GETTYSBURG, Pa. – After three-plus decades of patrolling the pool deck, one of the most successful coaches in the history of Gettysburg College and the Centennial Conference has punched his stop-watch for the final time as Mike Rawleigh announced his retirement as head coach of the men's and women's swimming programs on Tuesday, March 5.
Rawleigh leaves Gettysburg after 34 years on the pool deck. He ranks as the third-longest tenured coach at the College, trailing only former football coach Barry Streeter (39 years) and former baseball coach Ira Plank (37 years).
"It just felt like the right time," said Rawleigh. "I've done what I've done and I've enjoyed it. I came to Gettysburg and I stayed at Gettysburg because it was a situation that really suited me. I believe strongly in the liberal arts education and I wanted to be in an environment like that."
"Mike has been a tremendous influence on all the student-athletes he's coached," said Executive Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Campus Recreation, Mike Mattia. "He will be leaving both swim programs in phenomenal shape, which is a testament to his dedication, hard work, and coaching ability to be as successful as he has for all these years."
Rawleigh leaves as one of the most decorated coaches ever at Gettysburg. He won a total of 42 conference titles in his 34 years at the helm with 13 coming in the Middle Atlantic Conference and 29 as a member of the Centennial Conference. From his debut season at the helm in 1985-86 to 1999-00, Rawleigh led the Gettysburg women to a record 15-straight conference titles. The dominance extended to the men's program as well with 10-straight crowns from 1989-90 to 1998-99. Rawleigh's combined conference titles account for 25 percent of all the championships earned by the institution as a member of the MAC and CC over the last 90 years.
The national stage has been inundated with Orange and Blue since Rawleigh took the helm. Gettysburg has sent representatives to the NCAA Division III Championship more than 20 times under his guidance. The women's team produced four consecutive top-10 finishes from 1988-89 to 1991-92, finishing as high as eighth twice, while the men's team secured a program-best 12th-place showing in both 1998 and 2015.
"It appealed to me to coach people in college that were doing it because they wanted to do it," said Rawleigh. "The relationship between a coach and an athlete here is different than at a Division I. Here, we had to develop a give-and-take relationship and learn how to co-exist. That's much more natural."
Future coaches will be hard-pressed to match Rawleigh's record in dual competitions. He won a combined 548 meets between the two programs, with 300 coming with the women and 248 coming from the men. In conference play, the Bullets won more than 90 percent of their duals between the MAC and CC. The women's team did not lose to a conference foe in dual competition from 1987-88 to 2000-01 and posted 11 undefeated dual season overall. The men have gone undefeated in dual competition eight times with the most recent coming in 2016-17.
"I kept it really simple," recalled the coach. "A lot of swimmers can probably quote this, but I'd say to the team 'This is college sports and they're keeping score. Somebody's going to have to win this, so it might as well be us.'"
Individually, Gettysburg swimmers have racked up a total of 118 All-America citations. Eighty-three of those awards have come from the women's program, including a pair of national titles by Lynne Cassidy '92 in the 500-yard freestyle in 1990 and 1991. Cassidy set the NCAA record in the event in 1991 at 4:55.85, which remains the program standard 28 years later. Every current program record achieved by the Bullets has been achieved on Rawleigh's watch.
Over the last 34 years, the Bullets have accumulated 334 conference titles in individual and relay events. The men have totaled eight Centennial Conference Most Outstanding Performer awards, while the women have claimed four such honors.
For Rawleigh, a student's desire to come to Gettysburg was much more than just swimming. He gave free range to his athletes to look for opportunities away from the pool. As a result, the swim programs have maintained a high rate of retention.
"I wanted them to have a full college experience," stated Rawleigh. "It wasn't always best for their swimming career, but I wasn't going to deny them the opportunities the college had to offer if they wanted to explore them."
Always the first to put the efforts of his swimmers ahead of his own impact, Rawleigh has nonetheless been recognized by his peers for his outstanding contributions. He has been named CC Men's Coach of the Year five times (2011-12, 2012-13, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2017-18) and CC Women's Coach of the Year in 2010-11. Rawleigh, a native of High Point, N.C., has been recognized by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) and the South Central chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame for outstanding coaching achievements while at Gettysburg. In 1995, the CSCAA presented Rawleigh with its Master Coach Award.
"He treated every single person that came through the program fairly and he had your back no matter what," said current Assistant Coach Zach Moser '16, who swam on four conference championship teams before joining the staff in the fall after his graduation. "He's the best coach I ever had."
Throughout his long tenure at Gettysburg, Rawleigh has coached alongside his wife, Cami, who is also the Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Wilson College. The two are responsible for steering the Bullets to incredible heights and those contributions are often cited by returning alumni. The Rawleighs have coached 13 of the 23 swimmers inducted into the Gettysburg College Hall of Athletic Honor.
"She's an incredible deck coach and still is," said Rawleigh. "She related very well to the swimmers and she was a much better communicator than me. Everybody says they loved Cami."
Rawleigh leaves with both programs in strong positions to move back up the ladder. Both teams featured a young core of swimmers with the men establishing two program records and finishing runner-up at the CC Championship and the women smashing six school records and taking third at conferences. More than half of both teams featured sophomores and freshmen.
Rawleigh's trademark jeans, buttoned shirt, and smirk will be hard to replace, but Mattia expects a strong pool of candidates to apply for the position and maintain Gettysburg's successful legacy.
"Mike will surely be missed," said Mattia. "We'll be doing a national search and because of the legacy of both swim programs, we're sure to attract some excellent candidates."