BY SOFIA SCEKIC
PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER
Steve Gladstone will conclude his 13-year tenure as the head coach of the Yale heavyweights at the end of the 2022-23 season, wrapping up the latest chapter in his 56-year coaching career at the collegiate level. Current Associate Head Coach Mike Gennaro, who has been with Yale since 2016, will succeed Gladstone as the Craig W. Johnson ’68 Head Coach of Heavyweight Crew.
Despite Yale’s use of the word retirement in its announcement of a plan that’s been in the works for years, Gladstone will continue to coach rowing. “Of course,” said Gladstone, reached on his way to the boathouse, “That’s what I do. That’s what my passion is.”
“I seem to have a 12- to 13-year clock,” Gladstone joked, pointing out stints of similar length at Cal, Brown, and Yale. He cited an “urge to shift” as his reason for moving on, adding that “coaching at any program is never complete” and that Cal and Yale had been “distinctly different challenges.” Nevertheless, Gladstone always produces the same results: victories and championships, more than any other college coach in modern times.
Gladstone’s collegiate-coaching career began in 1966 at Princeton. After four successful years during which he coached freshmen crews to two medals at the IRA championships, he took over as head coach of the Harvard lightweight squad. In his four-year tenure with the Crimson, the team’s boats went undefeated, 1969 through 1972, highlighted by wins at the Thames Challenge Cup and Wyfold Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta.
In 1973, Gladstone accepted the head-coaching position at the University of California, Berkeley, where he led the Golden Bears to three undefeated dual-race seasons, one IRA title, and one Pac-10 title. He also coached the U.S. National Team in 1973. He announced his retirement in 1980 but stayed involved in the rowing world, serving as an Olympic commentator for ABC at the 1984 Los Angeles Games and NBC in 1988 in Seoul.
Brown University hired Gladstone in the autumn of 1981 when he decided to return to coaching. His time in Providence showed that he hadn’t missed a beat during his time away. In 12 years, he led the Bears to four Eastern Sprints championships, five IRA titles, and two National Collegiate Rowing Championship titles. In his final season, Brown’s varsity men went undefeated at all levels of competition. Gladstone stepped away from collegiate coaching again in 1994 and helped found Resolute Racing Shells, where he served as president and director of marketing.
Again, he did not stay away from collegiate coaching for long. In 1996, hired again by Cal, he enjoyed perhaps the most illustrious years of his career. In 1999, he guided the varsity eight to the IRA title, ending a 23-year championship drought for the storied program. That win marked the first of four straight titles for the Golden Bears, and the team was undefeated for three straight years. His teams also won seven Pac-10 titles, seven straight San Diego Crew Classic titles (1999 to 2005).
During the height of his success at Cal, the school appointed him athletic director. Taking over in 2001, he hired some of Cal’s most successful coaches—including football coach Jeff Tedford—but resigned in 2004 to focus on rowing. He announced yet another departure from collegiate coaching in 2008 and shortly thereafter took a coaching job at the California Rowing Club.
In 2010, he was lured back to collegiate coaching by Yale, where he returned a struggling program to national prominence. During the 2014-15 season, he led the Bulldogs to their first victory at the Eastern Sprints since 1982, and the team has remained among the nation’s best ever since.
From 2017 to 2019, Yale’s varsity eight captured the title at each IRA national championship. After Covid 19 forced the cancellation of Yale’s 2020 and 2021 seasons, Gladstone led the Bulldogs to one of their best seasons ever in 2022. Although the varsity eight finished second to Cal at the IRA, the second- and third-varsity eights won their respective races for the first time, and Yale won its first Ten Eyck Memorial Trophy for overall points.The Bulldogs also won varsity, second-varsity, and third-varsity events at Eastern Sprints and swept all four events at the 155th Harvard-Yale Regatta for the first time in school history. During that regatta, the varsity eight set the upstream course record on the Thames River.
Over his 56-year coaching career (with a few breaks), Gladstone has amassed 14 IRA titles, tying Charles E. Courtney, who coached at Cornell from 1883 to 1920, for most all time. His six IRA titles with Cal put him in a tie with Carroll M. “Ky” Ebright, who coached from 1924 to 1959, for most all time at Berkeley. Other career accomplishments include an impressive 18 conference championships across five schools and 15 Eastern Sprints championships (four lightweight, 11 heavyweight).
Last summer, along with Tom Terhaar, Gladstone selected and trained the 2022 U.S. National Team men’s eight at the request of USRowing Chief High Performance Officer Josy Verdonkschot. The crew, all of whom trained under Mike Teti at California Rowing Club, finished fourth at the 2022 World Rowing Championships in the Czech Republic in September. If the eight finishes in the top five at the 2023 Worlds, it will qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics without having to race at the 2024 last-chance qualifier, the so-called “regatta of death.”
Asked whether he would fill a similar role this coming summer, Gladstone replied, “If I’m asked to contribute, I would be happy to.”