Herbie Behm takes coaching reins from Bob Bowman, aims to keep ASU swimming on top

Herbie Behm, newly appointed head coach of Arizona State men’s swimming, embraces the challenge of leading the program following Bob Bowman’s departure. (Photo courtesy of ASU Athletics)

TEMPE – Eleven years ago, Herbie Behm was an athlete swimming at Arizona State. Now at his alma mater, Behm takes the reins of one of the country’s premier programs – a program completely shaped in the image of one man, Bob Bowman.

Bowman’s sudden departure to assume a newly-created role at the University of Texas after leading ASU to its first national championship last weekend left his replacement, Behm, with little time to process the move and sizable shoes to fill.

“I was told at 9:30 a.m. on Monday,” Behm said of learning Bowman was leaving ASU to become the Longhorns’ director of swimming and diving and head men’s swimming and diving coach. “We had a conversation with the (athletic directors), and Bob told me he was leaving for Texas.”

Behm hardly had time to react, but Bowman said that ASU’s athletic department had already eyed Behm as the next head coach after his promotion to associate head coach in April 2022. By 11:30 a.m. Monday, he agreed to another promotion to backfill Bowman’s role and ASU set his announcement for the same afternoon.

Bowman is considered a stalwart of the sport, carrying a resume like no other, especially after he rectified one of ASU’s worst stretches in decades in the pool. Bowman overhauled the team and his tenure resulted in the maroon and gold becoming a powerhouse.

Now the longtime coach is replaced by one of the sport’s up-and-comers, who spent years as an assistant to Bowman.

“Herbie is the brightest young coach in America and becoming the head coach at ASU is a perfect opportunity for him,“ Bowman said in a press release. “He was my trusted partner in building our championship program and he will lead the Sun Devils to many more milestones in the future. I couldn’t be happier for Herbie or for ASU!”

The confidence in that compliment stems from six years of Behm and Bowman working together every day. The praise might mean even more to Behm, knowing how rocky the road has been to reach the coveted helm.

Behm, who swam at ASU from 2010-13, said on Instagram that he had to sell raffle tickets to keep the program from getting cut as a member of the team. He referred to the promotion as “the biggest honor” of his life, before expressing his desire to remain in the role for life.

He took a couple of days to process the transition from assistant coach to the top spot. At first, Behm wondered why he was being called for a meeting on the Monday after the Sun Devils won their first national championship. That was when he received the life-changing news.

Then, Behm acknowledged his empty tank, a result of the end of a grueling season and gearing up to help train the U. S. squad for the Summer Olympics in Paris.

“I had used up all my emotions at NCAA’s the week before, so I was like exhausted,” Behm said. “It’s certainly, literally a dream come true.”

The honor to lead ASU starts in one of the most important times in the history of the program as the team transitions to the Big 12. Behm, who lettered in swimming at Catalina Foothills High School in Tucson, welcomes the new scenery and the challenges the new conference presents.

“It’s just this intensity in the Pac-12, but Wednesday night, the first night, you’ll look up and there’s maybe 100 people in the stands,” he said. “I think the Big 12 where there’s 17 teams, it’s going to be packed and it’s going to be a lot more energy.”

The emerging Sun Devils swim and dive team looks forward to contending in a heavyweight conference ahead of a new season. There will be an emphasis in intensity and competition starting from the first practice. The training atmosphere will be similar to what it has been in years past, just without the presence of Bowman.

Still, Behm knows he has a lot of work ahead of him to fill the void left by Bowman.

Behm’s awareness and honest approach have pushed him to his current role and led to nothing but success and support from the athletes.

Even though the team received the news in an abrupt, shocking manner, Behm said the athletes have been nothing but supportive as he learns “how to be a head coach.”

“They’ve been great (at) accepting me,” Behm said. “Changing as I change and figure out how to do it. My goal is just trying to make it more of a community, we’re all figuring this out as a group.”

Bowman clearly saw Behm’s flexibility and quick learning skills, but even though he didn’t receive any formal advice through the transition, Bowman’s example left a lasting impression on the program’s next coach.

Intensity and volume of training are key, but Behm is also excited to implement academic data-driven studies as well as using books from authors and physiologists to help guide ASU swimmers and divers.

No matter the message, experience, or pedigree, Behm enters his role at a pivotal time in Arizona State athletics. With the conference change coming, the Sun Devil faithful should take comfort in knowing that their new leader is passionate, committed and respected by the team he once helped lead as a collegiate swimmer.

And while he’s learning on the job, finding his footing in the sport, he’ll never forget the herculean shoes he’s filling. Behm knows he can’t replicate Bowman, but he can maintain his authenticity with the team and just try to be the best version of himself.

“I’m not Bob so I’m not going to try to be,” Behm said. “I think if I try to be Bob, I’m not going to be very good. But I can be Herbie pretty well so I’m just gonna do that.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Stephen Buxton expects to graduate May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Buxton has experience with Varsity Sports Show calling football games for Desert Mountain this last season and AZPreps 365 reporting on local high school sports. After graduating he hopes to get a broadcasting job dreaming of one day doing play by play for football or baseball.