Preparing for Barcelona, Matt McLean wants answers on coach Bernardino’s sudden departure

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Virginia graduate (2011) and swimming legend Matt McLean has conquered that interior battle like few others. In a specialty, distance freestyle, which demands mental discipline, he has ascended to the top of the national and world rankings thanks to a gargantuan 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame and a cerebral, measured mental approach. After second- and third-place finishes in the 400- and 200-meter freestyle races at the National Championships two weekends ago, he will compete at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona later this month.

“This is a man that’s got all the tools,” said Jon Urbanchek, a former coach of McLean’s.

(Virginia Swimming video featuring Matt McLean, not directly related to this story)

But he, like the supporters and coaches who watch him race, is merely a spectator in the controversy which has engulfed 31-time ACC Coach of the Year Mark Bernardino’s sudden retirement. Supporters of Virginia athletics have witnessed the outcome — Bernardino’s abrupt departure and the wave of skepticism from swimming alumni which followed it — but seemingly no one save the Virginia athletics department or Bernardino himself knows what transpired beneath the surface. And as McLean balances his frustration with Bernardino’s retirement with his anticipation for the pinnacle of his swimming career, he bears examination as the quintessential Bernardino swimmer.

“I think that Mark has done more for the Virginia program than possibly any coach has done for any other program in the country,” McLean said. “He gave 35 years of his life completely to the program, and he held certain values so close that he wouldn’t sacrifice them for anything. Honor, Integrity, Loyalty.”

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Production engineer and certified swim coach. Full-time IT consultant, spare-time swimming aficionado. 2 sons, 2 daughters and a wife. President of the Faroe Islands Swimming Association. Likes to run :-)

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