The thing Notre Dame men’s and women’s head swimming coach Mike Litzinger will miss most about Caiming Xie, beyond his perpetual smile and unrelenting success, will be his backflips.
For now the only diving coach Notre Dame has ever known is cannon-balling — into retirement after 25 years at the school, ND announced Thursday afternoon in a press release.
“Notre Dame is an incredible university filled with wonderful people, and I am grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to represent the diving program for 25 years,” Caiming said in a statement. “I am proud to have worked alongside amazing colleagues and awesome student-athletes to help develop Notre Dame diving into a nationally recognized, remarkable program.”
The final chapter at ND for the native of China and that country’s national diving coach from 1977-90 will forever be a giant “what if?”
The NCAA women’s swimming and diving championships, scheduled for March 18-21 in Athens, Ga., were canceled due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, as was the men’s competition, scheduled for this week in Indianapolis.
In fact, the NCAA Zone C qualifying diving meet was in progress March 12 in Indianapolis when the NCAA halted the competition three rounds into the six-round, 1-meter women’s finals.
“It was a tough way to end things, but I think he’s ready to spend time with his family,” Litzinger said Thursday in a phone interview. “He’s got two young grandchildren and without going into too much detail, I think he’s ready to move on to the next piece of his life.
“This is our fifth year together, with me being the head coach and he the diving coach. He feels the program’s in a great spot for us to move on, and I feel the same way.”
Now about those backflips.
Notre Dame’s diving facility does not include a 10-meter tower. So whenever the Irish were competing at a road venue with one, Caiming made sure to put it to use.
“That one of the things I couldn’t wait for every year,” Litzinger said. “Sure enough, we’d be warming up or getting ready for a morning practice before the meet started, and Caiming would be up on the 10-meter, three stories up there, and ready to hurl himself off.
“He did it every time — a backflip — at 60-some years old. God bless him. That’s really fun to watch.”
So was watching him develop divers at ND.
The 10-time Big East Diving Coach of the Year helped guide the Irish to a combined 16 individual conference titles, All-America or honorable mention All-America recognition 11 times and seven Big East Most Outstanding Diver awards.
Among the standouts Caiming coached was his son, Tong, a 2003 Notre Dame graduate.
Caiming also had extensive international coaching experience and success.
“He is always a very happy guy and really was excited about the direction of the program that it was going,” Litzinger said, “and very eager to contribute to that success. And so I really enjoyed that about him.”
That smile didn’t disappear in the past couple of weeks since the NCAA shutdown, when the team and coaching staff had to get creative.
“Most of the team members went home and were finding spots to continue to swim because of the upcoming Olympic Trials,” Litzinger said. “However, that landscape has changed, and pretty much 100 percent of the kids that I’m in touch with on the returning team, they’ve been out of the water for the last week.
“Right now it’s all fitness-oriented, dry-land oriented, strength and conditioning and whatever you can do at home or a gym that happens to be open. It’s the same thing with the divers as well. It’s been a tough time for everybody.”
With hopes for good times ahead, thanks in part to Caiming’s legacy.
“We’ve turned this program into a top 15 program in the country, and Caiming left it in better shape then he found it,” Litzinger said. “I think it’s a job that will attract a lot of high quality candidates and help us achieve our goals of being a consistent top 10 program in the country.”