By Airwaves Writer Tyler Colvin
Editor’s note: John Mollicone is a classic example of a coach who also “practices what he preaches.” We believe strongly in the model of a coach who keeps up with professional development by actually being out in the game himself. See our old post “What Great Sailing Coaches Do.”
To any current or former college sailor, the name John Mollicone is immediately recognizable. Head coach at Brown University, J-24 champion and dedicated ambassador of the sport, Mollicone has been a fixture in college sailing for a decade and a half. Whether it’s in the classroom or on the helm, Mollicone has made his living on the water since he left school.
It was in the college sailing mecca of New England that Mollicone rose to prominence. An All-American Boston University sailor, Mollicone cut his teeth on the icy waters of the Charles River and led the team his senior year to a New England Dinghy Championship and an impressive third at Nationals. This performance landed him a job at Brown University as the head coach. (To get some perspective on coaching in college, see John Storcks article “A Life in one Day: Coaching in College“)
“I was lucky to be offered the position at Brown University as the Head Sailing Coach right out of college. I always enjoyed coaching and I really enjoyed my college sailing experience so I was lucky the position was available.” Said Mollicone. Faced with the challenge of rebuilding the program from the bottom up, Mollicone wasn’t sure at first if the shoe fit. “At first I wasn’t 100% sure. I figured I’d give it a year or two and see if things progressed at Brown and how much I liked the lifestyle and hours. After a few years of a one-year at a time approach, I decided I really loved college coaching, working at Brown, and interacting with the Brown student-athletes more than I ever imagined.”
His first year was tough. “When I started coaching at Brown in 1999 we were in a rebuilding stage from the depth of the team to moving to a new home site. It was a challenge to get the program competitive again by increasing the amount of sailors on the team and the depth of talent.” Pulling together and gaining financial support to supplement the talent, the Brown team quickly climbed the college sailing rankings to the top spot in both Women’s and Coed.
In addition to the ability to work with some of the top student-athletes in the country, Mollicone also enjoys the flexible nature of coaching. He is a self-described “part-time professional sailor” and routinely dominates local J-24 racing. No weekend warrior, Mollicone has won numerous World, North American and National J-24 Championships. In 2011 he was a member of the silver medal US Olympic team at the Pan-American games in the J-24 and was a US Sailing Rolex Yachtsman of the Year nominee in 2012. He has recently forayed into the world of J-70s, winning Midwinters in 2013 and 2014, North Americans in 2014 and a third at Worlds in 2014.
During the college sailing season (Sept 1-mid November and mid February-early June), Mollicone is swamped, “During the college sailing season…there are not enough hours in the day, it’s certainly not a 9 to 5 job.” A program the magnitude of Brown’s requires constant attention. “Mornings and early afternoons during the week are consumed with meetings, recruiting, phone calls, emails, regatta planning, practice planning, and boat work.” He excels in this three-ring circus and has lead Brown to 48 National Championship appearances 21 top 5 National Championships, 12 New England Championships and six Atlantic Coast Championships. Student-athlete development has also been strong, producing 54 All-Americans, 17 Academic All-Americans and 87 All-New England Sailors.
Dedication and hard work drive the Brown University team with Mollicone at the helm. His position with the team was a combination of luck and ability, “I was very lucky to get a college head coaching position right out of college. I had a successful last year of college sailing, was from Rhode Island, and the Brown job was probably not to appealing to anyone with lots of experience since it was more of a club team on a tight budget.”
He is quick to point out the difficulties of getting into the college coaching game, “Nowadays, becoming a head coach of a good program takes some experience and there are many great opportunities available to become an assistant coach at a strong program or a head coach of a smaller program if you are younger or need some much needed experience.” Mollicone admits that modern coaching requires a wide variety of skills, “The sailing and coaching background are only a small part of the job description. You have to be able to fund-raise, budget, recruit, and be a really good organizer and administrator.”
Whether it was his experience in the biting New England winters, or a trial by fire approach to his first (and only) college coaching position, John Mollicone has a multitude of successes. Mollicone’s biggest piece of advice for an up and coming or aspiring coach? “Be ready to put a lot of hours in if you want to be successful!”
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By Airwaves Writer Tyler Colvin