Collin McKinney wasn’t used to losing.
After capping off his senior year of high school with a gold-medal finish and national title in the 2014 USRowing Youth Nationals Men’s Pair event, becoming part of a struggling Temple rowing program was an altogether new and “frustrating” experience, he said.
“When I got here, I was kind of used to always performing very well and being coached by guys who had expectations,” said McKinney, who now rows in seat 6 of the Varsity 8 boat. “You were supposed to do this and that, and if you didn’t perform it was a problem.”
Last season, Temple’s Varsity 8 boat earned a bronze medal at the Dad Vail Regatta and earned a trip to the International Rowing Association National Championships.
“There was a group of us who were definitely pretty committed, and those guys found their way into the Varsity 8 last year,” said former Owl Evan Hammond, who graduated in the spring. “That’s how we ended up having the success we did.”
But McKinney said the team’s culture and work ethic were issues over the last two seasons, where some members of the team weren’t “putting in the work” and setting the entire team behind.
“The guys just didn’t have good attitudes, the older guys,” McKinney said. “That bad attitude of guys who wouldn’t necessarily put in the work … or they didn’t necessarily listen to what coaches were saying, it was more like a poison for the team. They were great guys, but they weren’t doing great things for the team.”
It took a trip back home to the suburbs of McKinney, Texas at the end of last season to finally get back to his old mentality. During this past offseason, McKinney didn’t practice, didn’t even touch a boat the whole summer. He needed time to reflect and restore his passion for the sport he loved.
“I would say by the end of last season, I felt pretty burnt out,” he said. “I love this sport so much, and it’s given me so much, but it made me not like the sport anymore.”
Coming back at the start of his junior year, McKinney sees an entirely different type of program.
“I’m blown away with the progress with the team just starting off the bat,” McKinney said. “At the beginning of this season, it was just a whole new thing. We hit the reset button and it’s just been tremendous ever since.”
The past few seasons have been rough for Temple’s crew team. After winning 13 straight Varsity 8 titles at the Dad Vail Regatta from 1989 to 2001, the program was dealt a tremendous blow when former coach Gavin White was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2002. White retired at the end of last season after a transitional period of “handing over the reins” to new head coach Brian Perkins starting in 2014, Perkins said.
“With Coach White leaving and Brian Perkins being kind of the pseudo-head coach for an extended period of time, there was just no real source of leadership,” Hammond said. “And guys really had trouble figuring out who to go to for certain things.”
Perkins’ promotion to head coach has brought with it a brand-new coaching style, and a change to the culture by which McKinney was once frustrated.
“The best part about it is I’m not handling all of it myself at all,” Perkins said. “We have seven highly qualified coaches who have really stepped up.”
“[Coach] Perkins is letting all the coaches coach, and every coach is giving great input to the boats they’re working with and helping,” McKinney said.
McKinney, along with Varsity 8 members Rob Byrne, David Buckley, Austin Dunn and Dante Romeo, have used this opportunity to take on larger roles as leaders of the team.
“He’s a very intense competitor,” Perkins said of McKinney. “Everything he does, he does because he wants to win. And that makes him fun to work with.”
“The big thing this year is myself and a lot of other guys, we just decided to put the foot down and we’re going to make this our team,” McKinney said.
The changes to the team’s culture have already started to pay off. At the King’s Head Regatta on Sept. 25, the men’s crew team took home four victories in the men’s club 8, men’s club 4, men’s open 4 and men’s pairs categories.
“I’m amazed at how mature the team is this year,” McKinney said. “We’re a lot more physically mature and mentally mature than we’ve ever been.”
Ben Blaustein can be reached at email@example.com.