MARION — At first glance, one might think Bobby Kelley would have an advantage not afforded many first-year coaches.
Kelley, the new head girls’ swimming coach at Linn-Mar, has worked at the collegiate and club levels for almost 20 years. He has been the facility manager at the Linn-Mar Aquatic Center since it opened in 2013. In that time, Kelley has done plenty of coaching, developing learn-to-swim programs that have become a part of the district’s curriculum.
So it would stand to reason Kelley would have a good read for the team he inherited from Chad Derlein, who resigned after last season.
According to Kelley, it’s exactly the opposite.
“Actually, one of the things I have been struggling with these first two weeks is getting to know the team,” Kelley said. “I didn’t have any role in coaching the high school team. Yes, I run the building, but during the high school swimming times was when I could actually step out of the building. That was actually my down time and I was able to leave for a while.”
Even though the job opened shortly after last season, Kelley didn’t show interest right away. He didn’t formally apply until the spring and wasn’t hired until early May.
“I waited a long time,” he said. “I just sat back. It wasn’t a case of the school coming to me. I finally decided to throw my name in the ring because I missed that interaction with kids. The (facility manager) position I have here is more of an administrative position and I haven’t had that ability to interact with students and work with them.”
Now Kelley is getting that chance, working for the first time as a high school head coach. Kelley, who qualified for the Olympic Trials and swam collegiately at Kansas, was the head coach at Coe from 1999-2007 and also coached the Cedar Rapids Aquatic Association’s club program until 2013 when he came to Linn-Mar.
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Kelley continues to be the facility administrator at the aquatic center, but said adjustments had to be made.
“That was one of the things (Linn-Mar administrators) had to look at when I applied for this job,” Kelley said. “If you are on the deck coaching, who is going to cover what you used to cover? We had to make some arrangements for the assistant director (Parker Craw) to take over the duties during meets.”
Swimming is definitely a family affair for the Kelleys. Bobby’s wife, Andrea, is a respected swimming official who works meets on all levels around the country. Son Cameron was a state champion at Cedar Rapids Washington and is getting ready to start his sophomore season at the University of Minnesota. Daughter Shannon, an 11th-place finisher last year in the 500-yard freestyle at the state meet, is a junior and one of the Lions’ top returners from last season. Youngest son Luke is a seventh-grader at Excelsior Middle School and an up-and-coming swimmer.
“You can say our family life definitely revolves around swimming,” he said with a laugh.
As for his first Linn-Mar team, Kelley likes what he has seen during early practices. The Lions have a group of about 40, but 15 of them are divers. Kelley said one of his goals is to increase the number of swimmers in future years.
“We’re relatively a small group right now,” he said. “We have a group of girls who are really committed and want to work hard and want to listen and want to learn. I’ve been very impressed.”