When Florida announced the retirement of legendary head swimming coach Gregg Troy in May, it was thought that he left enormous shoes to fill.
The Gators have decided to try to fill them with two familiar sets of feet.
Florida has promoted associate head coaches Anthony Nesty and Jeff Poppell to head men’s and women’s swimming and diving coaches, the school announced Monday, charging two Troy assistants — one a long-time lieutenant, one a more recent hire — with maintaining and improving the dominant program he built.
Florida’s release quotes Nesty, Poppell, and athletic director Scott Stricklin extensively.
“We are fortunate to have two outstanding coaches, who are already heavily invested in the Florida swim programs, in a position to step up and provide leadership and continuity for our student-athletes going forward,” Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said. “The more we studied potential candidates to replace Coach Troy, it became obvious that the best choice was to provide Anthony and Jeff the opportunity to lead the Gators.
”Having won six-straight SEC championships, our men have had a run of high-level success, and I’m confident Anthony can continue putting them in position to compete with the best. Meanwhile, our women have developed some momentum in the last couple years, both in the pool and in recruiting, that Jeff has been an important part of creating. I’m looking forward to seeing him build off that momentum and get the Gators women back to a championship level.
”Restructuring the programs under Jeff’s and Anthony’s leadership will ensure our athletes receive the attention and coaching they deserve to enable them to enjoy an unbelievable experience during their time competing for the Gators.”
“It is with tremendous humility that I accept the position of Head Coach for the men’s swimming & diving team at the University of the Florida,” said Nesty. “This day is very special to me, as I am a Florida alumni.
”I would like to thank Scott Stricklin and the entire administrative staff for having the confidence in me to lead our men. The administration has been extremely supportive and I greatly appreciate all of their efforts on my behalf and that of the program’s.”
”I am fervently passionate about continuing the Florida tradition of excellence in our sport,” said Nesty. “It is my goal to maintain and surpass the standard Gregg Troy and others before him set for the premium program in the country.”
”I am extremely grateful for this prestigious opportunity and I look forward to leading this very talented team,” said Nesty. “It is great to be a Florida Gator!”
“I am deeply honored to have been named the next head women’s swimming coach at the University of Florida,” said Poppell. “I would like to thank Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin and Senior Associate Athletic Director Mike Spiegler for their trust in allowing me to lead this program.”
”I truly appreciate Gregg Troy providing me with the opportunity two years ago to join his staff here at UF.
”With the addition of two nationally ranked recruiting classes and the continued development of our current group of student-athletes, I feel that the future of this women’s team is bright as we strive to compete for championships against the very best in the SEC and NCAA.”
Of the two men, Nesty is likely the more familiar — and more decorated — name for most Gators. Born in Trinidad, Nesty and his family emigrated to Suriname in his infancy, and he took up swimming as a child. After showing promise as a sprinter, he enrolled at the famed Bolles School in Jacksonville, where he trained under Troy — who spent two decades at Bolles — in the run-up to the 1988 Summer Olympics. Nesty swam for Suriname in Seoul, and won his nation’s first Olympic medal (and still its only Olympic gold medal) by beating out American Matt Biondi by one one-hundreth of a second in the 100-meter butterfly.
Following that success, Nesty enrolled at Florida, and swam for the Gators in the late 1980s and early 1990s, where he dominated collegiate competition in the butterfly, tallying a then-record five individual NCAA titles, while still training for international competition. Nesty would win bronze — Suriname’s second and last medal to date — in the 100 fly at the 1992 Olympics, and graduate from Florida in 1994, return to Bolles as an assistant coach in the mid-1990s, and end up back at Florida as an assistant coach upon Troy’s hiring in 1998.
And Nesty remained on Troy’s staff for his entire tenure at Florida, helping the head coach recruit and develop swimmers like Ryan Lochte and Caeleb Dressel while also frequently serving as a coach for the Suriname and Cayman Islands national teams.
Put simply, Nesty’s elevation is the most obvious and logical choice for Florida, as it is a promotion of a thoroughly qualified assistant whose ties to the outgoing Troy and the Gators are as strong as can be.
Poppell is a less obvious promotion, though he does have Troy ties like Nesty’s. His only years of experience with Troy in Gainesville were the last two, as he joined the Gators in 2016, but he coached under Troy at Bolles in the 1990s, and served as the head coach of both the school and its club Bolles Sharks team from 2002 to 2006.
From there, Poppell went to Arkansas, where he served as women’s swimming coach for six years, helping a program that has never really been nationally competitive make five consecutive NCAA Championships appearances. After leaving Arkansas in 2012 to return to Florida (and deal with family medical concerns, in part), Poppell took over the program at Gulliver Prep in Miami-Dade County, and turned it into a South Florida powerhouse, twice earning state coach of the year honors and helping produce nationally competitive swimmers.
Having recruiting ties like his to both Bolles and South Florida and a breadth of experience in the swimming world probably made Poppell an easy hire for Troy, and almost certainly were the top lines of any presentation he made to Stricklin.
And keeping two members of Troy’s staff together may ultimately help Florida cover more ground than any one man can. Nesty’s statement — which lamentably suggests that the word alumni is singular — includes the phrase “maintain and surpass the standard that Gregg Troy and others before him set,” a daunting challenge for him and Poppell to take on during their tenures.
But as an Olympic gold medalist and a decorated coach who have been in and around the Florida athletic department surely know well, the bar for almost any sport at Florida is the mountaintop.