Ted’s Book: Excerpt from Chapter 3, ‘Ted the Tactician’ – Rowing Stories, Reports and Interviews

The Book of Ted is a fascinating compilation of inspiring, candid, and often humorous anecdotes from dozens of men and women who were coached or touched by legendary Olympic medal-winning rower and University of Pennsylvania and Olympic rowing coach Ted A. Nash. (1932-2021). ). This full-color coffee table book features rarely seen career photographs and plans, letters, and speeches throughout the decades. The Book of Ted is by Sean Colgan, who was coached by Nash for fourteen years through Penn and eight national teams and Olympics. “Ted was never ‘just a coach’; he was a men’s coach,” says Colgan.

To many, Nash was legendary for his strength, strategy, and ferocity, but he was also a father figure, team player, and champion of the underdog; The Book of Ted explores all of these qualities – this excerpt is from Chapter 3: “Ted the Tactician.”

Bob Espeseth – ’84 Olympics

We won the 4-1986 World Championship in Nottingham due to a long list of at least twenty circumstances that came together. First let me say that if the West Germans (the defending world champions whom we beat by six inches) had known how fast we were, they would have beaten us. They were the best crew. We were lucky to have them in the tie and in the semi-final. All we wanted to do was move on. We led the first 1000 meters, but then we let them pass us by.

This is where Ted stepped in. During the meetings, the five of us had a say and agreed on each race plan, so in the end we knew what we were doing with each stroke of the race. Rather than dictate or try to force things, Ted listened and worked to create a career plan that everyone had a say in determining. It was an interesting process and kept us fully engaged.

The biggest handicap we had in 1986 is that we hadn’t raced internationally together. The biggest advantage we had as a boat is that we hadn’t competed internationally together (so no one really knew what we could do).

If the Germans had known that we could last longer (and not “fade” in 1000 seconds), then they would have adjusted things and beat us. Each one of them was bigger than any of us. But, like in poker, we don’t show them our cards until the end.

Stuart Thorn – Pennsylvania ’78

It was Ted’s tradition the day after the annual Madeira Cup with Cornell in Ithaca for the team to run arenas. The Schoellkopf Stadium had a curve at the top, so the longest set of steps was in the middle. Which is exactly where he put the varsity team. The JV, third varsity, freshman, and sophomore crews were arrayed on either side. Everyone had to run at the same pace, so the varsity team had a lot more steps to cover in the same interval. For the entire team, but especially the varsity team, it was a killer workout. This was less than a week before the national championships and our biggest race of the year, and right after we had just had a full race. Here there is no truce.

Carter Harrison – Pennsylvania ’79

Ted was known for his accuracy beyond what could be calculated by mortal estimation. I remember hearing him guide the helmsmen when his launch was alongside our boat, a position from which it can be difficult to judge the course of a shell. Ted would give the helmsmen precise steering directions, often half a degree.

About fifteen years ago, my son Benjamin was training for the national team. He emailed me a video of part of a practice, and his only instructions were to make sure he had the volume turned up. I clicked on the video. He was paddling in a straight par. Above the hum of the launch’s engine, I heard a familiar voice call, “Harrison.” They immediately took me back to the Schuylkill. I felt like Ted was about to give me some instruction and I wondered if he was bringing me down at the end. I sat up straight in my desk chair. Ted then continued with his instructions to Benjamin: “Turn one and a half degrees to port.”

Among the many, many stories my kids heard from me as they grew up, a great number were rowing days with Ted. When I responded to Benjamin’s email to let him know I appreciated the video and hearing Ted’s voice, he replied, “I thought maybe you were exaggerating about him, but he’s just like you said.”

Steve Christiansen – Pennsylvania ’79

It was 1979, our last year. Our college results hadn’t been good: we beat Princeton to start and then lost every race thereafter. Our last race against Cornell offered a chance to end the season with a win. As captain, I was assigned the bunk next to Ted’s in the sports dormitory, a single room with twenty bunks. I had never fully focused on how frantic Ted was with his yellow pads, pens, and constant tinkering. He had big, twisted handwriting, and his notes were so direct and serious that when you took one, it was something to treasure. The big man had taken time to think about you.

Ted sat on his bunk taking notes all night. He even had a headlamp that he turned on to write something else. If he slept at all, he must have taken a nap, but I never saw him. The next day we won by about a foot, and of course we ran the stadium steps afterwards, in great Penn tradition. I have never met anyone since with Ted’s energy and enthusiasm.

Curt Kaufmann – Pennsylvania ’72

I was one of the few who rowed for Ted all four years at Penn, as our first year coincided with Ted’s last year as freshman coach. Ted’s real genius at Penn was his recruiting skills. The man could sell the proverbial refrigerator to an Eskimo. I went to a Catholic high school just outside of the Detroit city limits. No one had ever gone to Penn, or any other Ivy League school; As far as I know, no one had gone to school on the East Coast.

One day our admissions director showed me a letter from Ted. To this day I don’t know how he found my school: this was long before computers and databases. The letter asked if AD had suitable candidates to send Penn out rowing. Our high school did not have a rowing program. I had never even heard of rowing.

The AD asked me if I was interested, and I was, to say the least. The summer of ’67 had seen not-so-peaceful protests in Detroit, as well as several other cities across the country. I could hear shots from my house. We were in blackout conditions at night and were directed to stay away from windows. Before the opportunity to go to Penn presented itself, I was planning to travel to the University of Detroit.

I did a campus tour and Ted was still interested. My grades weren’t that great and I wasn’t an all-state athlete. Ted must have had some attraction with the admissions department and he saw something he liked in me.

My recruiting story is not unique. Penn’s team was pretty successful before Ted came on the scene, but once he was in charge of recruiting, he skyrocketed. Four of the nine people on our 1972 IRA champion boat hadn’t rowed in high school. We used to call ourselves “instant rowers” – all you had to do was add water and Ted.

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