football and aquatics standout, the opportunity to coach crew at
Washington -- without ever having rowed for the Huskies -- was like
winning the coaching lottery.
"At a place like this, in rowing you can do whatever you dream of,"
Ernst said. "Wanna coach the Olympic team? Wanna go one-on-one with the
Soviets? Harvard? This is the place where they think rowing is big time."
Ernst, in his 28th year as Washington's head crew coach, didn't start
rowing until his junior year at UC Irvine, where he played on the
Anteaters' first athletic team (men's water polo) and was instrumental in
coming up with the university's distinct mascot.
Then, following a stint in the military, Ernst returned to UCI as the
varsity rowing coach in 1970. But, after five campaigns and much success,
the Anteaters "couldn't afford to pay me."
When a position at Washington opened up for a freshmen crew coach in
1974, Ernst said he "couldn't get here fast enough."
Two years later, Ernst coached his first U.S. Olympic rowing team at
the 1976 Montreal Games, while he was still the Huskies' freshmen coach.
"What a great place to live, and they like rowing here. Rowing and
football," Ernst said. "Me and (Washington football coach) Rick
Neuheisel. I think they like him better, but he's a real good guy.
"It's fun coaching here. For that kid who went to Costa Mesa, you
couldn't dream any bigger, wanting to play football at Orange Coast
College and getting to do that, then sharing locker rooms here with the
(Husky) football and basketball coaches."
Ernst was the U.S. national rowing coach for 17 years and coached in
four Olympic Games, three times as head coach. In 1984, his celebrated
U.S. women's eight captured the gold medal at the Los Angeles Games.
But before Ernst landed in "rowing heaven" in Seattle, Wash., and won
numerous championships, he was a swimmer and water polo player at OCC and
UCI, following legendary former coach Al Irwin to open the new Irvine
school in 1965.
As members of the Anteaters' first athletic team in '65, they were
allowed to pick the school's mascot.