Now in his third season as the head coach of the University of Pittsburgh swimming & diving programs, John Hargis’ leadership has Pitt on the precipice of greatness in the pool.
In the two years since becoming Pitt’s head swimming & diving coach, Hargis and his energetic staff have brought a newfound belief to the program. With one of the youngest rosters in all of collegiate swimming & diving, the past two seasons have seen Pitt send nine athletes to the NCAA Championships and re-write the Panthers’ record books, setting 33 new school records.
“Swimming & diving student-athletes at the University of Pittsburgh have the opportunity to achieve their athletic dreams while attending one of the most prestigious research and academic institutions in the world. As coaches, we’re committed to helping our athletes reach their goals in both arenas,” said Hargis. “We strive to develop disciplined, hard-working athletes within a strong, successful team culture. Every athlete in our pool also dreams of representing their home country on the international stage, and we aim to assist in making that dream a reality.”
At Pitt, Hargis and his staff have already managed to recruit and develop several student-athletes who have excelled competitively both with the Panthers and internationally.
In 2018 alone, Samy Helmbacher won the French national title in the 400-meter individual medley, Shahar Menahem became the Israeli national champion in the 200-meter backstroke and qualified for the European Championships and Eben Vorster represented South Africa at the Commonwealth Games.
The 2017-18 campaign also saw the Panthers break through as a team. The Pitt women’s team posted a remarkable 15-2 dual-meet record, set a school record with a 14-dual winning streak to finish the campaign, improved its points total at the ACC Championships and sent four athletes to the NCAA Championships for the second consecutive season. On the men’s side, 89 percent of the team’s points at the ACC Championships were scored by freshmen and sophomores as the Panthers combined to post 120 personal-best times during the year.
Hargis' debut campaign with the Panthers in 2016-17 resulted in notable improvements across the board as his new staff established a fun-yet-competitive environment on Pitt's pool deck each day at practice. In the pool, the Pitt men's and women's swimming & diving teams increased their points total from the previous season at the 2017 ACC Championships, with the men scoring a program-record 513 points at the conference meet. The Panthers also unveiled a $3 million renovation to Trees Pool, highlighted by refurbished locker rooms for both teams, a team room and lounge area, a nutrition center and a state-of-the-art LED video board.
To cap off Hargis' first season at Pitt, the men’s and women’s teams finished 34th and 41st, respectively, at the NCAA Championships, while Lina Rathsack earned NCAA Honorable Mention All-America honors in the 100-yard breaststroke with a 13th-place finish in Indianapolis.
A 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist and 12-time NCAA All-American during his own swimming career, Hargis spent the previous three seasons as the associate head coach at his alma mater, Auburn. Additionally, he was previously the head coach at Penn State from 2008-13.
At Auburn, Hargis helped lead a program that annually contended for top honors in the Southeastern Conference and nationally. In 2016, the Tigers' men's team finished 10th at the NCAA Championships. The swimmers under Hargis’ direction broke three school records and won five titles at the SEC Championships. While at Auburn, Hargis also coached Annie Lazor to a Bronze Medal at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.
As head coach at Penn State, Hargis established the Nittany Lions as perennial contenders in the Big Ten. In five seasons, his student-athletes produced 74 All-America performances. In Hargis’ final season, the Penn State men and women combined for 20 All-America citations at the 2013 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships.
During his Penn State tenure, he also coached on the international level. Working as an assistant for Team USA at the 2011 World University Games, Hargis helped the Americans earn 13 medals.
Prior to Penn State, Hargis spent the 2007-08 season as head women’s coach at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He also spent time as the head coach and the chief executive officer of the Little Rock Arkansas Dolphins swim club, which enjoyed unprecedented championship success under his watch.
Hargis also served as a collegiate assistant coach at Arkansas-Little Rock (2006-07), Penn State (2003-06) and UNLV (2002-03).
A native of Clinton, Ark., Hargis is a 1999 graduate of Auburn with a degree in health promotion/sports management. One of the most decorated swimmers to come out of the state of Arkansas, he was inducted into the Arkansas State Swimming Hall of Fame in 2001 and was selected as one of Arkansas' 100 Greatest Athletes of all-time.
Hargis was part of Auburn’s first NCAA championship team in 1997 as well as the Tigers’ initial SEC championship squad in 1994. In addition to a dozen All-America citations, he was a three-time SEC champion in the 100 butterfly. Hargis won an Olympic Gold Medal at the 1996 Games in Atlanta as a member of the 400 medley relay team.
He and his wife Lauren, a Pitt graduate, have three children: daughter Faith and sons John and Nathan.