also talked about how much he’s enjoying the college atmosphere and the weather, which allows him to train outside after decades of practicing inside in Baltimore and Michigan.

It will be interesting to see if Phelps makes a more lasting commitment to coaching.

Anyone who has interviewed him regularly knows he’s, at heart, a swimming wonk, comfortable speaking a quasi-foreign language comprised of split times and stroke tweaks. Bowman has said he often consults with Phelps about major swimming-related decisions because Phelps is a genius when it comes to the dynamics of competitive racing.

Phelps has also embraced his role as an elder statesman for the entire U.S. national team, offering occasionally biting comments when his countrymen don’t swim up to expectations.

That tough-love approach is reminiscent of Phelps’ boyhood idol, Michael Jordan, who had difficulty accepting any teammate who didn’t meet his competitive standards. But it raises an interesting question about Phelps the coach: Would he struggle to recalibrate his expectations to fit college swimmers? It’s an adjustment great athletes in many sports have struggled to make.

Phelps certainly sounded game in his comments to The Republic.

“Sometimes high school- and college-aged kids are able to relate to me more than they’ll relate to Bob or vice versa,” he said. “So being able to fit together into one equation, it's going to be cool to watch the team grow even more.”

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