Texas diving coach Matt Scoggin turns Olympic experience into successful coaching career
“Make it a huge goal and focus to become resilient to learn from any shortcomings. If you can consistently and resiliently deal with defeats and always look forward to your next dive, your next workout, your next season, with total optimism knowing that if you continue to work and never give up, even if things are not looking great, you will have your glory moment.”
Texas men’s and women’s diving coach Matt Scoggin’s message to his divers this past season is not just a motivational speech put together to help get his team through challenging points in the season. It is so much more. In two sentences, he summed up his core message from his decorated collegiate career, a message he now passes on to the UT divers.
Heading into his 26th season this fall at the helm of both diving programs, Scoggin carries the same excitement and passion for the sport that he did when he first stepped on to campus as a wide-eyed 18-year-old diver from his home in Great Falls, Virginia, with Olympic dreams.
In fact, as he began the first of four seasons as a Longhorn, he couldn’t help but think how his career had come full circle. After all, it was as a 10-year-old, living just miles away from campus in Lake Travis, that he was inspired to begin diving after watching cliff jumpers at the lake. Growing up, he remembers wanting to reach the Olympics, inspired by the great swimmer, Mark Spitz. However, he did not know the sport in which he would compete if he were to reach the Olympics. So, he tried just about everything. Eventually, diving "stuck."
"Every since I was a young boy, when I saw the 1972 Olympics, I had always dreamed of competing in the Olympics one day," Scoggin said. "I was always kind of a thrill seeker when I was younger. I would try everything, and diving was it for me. It was a thrill-seeking sport, and combining that with my dream to be in the Olympics and willingness to work hard, it eventually worked out for me to be on the 1992 Olympic team."
His attachment to Texas was very much the same. From a young age, he remembers wanting to be a Longhorn.
“I remember around Christmas time one year, my parents gave me a Longhorn book, The Darrell Royal Story,” Scoggin said on The Horns Dugout. “I remember reading that, and my sister, who was 10 years older than me, was a student at Texas. So I went to football games, and I always wanted to come along. It worked out that towards the end of my high school career, UT was building this brand-new, state-of-the-art, world-class swimming and diving center, and had just won the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships for the first time in school history. [Texas] was just the perfect fit for me.”
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Scoggin quickly made his mark with one of the country's rising programs. As a junior competing in the NCAA Championships at Indiana, Scoggin won his first NCAA title, in the 1-meter springboard. The next March, in Cleveland, Ohio, Scoggin closed out his college career with yet another NCAA title in the same event, beating Florida's Scott Fosdick by just over 20 points.
He had set his sights on something much higher, though. His 1987 silver-medal performance in the 10-meter platform at the Pan American Games made his name on the international stage. But it was his final year as a competitive diver that was most memorable. That summer, he reached his goal of competing in the Olympics, reaching the finals of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.
"It was amazing," Scoggin said. "I had been diving 18 years and I was a kid in a candy shop. I was so exited. I'll never forget the opening ceremony, standing in the stock of the stadium and hearing the crowd roar as each team did that walk around the track. When 'USA' was announced, and we walked out, there were camera flashes and noise, and then they draped the Olympic flag on top of all of us, all the Olympians from all the sports. It is a feeling I'll never forget. I remember standing next to Charles Barkley and looking around and seeing Michael Jordan, and all the greatest from all the sports under that flag. It was something I'll never forget."
Once he retired at the age of 28, Scoggin wasted no time in returning to the Forty Acres. He wanted to stay involved with the sport, and what better way to do it than by coaching and learning alongside his college coach, the legendary Eddie Reese. Initially, he coached the Longhorn diving club in Great Falls, Virginia. After one more short stint with another diving club in that area, he joined the Texas staff. Before long, Scoggin was heading up both the men's and women's diving programs, each of which has achieved great success over the past 25 seasons. To put it into perspective, he has played a critical role in 10 individual NCAA diving titles on the women's side and nine on the men's side, while earning 11 Big 12 Diving Coach of the Year awards for his work with the women's team, and 14 more with the men's team.
There have been numerous meets in which one of his divers proved to be the difference between a win and a loss. In 2018, Jacob Cornish, competing at the NCAA Championships, proved to be one of these examples, a testament to the attitude and work ethic Scoggin requires from his divers.
"He was 16th in the prelims at NCAAs on the platform," Scoggin remembered. "He was very disappointed he didn't place in that top eight, but had 15 minutes to prepare for his consolation final and he dove great, and won those consolation finals, and garnered another 17 points. When you added those 17 points to the nine that he picked up on 1-meter springboard, that was 26 points. We won the national title by 11."
Another is example is Alison Gibson, who won the NCAA 1-meter springboard title with an unlikely road to the finals.
"Her freshman year, right before the zone qualifying meet, she started getting lost on her inward one-and-a-half pike, meaning she didn't know where she was in the air," Scoggin said. "The meet is about to start, so I put her on the trampoline, and have her practice, like 60 times, and she learns that inward one-and-a-half open pike, meaning she did not grab her legs, and (she) got 12th place — the last qualifying spot at NCAAs. She then goes into NCAAs prelims, makes the final by half a point, then goes into the finals and wins the NCAA title."
Each of those examples goes back to Scoggin's main principle when it comes to work ethic. It is no coincidence that he, along with Reese and women's swimming head coach Carol Capitani, have built up a program that is in the hunt for a national title every season.
"I've seen too many examples that have provided proof to me of young men and women who, if they just believe, and are willing to dream and are willing to outwork their competitors, while dealing with small setbacks, and learn from them and gain motivation from them, they can find success," Scoggin said.
In recent years, after proving himself as a dedicated and successful coach at the college level, Scoggin has gotten opportunities with Team USA, serving as the country's head diving coach at the 2014 FINA World Cup, as well as an assistant for both the 2011 and 2013 World Championships. Each time, he said he looked at it as an opportunity to learn more, to better his craft, and to ultimately improve Texas diving.
"When I'm fortunate to go on those trips, I love it and am taking everything in and noticing everything the other coaches are having their athletes do and I'm soaking it all in and constantly learning," he said. "It has positively affected me and my team to be able to push the outlook even more in the things that we learn when I travel. It is fun to go on these trips and actually see the great coaches and great world-class athletes do everything that you've seen on video, and then learning from it and implementing it with your team members. It helps when we recruit as well."
As he heads into another season filled with high expectation and possibility, Scoggin said he simply wants his divers to realize how great of an opportunity they have to be competing again.
"In this particular season, my goal is to remind our young men and women on the team to enjoy working hard, to enjoy their craft, because as we've seen this year with COVID-19, all of sudden, everything (can) shut down," he said. "We haven't had access to our swimming and diving pool since March 12. I would say the first thing is to enjoy your craft again, have great perspective to realize how fortunate you are to be on the Forty Acres. Just be resilient and go for your dreams."