NAUGATUCK — There is always talk about filling some big shoes whenever an athlete graduates or a coach retires. The Naugatuck boys swim team will have to go out and buy a new pair of shoes because there is no filling the pair worn by the coach that has walked the pool deck at Naugatuck High School the last over four decades.
Naugatuck swim coach Jim McKee recently announced he’s retiring from coaching the boys swim team after a career started in 1976.
McKee will continue his duties as the girls swim coach in the fall for his 33rd year at the helm.
“Since I’ve taken over as the A.D. at Naugatuck I always knew at some point I would need to deal with this,” said Naugatuck Athletic Director Brian Mariano, a national champion diver in 2002 under the tutelage of McKee. “Coach McKee created a culture of success over the course of his career and it’s not something you can just replace. He just had a knack for taking the average athletes who were talked into going out for the team by their friends and developing that talent to a place these kids never thought was possible.”
Mariano said McKee created such a special atmosphere and a strong team bond.
“I always held my breath hoping he wouldn’t bring it up about leaving, but this year he just felt it was time,” Mariano said. “But there is really no way you can replace a Jim McKee.”
Coach McKee leaves the boys program in a good spot. The Greyhounds finished runner-up in the NVL the last three seasons. He has developed a young core of swimmers to take on the responsibility of leading the team into the next era.
The numbers are legendary over the past 42 seasons. McKee has a 386-188 record for the boys team and a 240-119 record for the girls team, 24 NVL championships, 23 state records, nine All-Americans and 75 All-State athletes. He was named Connecticut High School Swim Coach of the Year in 1990, 1993 and 1997. Along the way came a 1992 Class L state championship. There were runner-up finishes in Class L in 1991, Class LL in 1994 and the State Open in 1993.
“I never thought it would have lasted as long as it did,” said McKee, a two-time All-American at Southern Connecticut State University and captain of the 1969 Owls. “I started helping out with my former college roommate Ed Aston (who went on to become the legendary coach at Cheshire High School). I thought, ‘I like this,’ and when the job opened up in Naugatuck I applied for it.”
Little did he know that the next Naugatuck coaching legend was born. When people talk about Naugatuck High School sports the names of some greats come to mind, Ray Legenza, Craig Peters, Ed Mariano, Art Nunes and Jim McKee.
“You go from season to season trying to get the kids to buy into what you are selling,” said McKee, who spent 33 years teaching in the Waterbury school system. “I look at coaching as making relationships. All kids are different. I’ve had some kids that didn’t want to come out in their senior year because they weren’t sure if they could take losing. No one likes to lose no matter what game you are playing. But I would talk them into coming back and we would win the next year, and you definitely learn to appreciate the things you work the hardest for.”
McKee thought he would coach long enough to coach his sons Mark (class of 1994) and Michael (class of 1996). Mark was the state champion in the 100 freestyle, and they both were on the 1994 NVL championship team.
“Mark was more of the teacher side of my personality and Michael was the warrior type,” McKee said. “After they graduated I was still having a good time and figured I would continue to do this for another couple of years, and one year leads to the next and the next and so on.”
McKee said he is going to miss the day-to-day routine the most.
“I don’t enjoy going to meets anymore in the winter,” he said. “The real work is done in practice and you pretty much know what the results of the meet are going to be.”
McKee will still spend plenty of time poolside as the pool director and head swim coach at the Farms Country Club in Wallingford. And, of course, there’s season number 33 leading the Naugatuck girls.
“I’m glad to be staying on for the girls season, it’s a bit shorter than the boys season,” McKee said. “I’ll be ready for a break by then. I’m hoping that my routine doesn’t change that much where I’m looking for something to do.”