These two truly dive into Duke-UNC rivalry

Mar. 08, 2013 @ 06:58 PM

There have been times when Drew Johansen will go upstairs to the home office, call one of the nation’s top diving recruits and try to convince the prospect to come to Duke.

A few days later, that same recruit will hear from Drew’s wife, Jenny Johansen, who will try to sell the prospect on coming to North Carolina.

Part of what makes the Duke-North Carolina rivalry so special is the proximity of the two schools. As a result, when the Blue Devils and Tar Heels meet in men’s basketball tonight at the Smith Center (9 p.m., ESPN), it will be common for coworkers, neighbors, friends and even family members to be on opposite sides.

Yet no one’s experienced the rivalry quite like Drew and Jenny Johansen have this year. Drew coaches the divers at Duke; Jenny coaches the divers at UNC.

“It has its challenges,” Drew said.

Both coaches always wear the gear from their respective schools, and Jenny said that 95 percent of the time when they’re at the mall or the grocery store they’ll get a comment along the lines of “What’s it like in your household?”

But those moments can be avoided when they both agree to wear neutral clothing. Some of the most awkward encounters can’t be stopped – like when the coaches targeted some of the same athletes during the most recent recruiting cycle.

“It’s definitely a little strange, especially when you pick up the phone and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I know you talked to my husband earlier,’” Jenny said. “We’re learning how to kind of work that out and I’m sure as we go through it, it will get easier, but it’s a little tricky.”

Perhaps even stranger was the Duke-UNC dual meet in January. Aside from major meets like conference or NCAA tournaments, it’s common practice for the diving coaches to judge the diving competition. Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski will never be asked to referee tonight’s game, but the Johansens were forced to score each other’s divers when the teams faced off in Chapel Hill.

“That makes for some interesting conversations,” Drew said. “’Why did you give that a 7.5 and I only gave it a 6?’ or whatever it may be.”

Drew said he know of one similar arrangement – Keith Miller has been the diving coach at Harvard for 22 years, and wife Agnes Gerlach-Miller has been the diving coach at Boston for 17 years. But those schools aren’t in the same conference.

“We actually asked them about any advice they had, and their advice was at all costs try to get other people to judge your dual meets,” Drew said. “We’ve not been able to do that yet, but we’ve managed.”

UNC swept the men’s and women’s meets this season, though Duke won three of the four diving competitions, led by two first-place finishes by Olympic bronze medallist Nick McCrory. Drew coached McCrory and Duke senior Abby Johnston, who won a silver medal in synchronized diving, during the London Olympics.

Johnston said that the Johansen marriage has benefited the divers from both schools, who can support each other at larger meets. Johnston said the partnership also helps both coaches.

“I know Jenny has really added to Drew’s coaching,” Johnston said. “Ever since they’ve met he’s been a lot more in tune to what it’s like being a diver just based on Jenny’s own stories, and I think that’s made him become a better coach, and I’m sure that the help goes both ways. I think they’re both just huge supporters of each other.”

Recently, Johnston was reluctant to get season-ending shoulder surgery, even though she couldn’t lift her arm more than 90 degrees. After consulting with Jenny, a two-time Olympic diver, Drew helped convince Johnston to get the operation.

“He said it’s tough seeing Jenny go through injuries, and how her shoulder is still bothering her and I don’t want that to happen to you,” Johnston said. “So I think it’s beneficial for him to have her perspective as an Olympic athlete and be a sounding board for decisions he makes.”

The Johansens said they will watch tonight’s game at home on TV after putting their 2½-year-old daughter, Lina May, to bed. Soon Lina May will be able to pick a side in the matchup, adding another layer to what is already a unique family dynamic.

For now, whatever stress comes from being on opposite ends of one of the greatest rivalries in sports is far outweighed by the opportunity both parents have to coach at top schools.

“We’re very fortunate that we live in an area that we both can be gainfully employed as diving coaches, let alone two that are within 10 miles of each other,” Drew said. “If we lived anywhere else in the country this wouldn’t even be possible.”