With the wealth of swimming and diving talent that resides in the Sunshine State, 2004 Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year Neil Harper is always looking for more ways to bring that talent to Tallahassee. Harper has one more advantage on his side as he has completed his coaching staff with one of the state's best club coaches.
Prattville, Ala., native James Barber will join the Seminole coaching staff this year after an extensive career that has seen him succeed at every level. The 31-year-old Barber most recently served as head coach of Club Makos in Gulf Breeze, Fla., a post he has held since the fall of 1998.
"It's a great opportunity," Barber said. "Neil has put Florida State swimming in a position where they are the biggest, fastest and meanest fox in the woods that is chasing the rabbit. It's exciting to come in and work for someone who has his eyes set on the top and Neil is not the kind of person to settle for anything else from his athletes and coaches. It's exciting to work for someone who is that passionate about swimming. It's a well know fact that Florida State is one of the fastest rising team in the country."
Since taking over at Club Makos six years ago, Barber has been producing national caliber swimmers. Including in this group have been former Seminole Loren Hansen and Kyle Cormier who both participated at the US Nationals and US Junior Nationals. Last season Cormier was crowned champion in the 200 freestyle at the Florida High School Athletic Association Championships.
Even though this is his first season with the Seminoles, the proof of Barber's work has already been felt at Florida State. Hansen, a senior on last year's team, earned NCAA Honorable Mention All- America honors in 2003, participated on two record-setting relays and is ranked in the FSU all-time top five in three different events.
"Within the state of Florida he is very well known," Harper said. "James has served on many committees and boards and he is highly respected in the club and high school scene throughout the entire southeast. James is going to strengthen our recruiting in some areas in the southeast that we haven't been very successful in. His knowledge and contacts in those areas will bolster our recruiting efforts there too."
All told, Barber has had 18 Junior National qualifiers in over 40 events, 20 national age group top 16 performers and 21 titles at the Southeastern region of the Local Swim Committee Championships - a branch of USA Swimming. In addition to his coaching duties, the last two years Barber has served as the Aquatics Director at The Club, home to Club Makos.
Some of Barber's most valuable coaching experience came prior to the completion of his master's degree in exercise physiology at the University of South Alabama. For one year he served as an assistant coach with the United States Resident National Team. While in Colorado Springs, Colo., he worked with several world class athletes, including Amy Van Dyken and B.J. Bedford. Van Dyken - the first American female athlete to win four gold medals in a single Olympics (Atlanta, 1996) took home the gold in the 50 free at the 1998 World Championships. Prior to the World Championships, Bedford won the 50 free and 100 backstroke at the national championships.
"I'm really excited to learn from Neil and (associate head coach) Andy (Robins)," Barber added. "I've been very fortunate in my career to spend a lot of time with the greatest coaches in the world and I feel just as fortunate to be at Florida State. Neil has coached several international superstars and All-Americans and is one of the most well respected and well liked coaches in the country."
Coaching has been a part of Barber's life dating back to his undergrad days at Auburn University at Montgomery, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in exercise science in 1993. He got his first coaching job as the head age group coach for the Montgomery YMCA Barracudas in Montgomery, Ala. In his three years there he coached more than a dozen LSC champions with countless other LSC finalists.
"James brings a tremendous scientific approach to swimming," Harper added. "Having worked at the national training center in Colorado Springs with the resident team has given him great scientific knowledge and we're really looking forward to him sharing that knowledge with us and benefiting our training in yet another area. He's going to be a great asset to our program."
From there he moved to Mobile, Ala., where he served as Senior Coach for the City of Mobile Swim Association while pursing his master's degree. Taking over a rather inexperienced program, he built the team up to the point where regular finalists at the LSC meet. His next coaching stint had him in the same position for the Colorado Spring Swim Team while also coaching the US National Team.
Barber is recently married to the former Angie Bixler.