Pablo Morales

Head coach of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's swimming and diving team Pablo Morales poses for a portrait inside the Bob Devaney Sports Center Natatorium on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

When a program is created, the first manner of action is to find a head coach who knows how to win, will be loyal to the program and will create a winning environment. Those are characteristics of Nebraska’s swim and dive head coach Pablo Morales.

He gained those characteristics from his background in swimming and 19 seasons at Nebraska as a coach. This allowed him to build a winning culture.

His interest in swimming wasn’t a choice. When his parents were young, both had near-drowning experiences. With that memory, his parents made sure Morales and his siblings were able to swim safely. 

“With my sister being older than me by a couple of years she had been swimming and so that transitioned me to start [on the] summer rec team, which then led me to start club swimming at the Santa Clara Swim Club,” Morales said.

At a young age, Morales was swimming and getting more involved with the sport. In California, where he grew up, the climate and water-sport culture helped his interest as, there was a lot of other people doing the same thing as him. 

When training as a new swimmer it starts out with learning how to survive in the water and then gets more serious as the swimmer progresses. This means, as a swimmer advances, they need to find a reason to push harder every time fatigue sets in. 

Morales’ love for swimming grew through the feeling he got when his hard work paid off. 

“That feeling, the sense of confidence that you get when you win … also the honesty of the sport, in most cases between the commitment level and the success that you have, it reveals a lot about yourself,” Morales said.

That confidence only grew as he started to advance. Morales went on to swim at Stanford University where he was given the Al Masters Award in 1987, which is Stanford’s highest award for athletic performance, leadership and academic performance. Morales also is the all-time leading scorer at the NCAA Championships, with 235 points.  

During his time at Stanford, Morales was a part of the 1984 Olympic team where he won two silver medals, one in the 100-meter butterfly and the other in the 200-meter individual medley, along with a gold medal in the medley relay. 

In the years after his Olympic success, he still trained, but ended up not making the 1988 Olympic team, which led him to take three years off of swimming, and he went to Cornell University to earn his law degree. 

Morales could not stay away from the sport for too long, as he came back to train a year before the 1992 Olympic games. Morales went on to win a gold medal at the Olympics in the 100-meter butterfly. 

Junior swimmer Autumn Haebig is very impressed by Morales’ accomplishments and appreciates the ways he brings his experience into coaching.

“He is an Olympian and has worked with so many great swimmers in his career, but is just so humble he doesn’t show off his medals or anything,” Haebig said. “ … He just knows what to tell us because he has been there before.”

Morales started as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Stanford, which then led him to become the coach for the school’s masters swim program. His years as a swimmer gave him experience and a plethora of knowledge about the sport. 

This experience gave him his first chance as a collegiate head coach at San Jose State University, where he became the woman's head coach in 1998. From San Jose State he saw what Nebraska was building.

“I wasn’t looking to leave San Jose State when I interviewed here at Nebraska, with my wife being from here it was an opportunity that we looked into,” Morales said. “ … My final decision was actually made because during a masters swimming competition 20 years back there was a team that was all in red and just showed such loyalty to the school.” 

He saw that as a sign that he should become Nebraska’s head coach. After 19 years at Nebraska, Lincoln has become his new home.

Since becoming the head coach for the women’s swim and dive team at Nebraska, the team has had four top-40 finishes at the NCAA Championships. Also, in the past seven seasons under Morales, Husker swimmers have broken 19 school records. His swimmers have not only made a splash in the water as in the past nine years, 80 percent of his swimmers have made Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll.

While the athletes he coaches are great, what keeps him around after his many years of coaching is the environment and culture around the program.

“Everything that I had heard about Nebraska was born out during that process, I knew it was a special place for student athletes … state-wide the passion that I saw the University of Nebraska have was something so special.”

sports@dailynebraskan.com