Bob Ernst – CRCA Hall of Fame Class of 2015
There are few coaches in collegiate athletics whose accomplishments mirror those of Bob Ernst’s. Now in his 41st year at Washington, the long-time crew coach has served as the face of the Husky crew program for decades. Ernst most recently led the Huskies to a fourth-place finish at the 2015 NCAA Championships, their first NCAA trophy since Washington’s second-place finish in 2008.
Along the way, Ernst has guided teams to eight National Championships, one Olympic gold medal and numerous wins both domestically and abroad. Ernst has also developed & guided hundreds of rowers to the elite levels of their sport. His Husky teams have competed around the globe, racing in exotic locales such as Egypt, New Zealand, Russia and England.
Ernst arrived in Seattle in the fall of 1974 after a short coaching stint as his alma mater – UC Irvine. The UCI crew had nearly upset the heavily favored Huskies the year before, and current men’s coach Dick Erickson wasted little time offering Ernst a job as the UW freshmen coach. It was a position Ernst maintained until the spring of 1980, when he took over as the women’s head coach. From this point Ernst cemented his legacy as one of the best coaches in the sport of rowing. His women’s teams won six National Championships, the last in 1987 when the Huskies swept the varsity eight, junior varsity eight and varsity four races.
Meanwhile, Ernst was also building his international resume. His tenure with the national team began in 1976 and lasted until 1988, and including coaching stints on four Olympic teams. His sterling moment came in 1984, when Ernst directed the USA women’s eight-oared boat to a gold medal the Los Angeles Olympics. His Olympic accolades, though, extend beyond the water. In 1996, Ernst worked with NBC providing TV color commentary for the rowing events at the Atlanta Games and he served as the course announcer at the rowing venue for the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia.
Following the 1987 season, Ernst took over the Husky men’s program from legendary coach Dick Erickson. His resume lists two National Championships (1997 & 2007), along with numerous Pac-10 championships, San Diego Crew Classic championships and dominant performances in the Windermere Cup. In 1997, Ernst led the Huskies to a sweep of the International Rowing Association championships, winning the V8, 2V8 and freshmen eight races. It was the first time since 1950 that the Huskies had garnered such a collection of medals.
In 20 years as the Husky men’s coach, Ernst won Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors 11 times. He was also a finalist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Sports Star of the year award in 1982. Ernst stepped down from the men’s program following his win at the 2007 IRAs, handing the program over to his protégé, Michael Callahan. Ernst reassumed direction of the women’s program, a move that paid immediate dividends with a win at San Diego and later a second-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
As a coach at Washington, Ernst has helped further the program’s legacy. His connections in the rowing world have allowed the Huskies to compete against the best at their annual Windermere Cup, held each spring on the Montlake Cut. A big part of the culture Ernst has established at UW has focused on development. His rowers leave Conibear Shellhouse having exceeded their potential, both on the water and in the classroom. A focus on small-boat training in the preseason sharpens technique and hones speed, similar to what national programs focus on during selection. Of course, it always helps that a temperate Seattle climate makes rowing year-round possible.
Ernst graduated from UC Irvine in 1967 and later earned a master’s degree in sports administration from the University of Washington in 1979. He was inducted into Irvine’s athletic hall of fame in 1984 and the national rowing Hall of Fame in 1994. A 1963 graduate of Costa Mesa (Calif.) High School, Ernst attended Orange Coast College for two years, where he played center on the 1963 national championship junior college football team and competed in swimming and water polo. He transferred to UC Irvine and continued his swimming and water polo career. Ernst was also a member of Irvine’s rowing program in 1966 and 1967 and was team captain as a senior. Ernst resides in Edmonds, Wash. with his wife and his two children.