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Vol. LXIII, No. 30
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
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STEADY HAND: Curtis Jordan presides over a practice of the Princeton University men’s heavyweight rowing program in 2008. After being a steady presence around the Princeton boathouse for the last 30 years, Jordan recently announced that he is retiring. Jordan ends his tenure as men’s heavyweight head coach with a 131-43 mark, setting a program record for wins and winning two national titles along the way. He previously guided the Tiger women’s open crew to a national championship in 1990.

PU Crew Coach Jordan Rides Off Into Sunset, Leaving Indelible Impact on Tiger Boathouse

Bill Alden

After a stellar rowing career at Trinity College and a stint coaching the school’s lightweights in the mid-1970s, Curtis Jordan headed into the world of banking.

Returning to his native Georgia, Jordan spent three years getting a taste of the business world.

“I was a boy with a biology degree,” recalled Jordan. “I got education and edification from that job.”

But perhaps the most important lesson Jordan gained from the experience was that he couldn’t resist the pull of the water and coaching.

Jordan returned to coaching in 1979 as a part-time assistant for the Princeton University men’s rowing program.

Over the next 30 years, Jordan established himself as one of the true greats in his field. He guided the Tiger women’s open crew to the national championship in 1990 and then switched to the Princeton men’s heavyweights and led them to national crowns in 1996 and 1998 as well as a Henley Royal Regatta title in 2006.

He also made an impact on the international scene, coaching U.S. rowers at four Olympics from 1988 to 2000, helping the men’s lightweight fours to bronze in the 1996 Atlanta Games.

But after completing the 2009 spring season, Jordan concluded that it was time to step aside and conquer new challenges.

“It is really a privilege to have a job like that and I have had it for a long time,” said Jordan, 58, who ended his heavyweight tenure with a 131-43 mark, setting a program record for wins.

“Marty [assistant coach Marty Crotty] and I put as much thought and effort into the season as I have in the last 10 years but I felt that I didn’t have that little extra. It is time for me to be doing something else. I don’t want to end my life as a rowing coach; it is a good time for a fresh point of view.”

When he came to Princeton in 1979, Jordan gained a whole new view of the sport and coaching.

“It was a vortex, being around guys like Larry Gluckman” recalled Jordan, who spent the 1980-81 season at Yale before coming back to Princeton for good in 1981.

“It was an Olympic year so you had a lot of great athletes and great coaches coming through the boathouse. I figured if I couldn’t learn to be a great coach in that environment, I never would.”

Jordan started to prove that he could be a great coach when he took the helm of the Tiger women’s open program in 1983. Two years later, he guided the Tigers to the Eastern Sprints crown with a national title to come in 1990.

“It was exciting to have my own program and run it my way,” said Jordan. “I was still learning from the other coaches in the boathouse.”

In 1991, Jordan took over the men’s heavyweight program and proved he could win national titles in that arena.

“It wasn’t that much different for me,” said Jordan, reflecting on his transition to the men’s post.

“I left one group of great athletes that were champions to coach another group that wanted to be champions. I tell the guys that rowed from 1990-94 that they did the hard work in developing the program; they took the hits. They built the foundation for what the Princeton heavyweight crew did from 1996 on. I was lucky to have super athletes in 1996, 1998, and 2006.”

While Jordan relished the championship moments, some of his best coaching took place in seasons where the Tigers didn’t come up with a title.

“In the championship years, you get up on the bandstand,” said Jordan. “But it is those years where you come in fourth or fifth when you might’ve finished four of five places behind that where you earn your keep.”

A key ingredient to Jordan’s success was his exposure to international competition.

“It was like going to graduate school every summer,” said Jordan, reflecting on his time with the U.S national program.

“It was something I did every summer from 1982-2000. It should have been exhausting but it was exhilarating. I would get off the bus from the nationals and then get on the bus to go to a regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland. It allowed me to learn things and pass them on to Princeton.”

Jordan’s Princeton colleagues certainly appreciated being on the receiving end of those lessons.

Tiger women’s open head coach Lori Dauphiny, who served as a novice coach under Jordan before succeeding him as the women’s open head coach, credits him with changing the direction of her career.

“He is the one who attracted me to Princeton; I was very fortunate to work with him as a coach of the novices,” said Dauphiny, who has gone on to lead the women’s open program to an undefeated season and national title in 2006.

“I have to say he is one of the reasons I have stayed at Princeton for so many years. He’s a mentor who is willing to share his knowledge. He has perspective and is able see the boathouse as one big program. He is the glue of the boathouse. He has been successful at getting the coaches to work together and getting the athletes to work together.”

For Greg Hughes, the Tiger men’s lightweight head coach and a former freshman heavyweight coach, working with Jordan has helped him see the big picture.

“Rowing is just a small part of who he is; what sets him apart is his character as a human being,” said Hughes, who guided the Tiger men’s lightweights to an undefeated season this past spring which saw them win the Eastern Sprints, Intercollegiate Rowing Association national title and a Henley Royal Regatta crown along the way.

“Curtis is able to put competitive instinct to the side, people come first for him. His role at the boathouse goes beyond coaching his team. He is the spiritual leader; he wants to see everybody else do well. He is the kind of person who helps pick you up when you are down and when you are doing well, he is there to congratulate you.”

The spirit exemplified by Jordan has a lasting impact on the athletes who have come in contact with him at the boathouse.

“Guys who rowed for him look to Curtis as their role model when they make decisions in business, law, or whatever,” added Hughes.

“He has the maturity to make the right decision even if that might not be most beneficial for him.”

One of those rowers, Steve Coppola, will tell you that many have benefitted from Jordan’s levelheaded approach.

“He has been a great mentor to a lot of guys; so many rowers have been touched by him,” said Coppola, a 2006 Princeton alum and Olympic bronze medalist in the U.S. Men’s 8 at the 2008 Beijing Games.

“A lot of it is the way he carries himself. He is always calm but there is an intensity. It is like Teddy Roosevelt, speak softly and carry a big stick. You don’t have to yell and carry on to be influential. If you choose your words and actions carefully, you can speak volumes.”

For Jordan, being calm and inclusive comes naturally. “That is my personality,” said Jordan of his disposition, speaking in the soft Georgia twang he still possesses after all his time in New Jersey.

“I did a good job of being myself and not being someone else. I think I did a really good job of carrying on what Larry Gluckman started, the sense of one boathouse, one team, and being supportive of everyone who walks through the door, lightweight, heavyweight, man, or woman.”

It is the daily interactions with the people in the boathouse that Jordan will miss the most as he rides off into the sunset.

“I have been here long enough that I have been on both sides; being mentored and mentoring others,” said Jordan, who will remain in the area and has no set plans at the moment.

“Clearly, I will miss the relationships with the people here, the athletic department, the fellow coaches, and the athletes. One of the things I enjoy the most is the moms and dads of the rowers. We get special kids who are raised by great family units. They entrust those kids to us; it is great to be part of the family unit for a short time.”

And there can be no doubt that the Princeton rowing family won’t be the same without Jordan as its patriarch.

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