Bob Ernst won eight national championships during his career at Washington, plus an Olympic gold medal, but it wasn’t enough to save his job. He was fired Wednesday.
University of Washington Athletic Director Scott Woodward announced Wednesday the firing of women’s rowing coach Bob Ernst, effective immediately. Ernst was amid his 42nd year at the school. His tenure, including stints with the men’s and women’s programs, included eight national championships, 11 Coach of the Year awards, and an Olympic gold medal.
“After careful and thoughtful deliberation, I have made the decision that a change in leadership is necessary in our women’s rowing program,” Woodward said. “I am grateful for the many contributions Bob gave to Washington rowing, and I wish him the best moving forward.”
Woodward said that assistant coach Connor Bullis will assume interim head coaching duties as a national search is conducted for a replacement.
Ernst arrived in Seattle in 1974 after a short coaching stint as his alma mater, UC Irvine, and became Washington’s freshman coach. Ernst took over the women’s program in 1980 and his crews won six national championships, the last in 1987 when the Huskies swept the varsity eight, junior varsity eight and varsity four races.
Ernst also coached internationally. His signature moment came in 1984 when he directed the USA women’s eight-oared boat to a gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics.
Following the 1987 season, Ernst took over the Husky men’s program from legendary coach Dick Erickson. Over the next two decades, his crews won two national championships (1997 and 2007), 11 conference titles and 15 Windermere Cups. Ernst coached 14 Olympians.
In 1997, Ernst led the Huskies to a sweep of the International Rowing Association championships, winning the V8, 2V8 and freshmen eight races. It was the first time since 1950 that the Huskies garnered such a collection of medals.
Ernst stepped down as men’s coach following his 2007 national championship after turning the men’s program over to protege Michael Callahan, who has since won five national championships. Becoming Washington’s director of rowing, Ernst reassumed direction of the women’s program after Jan Harville retired, a move that paid immediate dividends with a win at the San Diego Crew Classic and a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.
The UW women won 11 conference titles between 1992 and 2002, but Ernst was unable to duplicate his earlier success with the program. UW hasn’t won a conference title since 2002 or a national title since 2001. Ernst’s 2008 crews finished second at nationals, but hasn’t had a finisher higher than fourth since. His crews also lost eight of nine dual meets with arch-rival California.
Last season, Ernst’s crews had a fourth-place finish at the NCAA championships and a second-place finish at the Pac-12 championships.
Ernst was a National Rowing Hall of Fame inductee in 1994.