Triumph of the "swim geeks"
When Emory University was sifting through coaching résumés back in 1998, it wasn't surprising that it picked a member of Kenyon's athletic hall of fame.
Jon Howell '90 was an eleven-time NCAA individual event champion at Kenyon and he had served as an assistant coach under Jim Steen; he had even called the shots for a year as interim coach when Steen was on sabbatical.
Howell was also the kind of athletic department hire who looked good to the Emory faculty. A philosophy major at Kenyon, he had dabbled in politics as a staff member for a U.S. Senate candidate, then took a job in a Dupont Circle art gallery, which ultimately led him to pursue a master's degree in art history while serving as an assistant swim coach at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
In 2005, Howell's women's team at Emory dethroned the Kenyon Ladies as national champions. Emory repeated its victory in 2006 and won again in 2010 and 2011.
Asked to comment on his lofty perch in the Jim Steen family tree of coaches, Howell said he has many mentors to thank for the career he's enjoyed.
"Jim Steen is definitely a part of that, as is Tim Shutt, my English professor at Kenyon," said Howell, who attributes part of Kenyon's swimming success to the kind of people who are attracted to a small liberal arts college. "They're not professional-track students, and they're not interested in just swimming fast. They're interested in the technical aspects of swimming, in the nuts and bolts. They're swim geeks who compete for the love of the sport."