Crew Coaching Alumni Couple

Coaches Dan Robinson ’79 and Becky Metz Robinson ’88, M.S. ’95, share professional and personal lives.    by Doug McInnis with Maura Stephens 

In many households the standard after-work greeting is “How did your day go?” Often the question is perfunctory, but not at the Robinsons’ home. “Every day I come home and ask her how her practice went,” says Dan, who coaches IC men’s crew, of his wife, who coaches IC women’s crew. 

If things have gone badly for either coach, the other may be able to help figure out what’s wrong and offer a solution. The Robinsons review each others’ training and race films and offer tips when they think they can help. “We’re better coaches because we have the other to bounce ideas off,” says Becky.

Each coach has a wealth of experience in crew. Dan has been with the program more than 30 years, including his time as a student; he became head coach in 1988. Becky is in her 15th year with the program; she also trained with the U.S. National Rowing Team for five years and served as a reserve in 1991. 

Neither had rowed competitively before arriving at Ithaca, although each had a strong sports background. In high school Becky competed in basketball, soccer, volleyball, and track, and Dan was a baseball, basketball, track and field, and cross country athlete. “I wasn’t sure I would make any of those intercollegiate teams at Ithaca,” Dan says. “In college my older brothers had done crew, so I tried it. I liked it and stayed with it.” A self-described sports nut, Dan says, “If I had stumbled onto another sport I could see myself coaching that today.” 

After he graduated with a television-radio degree, Dan became a volunteer coach for IC crew. To make ends meet, he worked as a substitute teacher, school bus driver, and worker in a factory that made spaghetti sauce (aromatic, garlicky spaghetti sauce; when he’d arrive at practice after a shift at the factory, he’d get a lot of ribbing). Becky majored in physical therapy, which she practiced for six years. In 1993 she signed on as a volunteer coach with IC crew, and a year later became the full-time staff coach. She also returned to Ithaca as a student, receiving her master’s degree in exercise science in 1995. 

That year Dan and Becky married. While the wedding didn’t have a crew theme, it did take place by the water. That’s not surprising, considering that Dan grew up on Canandaigua Lake, one of the Finger Lakes, and Becky grew up on Grand Island in the Niagara River. Their love for the water runs deep; they and their sons, Ely, 7, and Conner, 9, spend much of their time waterskiing, canoeing, and kayaking, as well as camping and hiking. 

Dan, the sports nut, still plays basketball several times a week in the campus daily “Lunch Box League,” with faculty, staff, and a few local alumni. But he claims he’s not “hard core” — at least not to the extent Becky is. She regularly works out at the gym, swims, bicycles, and jogs. “She has to do something every day,” says Dan. “She’s religious about it. I go for a run maybe once a week, but I’m not as dedicated as she is. Her prime directive at the beginning of each day is how she’ll get her athletic activity in.” 

When they’re back at coaching, it’s hard to quantify the value of the tips they give each other. If, for example, a suggestion shaves a tenth of a second off a competitive time, is that likely to make a difference in a race that lasts about six minutes for men’s crew and about 50 seconds longer for women’s crew? There are times when a fraction of a second doesn’t matter. But the margin of victory in crew is sometimes measured in inches at the end of a 2,000-meter race. “When we won the national championship in 2004,” Becky notes, “we edged Smith College by one-tenth of a second.”

In Ithaca College sports history, that may have been the ultimate split second. But these two dedicated coaches, with jam-packed schedules throughout each year, manage somehow to make every split second count.