When Canada's women's water polo team fell just short of qualifying for this year's games in London, it marked the second consecutive failure to qualify for the Olympics for head coach Pat Oaten.
So, the fact that, today, Canada has a new Head Coach for its women's national team might be seen as Oaten being shown the door. Cause and effect, right? Nope.
Four years ago, Water Polo Canada (WPC) and Own The Podium (OTP) got together to plan for the future of Canadian women's water polo on the international scene.
"The plan that was on the table for the last four years was to transition the women's head coach (Oaten) after the London Olympics into the role of High Performance Director for the entire country," said Ahmed El Awadi, WPC's Executive Director. "When the team didn't qualify, we decided to move up our timetable and go through the hiring process over the summer."
And Canada took a radical step by going outside the country for the first time ever on the women's side naming ex-American national team head coach Guy Baker of California.
"The job was open to everyone and we received applications from within Canada as well as from Europe and Australia," continued El Awadi. "At the end of the day, Guy's experience, his ability to understand and adapt to the specifics of Canada's water polo structure along with his knowledge of our team as an opposing coach elevated him to the top. It didn't hurt that he also has the longest, most consistent winning record in international women's water polo. We have won medals internationally, but we couldn't sustain the podium finishes after the '05 Worlds (bronze) and '09 Worlds (silver)."
Baker's resume is indeed impressive. There have been three Olympic Games with women's water polo ('00, '04, '08) and the Baker-led USA won two silvers and a bronze. In addition, the USA also won gold medals at the '03 and '07 World Championships. In 2008, after 10 years at the helm, Baker moved up to a position in U.S. water polo similar to Oaten's newly created one. He is a recipient of the United States Olympic Committee Coach of the Year Award and is a 6-time winner of Coach of the Year honours from the American Water Polo College Coaches Association.
With the USA still looking for its first Olympic gold medal, it begs the question of why choose Canada?
"Timing is everything," mused Baker from his home in L.A. "This opportunity came up and I viewed it is an exciting challenge. It was the right fit at the right time in the right place. I will actually be closer to my oldest daughter, Samantha, who lives and works in Washington, D.C. I will still get to see my youngest daughter, Christin, play for Berkeley while I am scouting the performances of the Canadian players in the NCAA."
With a coaching change, usually programming and personnel changes follow. Baker doesn't see it that way: "It isn't so much about change. I view myself as having a wealth of international experience coming from a team (USA) that started off in a similar position – a team not accomplishing its top goal which would be consistent medal performances at all international competitions. I hope to be able to merge two great programs with great traditions and take the best from both to make a better team."
There are big changes for Baker too – a new country, a new city to live in (Montreal), new funding structures and a new staff to work with and evaluate.
Baker will arrive in Montreal tomorrow to officially embark on his duties before going to London to scout the Olympics. Then he returns to Montreal to watch the Junior Pan Am Games. Then it's back to California to pack up and move full time to Montreal the first week of September.
Interestingly, Baker's youngest daughter will be on the U.S. Junior team playing in Montreal. Potentially, Baker might have to coach against his daughter to get Canada into the Rio Olympics in 2016. Does he see that as a problem?
"If it's a choice between winning and losing, I will always choose winning," Baker stated firmly. "I guess that sounds like water (no pun intended) being thicker than blood. And, in sports, it can be. My daughter has goals and, if she is on the U.S. team, then she will have reached one of them and I will be very happy for her. But she and the rest of the family have to understand that I have goals too." Then he chuckled and added, "We'll have to see how that all plays out."
With a winning attitude like that, Canada's future in international women's water polo looks to be very bright even though the program will be on the sidelines during London.