Making a master coach: the Pete Hovland story


Oakland swimming and diving head coach Pete Hovland coached the men’s swim and dive team to its 28th consecutive conference title and the women’s to its 23rd straight. 

From coaching Oakland men’s swimming and diving to its 38th-straight league title and the women to their 23rd-straight league title, to being named to the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2016, Oakland swimming and diving head coach Pete Hovland has had a successful week.

Hovland will join some of Michigan’s most respected sports icons in the Hall of Fame class including Derek Jeter, Ben Wallace, Brendan Shanahan and Chris Osgood.

“I was really surprised when I got the call from the Hall of Fame,” Hovland said. 

“There was kind of a [pause] and [the man on the phone] said, ‘Are you still there?’”

Hovland is humbled and honored by this recognition.

“I never thought that when I came here that something like this could possibly ever happen in my lifetime,” he said.

“It hasn’t totally sunk in yet.”


West Coast beginnings

Hovland grew up in sunny California, where he joined a YMCA swim team. The program eventually merged with the Santa Clara Swim Club.

“At one time we probably had eight or 10 Olympians coming from the Santa Clara Swim Club, so I was influenced very heavily,” Hovland said.

Hovland was recruited by Dr. Ernest Maglischo to swim at California State University, Chico, aka Chico State. 

Maglischo coached swim for 35 years and coached 13 NCAA Division II national championship teams.

“We won four NCAA team championships while I was there. We were one of the best of the best,” Hovland said.

Hovland said the reason he has been so consistent over the years is Maglischo.

“I was fortunate to have an opportunity to swim for him,” Hovland said. 

“I learned a lot from him. It wasn’t just your typical coach/athlete relationship. He really taught all of us a lot about the sport.”

Hovland said it was almost like taking a class on swim theory.

Maglischo’s influence helped Hovland become a 23-time All-American conference coach of the year.

“He’s the main reason I decided to pursue a career in college coaching,” he said.


The leap

Maglischo became an Oakland swimming coach for the 1979-80 season, and needed an assistant coach.

He called Hovland, who was finishing up his graduate work at the University of Northern Iowa.

“I said, ‘When do you need me?’” Hovland said. “And he said, ‘I needed you yesterday.’”



Hovland closed out his 37th year as Oakland University’s head swimming and diving coach on a good note.

On the final day of the Horizon League Swimming and Diving Championship, Feb. 27, the men’s team claimed its 38th consecutive league title and the women recorded their 23rd-straight league title.

Hovland said he tried to emulate a lot of things that Maglischo does.

“I don’t profess to be nearly as smart as he is, but he did instill in me a lot of things about the sport and I try to instill that in my athletes to give them an advantage,” he said.

“It’s more than just training them,” Hovland said. “It’s teaching them and educating them.”

He said the program has been fortunate over the years.

“We’ve found some really, really amazing individuals and some really highly motivated and some really bright and talented individuals,” Hovland said.

The team trains all year round. They even have a countdown to the next Horizon League Championship, which ended a little over a week ago.

As the team prepares for the NCAA Zone C Diving meet on March 10-12, Hovland reflected on his past and present years at Oakland.

“[The team] is a big part of my life personally and professionally,” he said. “They’ve become part of my family.”

“My wife and I don’t have kids of our own,” Hovland said, “but when people ask I say, ‘No, but I have 57 18-to-22-year-olds.’”

Hovland’s number-one goal as a coach is to help the student athletes become all-around successful people. He said it’s more than just the four hours spent at practice. It’s also about trying to help the athletes become better students and citizens.

Not only does the team represent the swimming and diving program, Hovland said, but they also represent Oakland University as a whole. 

“The swimming might be the hook that brings you to Oakland,” he said, “but Oakland is going to be the big prize.”