PHOT AND STORY COURTESY TENNESSEE ROWING
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — One of the most decorated coaches in collegiate rowing, Kim Cupini has been named Tennessee rowing’s third head coach in program history, Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics Danny White announced Friday.
“Kim has demonstrated the ability to build championship teams throughout her coaching career, and we are thrilled to welcome her to Knoxville!” White said. “Her success in molding well-rounded student-athletes and seeing how she has taken her programs to new heights under her leadership is impressive. With Kim’s outstanding coaching pedigree and success everywhere she has been, the sky is the limit for her potential in leading our program here on Rocky Top!”
Cupini and her staffs have earned conference coaching honors during nine of her 16 seasons as a head coach, while her teams have won a combined seven league titles between her stops at San Diego (2007-17) and SMU (2017-23). Under her guidance, the Toreros and Mustangs earned a combined four NCAA Championship appearances, finishing inside the top 15 nationally each time.
No matter where she’s been, Cupini’s ability to develop high-caliber rowers has been recognized by her peers. During her time at SMU, her top crews earned AAC Boat of the Year three times. At San Diego, she coached a WCC Rower of the Year, four WCC Coxswains of the Year and two WCC Newcomers of the Year. Nine student-athletes garnered All-America status with her direction, while her rowers earned a combined 55 all-conference honors.
“I am sincerely honored to be joining the University of Tennessee and become a part of an already amazing athletics program and a great university,” Cupini said. “The energy for success that Danny White and his staff have created is unparalleled, and I am extremely grateful to the search committee for their belief in me to lead the program. It’s undeniable that Tennessee Athletics has a vision and commitment to become one of the top rowing programs in the country, with an exceptional rowing venue on the river integrated into our campus. We will work tirelessly to bring a championship-caliber program home and offer a first-class experience for the rowers. My passion is working with our student-athletes to achieve their top goals while creating an unbelievable culture they can remember long beyond their time on Rocky Top; I can’t wait to start!”
During her six years at SMU, Cupini led the Mustangs to three American Athletic Conference titles (2021, 2022, 2023) and three consecutive NCAA Championship appearances, where SMU finished 11th in 2021, 12th in 2022 and ninth in 2023. Cupini and her staff were named AAC Coaching Staff of the Year each of the past four seasons (excluding 2019-20 due to COVID-19 canceling the season) and SMU claimed AAC Boat of the Year three times (2019, 2021, 2022) under her watch.
In 2023, the Cupini-led Mustangs logged a ninth-place finish at the NCAA Rowing Championship, the best finish in program history. The Varsity 8 also recorded its best finish, having an outstanding finish to win the Petite Final to place seventh in the country. SMU advanced all three boats to the A/B semifinals at the NCAA Championship for the first time in program history and finished the Championship with 85 points—the most ever for SMU and highest finish by an AAC program. The Mustangs ended the year ranked No. 9 in the Pocock CRCA Coaches Poll, which marked the highest ranking in team history.
In 2022, SMU swept all four races at the AAC Championship for a second straight season and went on to finish 12th overall at the NCAA Championships. SMU recorded eight All-AAC honorees with five first-team selections, while a trio of Mustangs were named All-Americans.
Cupini led SMU to the program’s first-ever conference title in 2021 after sweeping all four races at the AAC Championship. Eight SMU rowers were named to the All-AAC team and a pair of Mustangs received Pocock All-America accolades.
Prior to her impressive tenure at SMU, Cupini was at the helm of the San Diego rowing program for 10 years. During her time, she led the Toreros to four West Coast Conference titles. In 2014, the team made the first NCAA Championships appearance in program history, finishing 15th overall. USD was nationally ranked in the top 20 or received votes in the poll each of Cupini’s final five seasons in San Diego.
While leading the Toreros, Cupini earned WCC Coach of the Year honors five times and coached six rowers to All-America status while 19 earned All-Region accolades. Her teams collected 43 all-conference awards, a WCC Rower of the Year, four WCC Coxswains of the Year and two WCC Newcomers of the Year. With success also in the classroom, 40 Toreros received WCC All-Academic honors while 41 were named CRCA Scholar-Athletes.
Before becoming a Head coach at San Diego, Cupini was in an assistant role in 2005. During her time at UCF, she helped lead the Knights to the program’s first top 20 national ranking during the 2005-06 season and the first NCAA Championships appearance in 2007. Cupini began her coaching career as an assistant coach at San Diego in 2004.
As a member of the San Diego rowing team during her collegiate career, Cupini earned All-WCC honors in 2001 and 2003, and Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association (WIRA) All-Conference accolades in 2002 and 2003. She was also named to the WCC All-Academic team.
A native of Rochester, N.Y., Cupini graduated from San Diego with a B.S. in environmental studies and a minor in business administration. She holds a USRowing Advanced and Level III coaching certification.